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Coping with grief during the holidays

Experts offer advice, support groups for the bereaved  

The Valley Catholic

The holidays, particularly the first ones after the death of a loved one, are especially difficult for a person who is grieving. Facing that first Thanksgiving and Christmas with an empty place at the table evokes excruciating sadness and many other emotions, said Fina Suarez, whose son, Eddie, died in 2001 at the age of 20. 

“I remember the first Thanksgiving without our son,” said Suarez, who serves as director of pastoral care at San Juan Nursing Home, which operates under the guidance of the diocese. “We were sad because we don’t have what we had before – our son is missing. That day, my husband said, ‘how can I tell God, thank you for taking my son? How can I say, thank you, Lord, when my son is not with us anymore?’”

Suarez continued, “But at the same time, we were truly grateful.  That day, we also said thank you to the Lord for those wonderful 20 years that He gave us with our son. I’m still very grateful that He gave me this gift, a very precious gift that I enjoyed to the fullest for those 20 years. Instead of focusing on our son’s death, we’d rather focus on the memories, and the joy, and happiness that he brought into our lives.”

Talking about her son at Thanksgiving, as it turned out, was good for everyone, Suarez said, adding that it is vital to give people permission to talk about the deceased friend or family member.

“And that really helped, not just me, but my other family members, to open the conversation and talk about him,” she said. “Many times, when the grieving people are not talking about it, your friends and other family members don’t want to mention anything, because they think they are hurting you by saying something.”

Talking about your loved one is an important part of grieving, especially at holiday gatherings, said Joseph F. Perez, vice president of pastoral service with Valley Baptist Health System in Harlingen.

Perez said some grieving families even choose to share stories about their loved one.

“Of course it’s going to be sad,” he said. “Some of the stories about that loved one will be sad and make people cry. Other stories will be happy and make people laugh, but at least everyone will be honest about it and that’s when healing can take place.”

And being honest about the situation is healthy for those who are grieving, Perez said.

“When you lose a loved one, nothing can ever be like it used to be, because that person is no longer in your life, physically,” he said. “The process of grief is to learn to carry their memory in your heart, but during the holidays, one has to prepare. This loss will affect your holidays and it is normal for it to affect your holidays. It’s ok.”

Suarez, who assists individuals and families with grief on a regular basis through her ministry at the nursing home, said that she and her family have Masses celebrated in her son’s memory. The family also honors him by collecting toys for needy children at Christmas, a cause that was dear to her son.

“Losing my son will always be sad,” said Suarez, who has served at San Juan Nursing Home for more than 20 years. “There is no way to not remember but you can arrive at a place of hope.”

The grieving process is full of ups and downs, highs and lows, Perez said. One moment, the grieving person may be at peace, the next moment, they may be distraught, especially during the first year.

“Grief comes and goes like waves,” he said. “I think of it like you’re on the beach and you have your back to the waves. You feel the constant push, but every once in a while, you get a real big one and it can knock you down. You just don’t know when those strong emotions might come. It could be at the grocery store when you see a certain food, it could be in the car when you hear a song on the radio, just something that hits and touches that tender spot in your heart.”

When it comes to grief, many people say, “this too shall pass,” or “it will heal with time,” but Perez said the notion that time heals all wounds is a myth. 

“Time is not the healing agent,” he said. “The healing agent is attention to the wound, over time, heals. Attention to the wound, over time, brings about healing.”

The best way to tend to grief is to face it rather than ignore it, Perez said. Having support, from family, friends or a bereavement support group, is key.

Both San Juan Nursing Home and Valley Baptist Health Systems offer free support groups for those who are grieving the loss of a loved one.

For more information on support groups at San Juan Nursing Home, call (956) 787-1771. For support groups at Valley Baptist Health System, call (956) 389-1194.


Tips for coping during the holidays without your loved one
1. Normalize your feelings.  Know that the sadness, the anger, the helplessness, or whatever you are feeling is normal.  Give yourself permission to grieve.  When people ask you, “How are you doing?” you have the right to answer them honestly if you choose to do so.
2. Ask yourself, “What do I want to do this year?”  You may find it helpful to try to keep things as “normal” as possible for the sake of continuity.  What are your traditions around the special seasons? Or, if it this is too great a burden this year, give yourself permission to do something different or start a new tradition.
3. If at all possible, surround yourself with family and people who care. Probably, the hardest thing to do is to be alone.
4. Get plenty of rest and eat appropriately.  Grief can be tiring work, especially during the holidays.  Exercising can also help.
5. Seek out the professional support from a pastor / priest or other counselor if necessary.

