Bereavement program offered in parishes by Catholic Cemeteries

By Joe Pisani

TRUMBULL— Carolyn Killian believes bereavement has no boundaries. She has seen the loss of a loved one afflict the young and the old, parents and children, the rich and the poor, believers and non-believers. “The grief that people face is overwhelming and exhausting,” Killian said.

As director of bereavement for Catholic Cemeteries she is in charge of programs being created for parishes throughout the diocese. “In our effort to extend support and comfort to our families, we have established a new bereavement outreach, which involves partnering with parishes interested in joining a diocesan-wide consortium,” she said.

Called the New Day Bereavement Program, it has distinguished itself for decades as a highly successful faith-based, small group support program.

“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 undergoing training—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 in Stamford. She recently began outreach to Spanish-speaking parishes and is working with Father J. Abelardo Vasquez, the pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Church in Bridgeport. “We’re in the initial phase and planning how we’re going to implement the program and find facilitators,” she said.

As part of her outreach to the Hispanic community, they have trained Spanish-speaking facilitators in Greenwich and are hoping to offer New Day in Spanish by next March.“We’re very sensitive to the fact that every community has its own specific traditions, and we want to be respectful and mindful of them,” Killian said. “We’re excited about the opportunity to work with the pastor and people in the parish to see how it will fit into their tradition. The Spanish community is a vibrant part of our diocese, and we want everyone to feel welcome by this program and benefit from this invitation to healing.”

New Day, with materials in English and Spanish, is based on a textbook written by psychologist J. William Worden, the foremost authority on grief. Dominican Sister Mauryeen O’Brien, O.P., who has decades of experience as a grief counselor, put his work into a Catholic framework and developed The New Day Journal: A Journey from Grief to Healing. The author of several books, Sister was longtime coordinator for the bereaved at the Family Life Office of the Archdiocese of Hartford.

Killian, who was appointed six months ago, said their goal is not to displace or disrupt existing parish programs, but to introduce New Day to any parish community that would like it. Catholic Cemeteries will finance the training and all the materials.“We’re looking for pastors who support it and parishioners who want to be trained and participate,” she said. The bereavement groups meet for nine weeks for 90 minutes a week with about eight participants and two co-facilitators, who accompany fellow parishioners on their journey from grief to healing.

New Day is a structured program that includes prayer, Scripture readings, journaling and sharing responses to questions in a confidential setting, based on The New Day Journal by Sister O’Brien. “We rely on the comfort provided by our Lord, and the compassion extended by fellow participants, to meet the life-changing challenges presented by loss,” she said. The participants are guided to accept the reality of the loss, experience the pain of grief and find a way to remember the deceased while embarking on the rest of life’s journey, Killian said.

Killian said she relies on volunteer bereavement facilitators to conduct the New Day sessions. “We depend on 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.”

“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 want to 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.”

As a member of the Parish Partners Ministry of St. Catherine of Siena and St. Agnes Parish, Killian organized a bereavement training initiative several years ago based on the New Day program, along with pastor Father William F. Platt and Jeannemarie Baker, who began Parish Partners. Killian says the necessary characteristics that facilitators must have are compassion, empathy, the ability to listen quietly and to understand that their primary role is not to give advice, but to listen. She said that those who are grieving are in so much pain they can often tell the same story numerous times…and that is part of the healing process.

She compared it to the Risen Christ’s encounter with two disciples on the Road to Emmaus. He listened to his grieving friends and let them talk about the pain they were suffering over his crucifixion. “We have to do the same thing when we walk with people in pain over a death,” she said. “They have to realize they are not alone. They have to walk through their grief. They have to realize ‘I am not the only one who is hurting.” And also that it is God who inspires other people to show up to help them.… We are just walking with people and listening to them the way Christ did.”

(Anyone interested in supporting fellow parishioners who are grieving and would like to volunteer for this ministry should contact Carolyn Killian at: 203.404.0023 or by email at: For further information about the program, go to