GREENWICH — Father Richard Murphy of St. Michael the Archangel Parish has seen the face of grief … and the heartbreak and guilt the loss of a loved one can cause. It’s all around us, and sometimes we’re not even aware people are suffering.
“Death is so tragic and sometimes it can even stop us from living,” he says. “A lot of people feel guilty and angry and think their lives will never be the same again.”
Father, who is associate pastor at St. Michael, is also a trained facilitator in the highly acclaimed New Day Bereavement Program offered by Catholic Cemeteries for the Diocese of Bridgeport. The program, which has been held in several parishes, is being made available to others.
“There are many people desperately hurting with very few resources for their healing,” Father said. “New Day is faithbased and offers the best message for healing from such pain and suffering. Unfortunately, many parishes have nothing really substantial to support people who are grieving.”
The nine-week program is held once a week for 90 minutes with a small group of participants and two co-facilitators, who accompany parishioners on their journey from grief to healing. New Day sessions include prayer, Scripture readings, journaling and sharing responses to questions in the “New Day Journal: A Journey from Grief to Healing” by Dominican Sister Mauryeen O’Brien, O.P. Sister, who has decades of experience as a grief counselor, has written several books and was the longtime coordinator for the bereaved at the Family Life Office of the Archdiocese of Hartford.
Carolyn Killian, the Director of Bereavement for Catholic Cemeteries, conducted the program with Father Murphy last spring and hopes to bring it to other parishes and train more facilitators “in our effort to extend support and comfort to our families.”
“We have seen young people and old people in deep grief,” she said. “We’ve seen many, many parents who have lost children. There are so many people struggling to figure out how to go forward with incredible loss, and this offers a way to see where God is in their grief journey.”
Killian and her colleagues have trained 20 facilitators—with six more currently being trained —from St. Catherine of Siena-St. Agnes in Greenwich; St. Michael the Archangel in Greenwich; St. Roch in Greenwich; St. Thomas More in Darien, St. Mary in Greenwich and St. Cecilia-St. Gabriel, and St. Leo in Stamford.
She recently began an outreach to Spanish-speaking parishes and is working with Father J. Abelardo Vasquez, pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Church in Bridgeport.
“I highly recommend the program,” Father Murphy said. “Sometimes people have had experience with programs that weren’t well formed for the parish level, or they think they are getting in over their head by trying to work with people who are grieving. It can be a daunting idea, but this program teaches you how to walk with them through what they are experiencing.”
The range of emotions people who are grieving feel can be debilitating, he said.
“Many are guilty for moving on and some even think, ‘If I am happy again, I don’t love the person I lost,’” he said.
However since the program is faith-based and centers on Catholic teaching, it shows them that life doesn’t end in death for those who passed.
“Jesus wants us to live a full, abundant life in this world and in the next, so bereavement is the work of the Gospel,” Father said. “Jesus came to heal and save people to get them through grief—not to avoid it—so this is part of what Jesus himself came to do.”
Participating in the program helps people realize they are not alone, and even though every person’s experience can be different, there is a degree of commonality.
“For example, some are angry, and their anger can be directed at people they believe are responsible—or even the deceased for not taking care of themselves with health issues,” he said. “Often times, there is anger at God for not intervening as they thought he should have. And then, they are often guilty about feeling the anger, heaped on top of their horrible feeling of grief.”
Father Murphy says many of those who are grieving think that if they go through different phases, they will “be done” with the process, but that’s often not the case, and they become frightened to discover their grief persists.
“I’ve heard people say the second year was worse than the first,” he said. “From what I’ve learned, people have this mistaken understanding that if you get through the first year, the second will necessarily be better. But if the grief persists, they become afraid they will never get through it. But they do.”
“While there are those who deal naturally with grief over the loss of a loved one, they are few and far between,” he said.
When the program concludes, the group gets together a month later so they can maintain their relationships.
“We encourage them to stay in touch and build a road of access,” he said. “And the facilitators are always available if someone has a crisis. We don’t want the relationships they developed to disappear. And as a priest, I let them know they can always reach out to me.”
Killian said her goal is to train more facilitators and get more parishes involved.
The program is being offered at St. Catherine of SienaSt. Agnes, St. Michael the Archangel, St. Thomas More and soon at St. Cecilia-St. Gabriel in Stamford.
Killian said she relies on volunteer bereavement facilitators to conduct the New Day sessions.
“We are looking for individuals who are interested in being trained to serve as bereavement facilitators,” she said. “Most volunteers have experienced loss in their own lives and want to accompany fellow parishioners on their journey from grief to healing.”
Anyone interested in supporting fellow parishioners who are grieving and would like to volunteer for this ministry should contact her at 203.404.0023 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For further information about the program, go to www.bridgeportdiocese.org/cemeteries/bereavement.
“People are drawn to be facilitators when they have been through grief themselves and they want to do something to help others,” she said. “Sometimes they don’t know quite what they can do, but when they hear about this, they’re drawn to it and sign up. It’s a healing experience to be a facilitator, and it has a huge impact on a person’s spiritual journey. It is incredibly healing to be around other volunteers. It is also an extraordinary way to get closer to God.”
This article first appeared in the September 2022 issue of Fairfield Country Catholic