Bereavement Ministry

—Reflection by Fr. Michael Gazzingan

After the funeral service of a parishioner, what is next? We often fail to see that when a memorial service is over, and the people paying their respects are gone, grieving people start to feel a severe sting of loneliness, sometimes even fear. While some ‘fail to see,’ others believe that everything ends when the body is laid to its final resting place. People react differently to losing a loved one. Some people need to talk, while others prefer to listen. Some opt to be quiet and wait until everything subsides. Some cannot move on, stuck in grief. As a church, our care for the grieving family should not end in a funeral service. Our ministry should not be buried with the dead. No one should grieve alone.

My passion for Bereavement Ministry began when a friend of mine asked me to see some families whose loved ones were in hospice care. I saw faces of sadness, grief, uncertainty, and even anger with God, in different people. I became close to the families I visited. I thought their difficult life and calvary of giving care to their dying loved ones would end when the patient passed away. I was totally wrong. The demise of the person close to their heart was actually the beginning of a worse experience— being alone (and lonely). The feeling of being alone and lost is the worst experience— one they should never have to undergo. Even God knew this from the beginning: “It is not good for man to be alone.” (Gen 2:18)

I had a chat with a former parishioner whom I haven’t seen for a long time. In the course of our conversation, her words unfold that she left the Catholic Church for another faith. I allowed her to speak, and then towards the end, she said, “Where was the church during the times I was grieving?” Her husband passed away and was buried in a Catholic Rite. While the rites and services were done in the most suitable way, the ‘aftercare service’ was not delivered. After the burial of her husband, she felt alone, and it seemed even the church she belonged to was too far away to help her. She did not get support from the church which is called to “Bless those who mourn” and care for the widows.

21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

28 After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.

32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. 35 Jesus wept. 36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

Jesus’ meeting with Martha and Mary, on the death of their brother Lazarus, tells a lot about how one feels when someone special perishes. Martha and Mary, separately said upon seeing Jesus, “Where have you been? If you have been here, my brother would not have died.” They felt abandoned and left alone during the time they needed support from someone they expected to be there. The sisters wept and were grieving. Jesus wept and grieved as well with the family.

What is bereavement? Bereavement is the feeling of grief when someone we love, someone special and close to us, passes away. This feeling of grief is characterized by sorrow, anguish, misery, fear, and the like. Losing someone important to us can be emotionally devastating—whether it is the better half or a significant other or partner, a relative, a friend, or even pets. There is emotional pain involved in any form of separation.

That is why we have now established the Bereavement Ministry as an outreach ministry of our parish. This ministry shows care and support to those who grieve, mourning the death of a loved one. It is the ministry of becoming the face, hand, feet, and ears of Jesus to those who weep.