Loss forces agonizing grief. Healing seems distant if not impossible. Even the revered C.S. Lewis, Christian author and apologist, originally penned “A Grief Observed” under a pseudonym, unsure of exposing his grief-stricken heart after the death of his beloved wife. For him, writing down his observations on the weight of his mourning was a necessary sharing of a surreal journey to peace.
GriefShare, a ministry of Holy Spirit Parish in Fairfield, maintains this same idea of sharing, observing and journeying through grief.
“We just need to do a lot more,” says Theresa Yeomans of accompanying and “helping people get through this, realizing that it is part of the journey.” She describes the process as spiritual, noting the “beauty” of the ministry “is that it’s done with love.”
Theresa serves as co-facilitator of GriefShare with Roxanne Bradley, and both bring personal stories of loss to the ministry.
“I think Roxanne and I are testimony to people that we can move through grief,” Theresa offers candidly, expressing how “it’s not going to be an easy journey, and this is not magic.” She lost her husband after 40 years of marriage, and speaks from a place of calm truth knowing “you have to put the work in and you will go from mourning to joy.”
A turnkey ministry
“When my husband passed away, I needed some kind of support and I found GriefShare online,” Theresa explains. She searched and found the nondenominational non-profit ministry based in North Carolina. It produces video-based curriculums to help churches around the world deliver several compassionate, turnkey programs for those navigating life crises. GriefShare goes beyond the immediate pastoral care associated with death and a funeral and offers a step-by-step Christ-centered support group program.
Theresa typed in her zip code to find a local GriefShare ministry. When she told a fellow parishioner about her own positive experience and healing journey, she was encouraged to propose the ministry to Father Joel Genabia, pastor of Holy Spirit.
“I put my notes together and went to Father Joel with a really good sales pitch,” she remembers of that day four years ago when Father Joel was still new to the parish. She laughs as she recalls how his approval included the charge to lead the ministry.
“I was a religious education teacher for 40 years and I figured teaching was teaching,” she asserts.
Father Joel reviewed GriefShare materials and found the program responsive to the real need that exists when “people have difficulty adjusting to life.”
“I believe God is with them,” Father Joel says of the GriefShare ministry, recounting the years that have passed since its founding at the parish. Impressed with the energy that continues, he recalls telling Theresa, “If God is with you, you will grow.”
When the time is right
Roxanne met Theresa at Bible study. They started talking and Theresa reached out to Roxanne after hearing of how the same day that Roxanne retired she lost her father to cancer.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” Roxanne confides, hinting at a consequent “awakening.”
“We were going through the classes and I realized that not only was I grieving the loss of my dad but also all the transitions that had occurred,” she explains, acknowledging a sense that “I had not grieved properly.”
Roxanne reviews the self-talk that can occur in the minds of the bereaved. Is this normal? Am I crazy? I’m not ready. She concedes many are not ready or may require professional help. Others seek answers to hard questions as they grapple with a range of emotions.
“The big thing for me is the reinforcement that God is here with me,” Roxanne says of GriefShare, stressing “you become more tuned in, listening to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.”
Theresa asked Roxanne to co-facilitate the ministry. The result has been a simpatico duo committed to bringing parishioners and the larger community the help they need as they grieve.
When the time is right for each individual, Theresa and Roxanne welcome participants to join them either in the spring or fall for a 15-week cycle. Two-hour, self-contained sessions occur once a week with video segments, a companion workbook and Scripture woven into reflections and conversation.
“We share and talk about how we’re doing,” Theresa notes, illustrating a flow that leads to comfortable conversation. Some attend all 15 meetings while others may attend for particular topics. They open and close with prayer infusing their Catholic faith into the evenings.
One curious non-Catholic attendee came and paused as others blessed themselves with the sign of the cross. She queried about the ancient practice, requested another demonstration and wanted to learn more in her search for hope and consolation. GriefShare’s online platform opens the door to anyone in the area in need of accompaniment in their loss.
Theresa and Roxanne recommend GriefShare to those who experience the death of a close loved one and the content is focused in this way. However, they also have served others who mourn; a person suffering a debilitating disease, a woman whose brother was sentenced to life in prison, a man devastated by divorce.
“It’s so important that they understand that grief is a part of life, a natural part of our spiritual life,” Roxanne emphasizes.
Grief is a by-product of love
“I always say grief is a by-product of love,” Roxanne notes, with a reminder of Christ’s command “to love.” The heartache of grief feels like eternal estrangement but Roxanne and Theresa hint at a higher, heavenward love – a love that remains, that must be pursued.
Theresa suggests the first step is “willingness to be open” to explore the depths of grief. “Otherwise, they will be carrying a weight,” she says, stressing “that weight can eventually crush you” if grief is buried away. She adds that “GriefShare is like a huge toolbox” giving participants many tools that may be used now and later as people move along a continuum of healing.
“The outcome is in God’s hands,” Theresa conveys, reflecting on her own years of healing through grief. She is sure that grief observed – indeed, grief shared – brings dignity, grace and peace.
About GriefShare at Holy Spirit Parish in Fairfield by sending an email to Theresa Yeomans at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In photo above, Theresa Yeomans, left, and Roxanne Bradley hold open the doors to Holy Spirit Church in Fairfield.