NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CNS) — Grief is a natural part of life. Every person has their turn to experience the loss of a loved one.
The Catholic Church offers resources to help deal with the pain of such loss in healthy ways, and St. Edward Church in Nashville is establishing a grief ministry as a way to provide some of those resources to the faithful.
“One of the things that we encounter frequently as a church is funerals and, as the church, we have this beautiful funeral liturgy to offer after someone’s death,” said Father Andy Bulso, pastor of St. Edward.
“But it seemed like there was more that we could do, especially because oftentimes, the funeral is just the beginning for the families,” he added. “We wanted to continue to support people as they go through the grieving process, which can last a really long time.”
“You never stop grieving,” he told the Tennessee Register, Nashville’s diocesan newspaper. “It just changes over time and goes through periods of more intensity.”
The parish’s new grief ministry begins with a three-part speaker series in November. The theme is “Suffering, Grief, Grace.”
“We’re really trusting the Holy Spirit, and where he’s going to lead us on this one. I don’t know fully what to expect and it’s going to be different for every person,” Father Bulso said. “Oftentimes, we don’t know what to say to support people or how to support them through loss and suffering, so I’m hoping this speaker series will be able to enlighten people in that situation as well.”
To prepare for this ministry, Father Bulso sent Julianne Staley, director of faith formation at St. Edward, to a grief and bereavement conference earlier this year in Denver.
“We knew that because it is such a sensitive area that it wasn’t something we could just sit down and do,” Father Bulso said. “That’s why I proposed to Julianne that we send her off to a conference for her own development to know how to start and guide one of these ministries.”
Staley learned a lot from the conference, she said, including the difference between grief and mourning, what suffering truly means, and that the grief process is not progressive and is different for everybody.
She first approached Father Bulso about the idea of the grief ministry as she continued to walk through her own personal grief journey following the loss of her two brothers, Rick in 2013 and Michael in 2019.
“I’ve known for a long time that this is something that has been needed for the diocese,” Staley said. “When I first came to St. Edward, I expressed that.”
The Nashville Diocese and its Catholic churches do “a beautiful job” in the funeral liturgy, she said.
“There are bereavement ministries at each church, but there are not many efforts that are put forth to help those in the weeks, months and even years after to support them in their grief and mourning,” she added.
Father Bulso and Staley worked together to create the speaker series, scheduled to start Nov. 2, All Souls’ Day.
“The holidays are often a very difficult time for people who have experienced significant losses in their lives because it’s one of those occasions that especially cause you to think about the loved ones you’ve lost and you miss them in a way that you wouldn’t necessarily in day-to-day life,” Father Bulso said. “So we knew that it was an especially meaningful and significant time to offer something like this.”
Starting it on All Souls’ Day, “the day we liturgically pray for the souls in purgatory,” he added, “seemed like perfect timing to tap into a liturgical event and at the same time be preparing for the holiday season.”
Staley wants the program “to offer support, to offer comfort and to offer hope because the No. 1 question people are going to ask is, ‘Is it ever going to get better’ because it hurts so much when you lose a loved one.”
“Everyone just wants that hope to know that it will be manageable one day, the pain of loss while we continue to live on earth and to live and honor that loved one until you meet again,” she said.
Teresa Yarbrough, a grief counselor with Alive Hospice and one of the series’ speakers, said it is important to find healthy ways to deal with grief.
In this way, she explained, “we can progress through our grief journey intentionally and attentively the first time around instead of our emotions, mental challenges and spiritual questions returning at any point in time in our lives going forward and ‘coming out sideways’ or in unhealthy ways.”
She added, “Giving ourselves permission to acknowledge our grief and recognize one another’s grief is a way of honoring our person(s) who have died as well as honoring those who are in mourning and grieving those deaths and life-changing events.”
The church does not shy away from the reality of grief, said Father John Hammond, judicial vicar and vicar general of the Nashville Diocese, who is another speaker in the series.
“Grief, sorrow, pain, loss, these things are a part of life,” Father Hammond said. “It’s not for nothing that the central image and icon of our faith is a cross. It’s a painful experience of suffering and there’s a reason that it is front and center in our iconography and it’s the center of every church and hangs in every Christian home.”
“The cross is a reminder of the reality that life is difficult. It involves pain and suffering and grief and hardship. But we’re not only people of the cross. We’re also people of the Resurrection,” he added.
“While we acknowledge the reality of sorrow and loss,” he said, “we also know that those things never get the last word.”
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Peterson is a staff writer for the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Nashville.