For many, holidays are a time for joy and sharing with family. But for some, the colored lights and burning candles cast a shadow of depression. Many are saddened by the loss of family members or fear of dealing with the first Christmas since the death of a loved one.
To help those dealing with grief at all times of the year, Our Lady of Pompeii Parish in Lancaster offers a 13-session series called GriefShare with DVD presentations given by grief experts, who share their personal stories of loss and grief. After viewing a themed 40-minute video with coffee and donuts, guests offer some sharing, and use a workbook to sort through their emotions and help them discover what God has to say about their situation. Two parishioners, who have a background in counseling, lead the discussions.
"The idea is the lessons give hope to them on their journey from mourning to joy," explained Sister Joyce King, CSSF, pastoral associate at Our Lady of Pompeii. "A great thing about the program is the members really bond together well and support one another as they're on the journey of grief together."
Each session deals with a different topic, such as "Guilt and Anger," "Challenges of Grief," "Is This Normal?" and even "Heaven." People can join at any time during the 13-session cycle. Meetings take place about every two weeks, with adjustments made for the holidays.
"The good thing is, each session is a separate topic, so people can come to any session they like. Some people can make it for all. Some people can make it for some."
Sister Joyce started the program with some ladies from the parish eight years ago. They had a training session with Father John Adams, then a deacon and a psychologist, and followed the training DVD. Deacon Gregory Feary recently started a day program for those who cannot make the evening program.
Sister Joyce has seen people come through the program several times. Some like being with the group. Others like to catch something they hadn't seen the first time around. The veterans of the program offer a peer counseling for those new to the program or grief.
"I think a big part of it is they are at a point where they can share their stories and give comfort and hope to those who are going through fresh losses," Sister Joyce said. "I would say that one of the biggest things was that the people in the group really develop strong bonds with one another, and support one another. I've seen friendships develop in the group. People reach out with phone calls to support one another. And, of course, people turn to their faith. I think faith makes them stronger in situations of grief and loss."
In early November, the parish had a special holiday session called "Surviving the Holidays." It's a separate DVD that Church Initiatives, GriefShare's parent company, puts out for giving strategies for getting through the holidays, especially if you're going through the fresh loss of a loved one. It offers advice such as allowing yourself to skip a party you usually attend, or come for only a short while.
Sister Joyce said she is happy with the results.
"Of all the ministries I do in the parish, this is the one. My heart is fully in this ministry. My heart goes out to those who are going through grief and loss," she said. "It's a Christian program, so everything comes back to our faith, which is a really nice thread running through it."
GriefShare takes place at Our Lady of Pompeii Parish Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m. Deacon Gregory Feary offers the same session the following Tuesday at 10 a.m. as part of the parish's new Daytime @ OLP program.