by Jill Ragar Esfeld
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Brad DuPont, consultant for the archdiocesan office of marriage and family life, knows what it means to suffer the loss of a loved one.
He also knows how important it is to find a support group that fits a personal grieving experience.
“To have those feelings of loss validated,” he said, “it’s like turning on the lights in a dark room and realizing there is hope.”
The Catholic Church has a tradition of offering support to those grieving the loss of a loved one. It is part of the church’s mission to show Christ is with us in the midst of our suffering.
“God doesn’t want us to be isolated,” said DuPont. “He doesn’t want us to hurt.”
And experience has taught the church that the group approach to grief counseling is most effective.
“It validates our suffering and our experience when we experience the healing with others who are walking the same path,” said DuPont. “And sometimes what helps us in our grief is being able to help someone else.”
Because grief comes in many forms, the archdiocese, through the office of marriage and family life, constantly strives to meet the needs of those seeking support.
So next month, several programs targeted to specific experiences of loss will be made available.
Read on to see if you, or someone you know, might benefit.
Mass of the Innocents
Celebrated by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann on Oct. 11, the Mass of the Innocents is a way to commemorate the lives of children who died before or shortly after birth.
Parents, siblings, other family members and friends are welcome to attend.
The annual event is open to all who have experienced loss through miscarriage, stillbirth, SIDS and other types of infant death.
DuPont can speak personally about the healing that takes place during the Mass of the Innocents.
He and his wife have lost two children in early infancy.
“Every time we’ve gone to the Mass of the Innocents,” he said, “it’s helped us remember our own children, and they become more present to us.”
The Mass also benefits DuPont’s two living children.
“It’s important for them to go,” he said. “They get the experience of remembering more fervently their brother or sister who is in heaven.
“That’s my own personal experience. It’s brought deeper healing into my own life and into the lives of our living children.”
DuPont urges those who have lost children in infancy, or through miscarriage, to attend the Mass of the Innocents, no matter what stage of grief they’re experiencing.
“It’s a healing for the parents and the siblings who have lost a member of that family,” he said. “And then when they look around and see other families, there’s strength and encouragement in realizing they’re not alone.”
Next month will also introduce the second session of a new grief ministry for young adults started by Holy Spirit parishioner Marcus Kain.
When Kain lost both his father and grandfather in a tragic accident, he barely had time to grieve — he had to take over his father’s company within 12 hours.
Because Kain knew he needed help dealing with his loss, he attended a conventional grief support group.
But he found it difficult to relate to his fellow participants.
“I realized, though I was getting value out of it,” he said, “that it wasn’t quite the right fit for me.
“When you have someone that’s 25, and just getting their bearings in the working world, sitting next to somebody in a group that’s 65, you’re at two different points in life.”
Kain thought there must be many young adults like himself who, along with their grief, were dealing with different life challenges.
“A lot of young people are at a point where they’re engaged, or they’re newly married, or they have young children,” he explained. “They can’t take time off work.
“It’s just a different point in life.”
Rather than complain about his own situation, Kain decided to help others by creating a grief support group that focuses on the demographic of young adults as identified by the church.
“To me, it wasn’t about my grieving process,” he said. “That was a secondary consideration.
“It was about helping others because I’d been in that boat and was able to relate.”
With the help of a Catholic Charities bereavement coordinator, Kain set up a curriculum for his support group that targets people between the ages of 18-40.
“Fortunately,” he said, “I have someone that’s a licensed counselor that’s helping me co-facilitate it.”
The group’s first session is already in full swing, and the results have been very positive.
“I think it’s really going well, judging from the reaction of people,” said Kain. “From the time they walked in the door, there was an outpouring of positive statements and pretty much everybody shared.”
In the process of his own grief journey, Kain has relied on his faith and looks forward to helping others do the same.
“Faith is what kept me on track, kept me holding out hope for the future,” he said. “As I reflected on my dad — the positive memories — faith helped me see how he was going to be a part of my life going forward.
“And I truly felt called to serve in this capacity to help others who have experienced tragic loss.”
When Angie Strecker was dealing with the heartache of a divorce, she attended a divorce support group through her church, Most Pure Heart of Mary in Topeka.
“It wasn’t enough,” she said. “I needed more.”
She saw an ad in her church bulletin for Beginning Experience, an international peer-grief ministry for individuals grieving the loss of their marriage through death, divorce or separation.
“Beginning Experience was started by Sister Josephine Stewart and her friend Jo Lamia,” said Strecker. “Sister Josephine was a family counselor.
“Those two recognized there was a need to help people in the church who were going through the end of a marriage.”
The organization came to the Kansas City area in 1976.
“I attended a weekend retreat in 2009,” said Strecker. “The people were great and really supportive.
“I stayed peripherally involved in the organization and, in 2010, I joined the team.”
The program is sustained by people who have suffered the loss of a marital relationship themselves and are willing to share their experience to help others.
“We’re all volunteers,” said Strecker. “And we just pay it forward.”
The trained volunteers lead participants through a series of presentations, personal and private reflection, and small group sharing.
“The circumstances of the stories are all different,” said Strecker, “but the feelings are the same.
“After a long work day, I come home to no one in the house but me, and I sit at the kitchen table by myself to eat dinner.
“Or I sign only my name to birthday cards and no longer sign my husband’s name.
“So those experiences are universal, regardless of why my spouse is no longer there. The steps through the grieving process are all the same.”
Strecker, who is now board president of Beginning Experience of Greater Kansas City, said the focus of the program is not on what happened in the relationship, but on moving forward.
Indeed, moving forward is the goal of every grief support group. But reaching that goal is dependent on people joining in and supporting one another.
“It’s difficult to make yourself vulnerable,” said Kain, “but this is an environment where there is no judgment, just understanding.”
“And people are remarkably understanding,” said Strecker. “It’s beautiful to hear them minister to one another.”
Mass of the Innocents
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann will celebrate a Mass in honor of children lost before or shortly after birth on Oct. 11 at 3 p.m. at Curé of Ars Parish, 9401 Mission Rd., Leawood. Parents, family members and friends are welcome to attend. For information, contact Brad DuPont at (913) 647-0301 or by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
A new six-week session of Grief Journey will begin Oct. 5 from 7-8:30 p.m. at Holy Spirit Church, 11300 W. 103rd St., Overland Park. The group is designed for young adults (ages 18-40) who have lost a loved one. For more information, contact Marcus Kain by email at: email@example.com or call (913) 634-7870. The course is free, but registration is required.
A Beginning Experience weekend will be held Oct. 16-18 at Sanctuary of Hope, 2601 Ridge Ave., Kansas City, Kansas. The weekend is for adults grieving the loss of a marital relationship through death, divorce or separation, who are ready to move forward with their lives. The cost is $160, which includes the program, materials, lodging for two nights, five meals and a follow-up reunion event. Financial assistance is available.
If you’re interested in attending the retreat or providing financial assistance so others can attend, visit the website at: beginningexperiencekc.org.
The archdiocesan office of marriage and family life strives to help married couples and families live Christian family life to the fullest. When people are suffering from grief for whatever reason, it affects them and their families. It is the mission of the church to bring healing to people so they can live their Christian vocations.
If these particular programs don’t meet the needs of somebody suffering, other resources are available. Contact Brad Dupont at (913) 647-0301; by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org; or go to the website at: www.archkck.org/family and click on the grief link for additional information.