Source: Valley Baptist Health System


Weekly Update

May 23, 2017


Save the date
Diocese plans celebration for 50th Anniversary of Charismatic Movement
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement, the largest approved ecclesial movement of the Catholic Church. Estimated to have reached at least 120 million Catholics throughout the world, the movement is fully Catholic and also fully charismatic. The movement emphasizes a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus and the charismas and gifts of the Holy Spirit as mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12, including the gift of tongues, healing and prophecy.

A diocesan celebration on Pentecost Sunday will bring all parish charismatic groups from throughout the diocese together, ending with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass celebrated by Bishop Daniel E. Flores at 5:30 p.m. June 4. The diocesan event begins at 1 p.m. and continues through 7 p.m. at Weslaco East High School.

All priests and deacons are invited to concelebrate; please bring red stole.

Martin Valverde in Concert July 18 in McAllen
International Catholic musician Martin Valverde will perform at 6:15 p.m. July 18 at the McAllen Convention Center. Valverde has been involved in the Charismatic Renewal movement since 1979. Tickets for “The Concert of Mercy,” sponsored by Holy Rosary Church in Mission, are $10-$25 at Ticketmaster, or call (956) 617-0444 or (956) 581-2183.

Bulletin announcement
Help the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville Reach 10,000 ‘likes’ on Facebook
Did you know the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville has a Facebook page?

Our goal is to reach 10,000 “likes” on Facebook by the end of the summer. If you are a Facebook user and have not “liked” us yet, please do so at

Liking us on Facebook is a great way to stay connected to the bishop and be informed about diocesan news, events and services through updates, photos, live broadcasts and videos.

For more information about our social media presence, email Rose Ybarra at or call (956) 784-5009.

Join Our Communications Team
If you enjoy taking photos and video, we invite you to share your talents. We are looking for a videographer to help us cover different events in the Diocese of Brownsville and provide training for our mobile journalists. Our next big event, which we plan to stream live, is the ordination of two new priests scheduled on Saturday, June 10.

Please email Brenda Nettles Riojas at or call Paul Binz at (956) 784-5055.

Turn in Your Rice Bowl Donations
As you finalize your Lenten alms and collection, please make sure to route all CRS Rice Bowl offerings through Diocesan Accounting with Joel Ruiz at 1910 W. University Blvd., Brownsville, TX 78520. Please send one check per parish payable to Catholic Diocese of Brownsville. Remember that 75 percent of CRS Rice Bowl collections is sent to CRS and 25 percent stays here to help the poor and vulnerable locally through Catholic Charities.

Queen of Peace Parish Offers CD of Local Religious Music
The Music Ministry at Queen of Peace Parish in Harlingen would like to invite you to enjoy a CD of original and traditional liturgical music, in English and Spanish, recorded and produced here in the Valley. Many of the selections were composed and written by our music coordinator, Nez Marcelo. Some of the songs can be previewed on YouTube by searching for “Come & Rejoice” and “A Pesar de Todo.” The CD is available by contacting Nez Marcelo at (956) 423-6341.

Join Us for TVC Live Every Tuesday at Noon
The communications team for the Diocese of Brownsville is bringing you the latest news from around the diocese during TVC Live, a 15-minute program featured on the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville Facebook page, @CatholicRGV, every Tuesday at noon. The show features stories, interviews and highlights. For more information, call (956) 784-5009.

Protecting God’s Children Announcement
The diocesan plan is for all people who work with children to have viewed the safety awareness DVD: “Protecting God’s Children,” to submit to a DPS background check, and sign the code of ethics. This now needs to be refreshed/redone every five years. Second, religious education leaders are to plan and present a “Touching Safety” lesson during both the fall and spring to all children from kindergarten to 12th grade. Finally, parishes will present safety awareness material to all parents who have their children in either the First Communion or Confirmation classes. If you have questions or need material, please contact Walter Lukaszek at (956) 457-0010 or at

Protecting God’s Children 3.0 is now available in both DVD and a flash drive. The price for either is $35. It has both the English and Spanish programs. If you need the teaching notes, email

Keeping the Promise Alive has an updated DVD that reinforces PGC 3.0. Using the original DVD still has the important information that we wish to share with parents and is used as an annual refresher for Religious Education teachers and volunteers. It has both the English and Spanish programs. The price is $15. If you need the teaching notes, email

Touching Safety is still in the original DVD format, five-minute “ice breakers” for lessons 1 to 8. It has both the English and Spanish programs. The price is $15. If you need complete copies of the lesson plans from K-12, email Walter (

Religious Education staff may now download the touching safety lessons from the CDOB web site:

Programming Note: Diocese Insight Airs on Sunday Mornings
Diocese Insight, a half-hour interview program hosted by Brenda Nettles Riojas, Diocesan Relations Director and editor of The Valley Catholic, airs at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays on Channel 38.1 or Cable Channel 10. For more information on Diocese Insight, call (956) 784-5008.

