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Talk Less, Listen More

Posted on December 12, 2023 in: Bereavement Support

Talk Less, Listen More

In the wide, wide world of possible diaconal ministry opportunities, a bereavement ministry can be one of the most challenging, certainly one of the most rewarding and one of the less chosen.

All deacons are a part of this ministry. We may preach at a funeral Mass, conduct funeral home services and offer prayers at a burial. Of course, if it is a family member, friend or parishioner you’ve known for a long time and they are close to death, you take the time to visit them. You might not realize it, but all of the above are part of bereavement support. 

Even if all you do is sit with a person who is dying, you get to share memories, a laugh, even some tears. All of that is under the bereavement ministry umbrella, but there’s so much more to this ministry. Let me share my experience in this ministry, which offers an opportunity to bring Christ’s healing presence to those who are dying and those who survive them.

Let me say off the top, you don’t have to be a deacon to do this ministry, but you do need training. 

A Catholic bereavement ministry begins at the parish. If there is interest, and the pastor approves, those interested must go through a training program. The object is to train members to give comfort and support to those who are dying and to the grieving families. We do that by giving them our time, hearing their thoughts and sharing their tears.

Now, if there is a hospice in your area, they welcome volunteers and offer excellent training. And you can find on the internet national training programs, including some exclusively for Catholics. Just search for “bereavement ministry.”

So, what do you do in this ministry? What do you say? 

What I have learned is talk less, listen more. As mentioned earlier, there are two main parts to this ministry: before death and after. Both require an open ear and an open heart.

When visiting the dying, I have found it helpful to learn where the person is in the dying process. One way is to use non-threatening or faith-challenging questions.

For example, when meeting the person in the last stages of life, you might make a note of how they appear. “You’re looking peaceful/troubled.” That usually opens a dialogue about faith, heaven/hell, family. The trained minister will know how to bring the person comfort and/or reinforcement.

In ministering to the dying or the grieving, prayer is a most important tool. I say that because prayer helps us to survive. To survive is to find meaning in suffering, as suffering that has meaning to it is endurable. And, it’s important to realize that, throughout this experience, God is in our midst. “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love Him.”

When we lose someone dear to us, it’s as though a jigsaw puzzle has been thrown up into the air and all the pieces have been scattered far and wide. The bereavement minister helps the grieving to bring the pieces together to create a new picture.

This is the beginning of the grief journey. It’s a journey that ends with our last goodbyes. Certainly goodbyes are a part of our lives: gain and loss, joy and sorrow, life and death are inside all of us. Sister Patricia Rupp, author of Praying Our Goodbyes, tells us the word goodbye — originally “God-be-with-ye” or “Go with God” — was a recognition that God was a significant part of the going. 

Goodbye was a blessing of love, proclaiming the belief that if God went with you, you would never be alone, that comfort, strength and all other blessings of a loving presence would accompany you.

So there is a light at the end of this tunnel of dark – my God lights up the darkness, writes the Psalmist. He not only lights the way for us, but He warms our very souls and helps us to put one foot in front of the other. Sometimes, it’s two steps forward and one step back. The bereavement minister encourages the bereaved to focus on the one step forward.

 

By Deacon Peter Gill

Deacon Peter has been involved in bereavement ministry for more than 20 years. He was trained at Middlesex Hospital and served as a hospice volunteer. He completed a Clinical Pastoral Education unit at Connecticut Hospice and for several years was a member of the National Association of Catholic Chaplains.

He facilitated support groups at his parish and for Middlesex Hospital in Middletown and in Essex. He assists the Office of Faith Events in its outreach to grieving persons in the diocese.



 


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