NORWALK — Fairfield County Catholic Cemeteries LLC, a ministry of the Diocese of Bridgeport, is launching a daily devotional email program for people who are grieving, which will provide reflections to help them on their “Healing Journey.”
“We’re doing this because a resource is badly needed,” said Dean Gestal, Executive Director of Catholic Cemeteries. “When it comes to bereavement, no one is addressing it even though everyone knows someone who has died — a mother, a father, a sister, a brother, a son, a daughter. Nobody wants to talk about it because our fear of death overshadows everything.”
Carolyn Killian, Director of Bereavement, said that while there are other grief meditations available, they did not have a faith-based focus, so the Cemetery Ministry decided to start the Healing Journey service on March 10.
“They didn’t ring true with me,” she said. “We want to focus on the humanity of those who are grieving and their stories, and not on an abstract concept of grief. We want to connect with people to let them know there is support available for them. Since we believe faith is a critical part of the discussion, we want people to understand God is with them on their journey — whether or not they can see his presence.”
Kenn Devane, who handles Cemetery Relations, is making the project possible through new technology, which has been utilized by the Ministry.
“Each morning, we will send out a Healing Journey message to families who have buried loved ones with us over the past two years as a way to help support them,” he said. “This is a free service for anyone who wants to receive it … and it’s not just for Catholics.”
Devane said to sign up for the daily messages, people can go to this link and complete the contact form: ctcemeteries.org/bereavement-support/the-healing-journey/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
People who are grieving the loss of a loved one can be afflicted with an overwhelming loneliness, Gestal said. The Healing Journey daily messages will give them an opportunity to reconnect with the community and realize they are not alone.
“Even though everyone eventually suffers a loss, nobody wants to talk about it,” he said. “Most people feel abandoned and are totally lost with no understanding of how to deal with it, and very often it ends in depression.”
The messages are not only for the newly bereaved, but also those who have been struggling a year or many years after the loss of a loved one, Killian said. Dealing with bereavement is especially difficult following the COVID pandemic, which isolated families and faith communities, and often made them feel they could no longer rely on traditional institutions to provide relief in a time of personal crisis.
Gestal believes the pandemic further affected the Church by creating a gap between parishioners and priests, which must be bridged, given the troubled times in which we live and the number of people who lost loved ones in recent years.
Catholic Cemeteries is a ministry of the diocese, which serves all faiths and offers many services and options at its nine active cemeteries in Fairfield County, including private estate lots to accommodate current and future generations of the family, special plots on which to construct family mausoleums, entombment in community mausoleums and memorial design services. In addition, cremated remains (cremains) can be placed in an urn and buried in family plots or placed in a mausoleum or columbarium niche space for the reverent disposition that the Church desires.
The Cemetery staff of Family Advisors will meet with people to discuss their needs and help the planning process. There are six offices at the nine active cemetery locations with administrators to assist with necessary paperwork.
Gestal encourages people to consider “pre-need” or advanced planning for themselves and their loved ones, so that decisions do not have to be made when they are dealing with loss and emotional stress. Pre-planning also gives families more time to visit and select a cemetery, meet with cemetery representatives and review the burial options available to them.
As Director of Bereavement, Carolyn Killian conducts sessions for the bereaved and trains facilitators, who can return to their parishes and offer the nine-week New Day program to those who have suffered a loss. There are currently 26 facilitators in the diocese.
Many of those who have completed the program on their own often feel drawn to volunteer and help others.
“Becoming a facilitator is a natural step in the bereavement process because by helping others, you are continuing your own healing,” she said.
Killian and her colleagues have trained facilitators 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, St. Cecilia-St. Gabriel in Stamford, St. Leo in Stamford, St. Aloysius in New Canaan and St. Mary in Bethel.
She recently initiated an outreach effort to Spanish-speaking parishes and is working with Fr. J. Abelardo Vasquez, the pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Church in Bridgeport, training the first completely bilingual group.
“We’re very sensitive to the fact that every community has its own specific cultural 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 his parishioners to see how it will support their traditions. 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.”
Gestal said he wants to see the program extended to other parishes throughout the diocese. The New Day Bereavement Program 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,” Killian 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.”
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 Mauryeen was longtime coordinator for the bereaved at the Family Life Office of the Archdiocese of Hartford.
The bereavement groups meet over a nine-week period 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.”
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.
“We are humbled and blessed to see God’s presence every day and witness the healing that takes place, often decades after loss,” Killian said.
For more information on the New Day program, email Killian at email@example.com.
By Joe Pisani