Holy Land Pilgrimage, “Walk with Jesus” Scheduled for May 29-June 7
Join the Holy Land Pilgrimage, “Walk with Jesus,” May 29-June 7 (10 days). Price of $3,030 includes taxes and three meals daily, 4-star hotels, guides, A/C bus. Daily Eucharist and hosted by Spiritual Companions, Sisters Therese Ann Ridge (956-342-8881) and Emma Marie Stillman (956-342-1399). Call or email

Trip to Fatima and the Holy Land
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Blessed Mother’s appearance in Fatima, Portugal. Father Artemio Jacob of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in McAllen will be leading a tour group to Fatima and the Holy Land this June. The tour, which leaves from McAllen, runs from June 5-16 and will cost $4,095.

For more information, call Father Artemio at (956) 437-1703.

Marian Sanctuaries Pilgrimage Scheduled July 3-8
Our Lady, Queen of Angels Catholic Church in La Joya, under the spiritual direction of Father Jesse Garza, is organizing a pilgrimage to some of the most important Marian Shrines in Mexico from July 3-8. The pilgrimage includes airfare from Reynosa. We will visit Guadalupe, San Juan de Los Lagos, Cristo Rey, San Miguel Allende, Convento de la Santa Cruz, Schoenstatt, etc. Price is $850. A passport is required.

For more information, call the parish office at (956) 585-5223 or Aida at (956) 227-8192.

Road to Mercy Pilgrimage includes visits to Poland, Czech Republic & Germany
Father Gregory Labus, pastor of St. Joseph Church in Edinburg, is leading a 10-day Road to Mercy pilgrimage from July 10-20 that will include visits to Poland, Czech Republic and Germany. The trip price of $3,795 includes flights from McAllen, four-star hotels, breakfast and dinner included and deluxe motor coach transportation.

For more information, call (956) 383-3728 or email

Getting to Know Peru in October
Father Francisco J. Solis, pastor of St. Joan of Arc in Weslaco, will be leading a pilgrimage to Peru Oct. 8-19. Visit the land of St. Rose of Lima and St. Martin de Porres, with Mass every day and stops in Lima, Arequipa, Colca, Cusco, Valle Sagrado and Machu Picchu. Includes airfare from Reynosa to Lima, ground transportation, hotels and all meals except on the days of departure and return, plus train fare and entry to Machu Picchu. Cost is $3,800 per person, double occupancy. For more information, call Ms. Briones at (956) 369-6797.

Job Openings
• Middle School social studies teacher – St. Anthony Catholic School, Harlingen. Must hold valid credentials. Interested qualified candidates may email résumés to Kathy Stapleton, principal at
• Elementary School self-contained classroom teacher – St. Anthony Catholic School, Harlingen. Must hold valid credentials. Interested qualified candidates may email résumés to Kathy Stapleton, principal at
• Maintenance Person - El Rosario Homes is accepting employment applications for a full-time maintenance person. Contact Raquel Turrubiates at (956) 585-5051.
• Multi-parish Accountant - Parish/School Accounting, San Juan Office. Interested qualified candidates may email résumés to Genie Treviño at
• Middle School language arts teacher – Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic School, McAllen. Applications may be obtained at the school office, 1100 Gumwood Ave. in McAllen.
• Elementary School self-contained classroom teacher – Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic School, McAllen. Applications may be obtained at the school office, 1100 Gumwood Ave. in McAllen.
• Maintenance Person - La Merced housing development is accepting employment applications for a full-time (40-hour) maintenance person for carpentry, electrical, plumbing and general repairs. To apply, contact Irma Arriaga at La Merced Homes by email at or call (956) 565-2622; fax: 956-565-4185.
• Multi-parish Pastoral Associate - The Diocese of Brownsville is accepting employment applications for two full-time multi-parish pastoral associates — one to serve the Upper and another the Lower Valley. Both positions will be based out of the San Juan Pastoral Center. Satellite offices at parishes may also be available. Applications will be accepted until June 15. Positions are available as of July 1. Interested candidates may send in their applications/resumes to
• Middle School social studies teacher – St. Joseph Catholic School, Edinburg. Bilingual endorsement required. Must have 18 hours content in social studies. Turn in résumé and college degree transcript with application, which may be picked up at the school, 119 W. Fay St. in Edinburg.
• Parish Catechetical Leader – Mary, Mother of the Church is seeking a full-time Parish Catechetical Leader with strong knowledge and practice of the Catholic faith. Please come by the parish office for a job description and an application. St. Mary’s office hours at 1914 Barnard Road in Brownsville are 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday or call for more information at (956) 546-3800.
• School Secretary – St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Edinburg needs a school secretary. Experience preferred. Applications can be picked up at the school, 119 W. Fay St. in Edinburg.

Calendar of Events
• May 25 – Oratory Athenaeum commencement
• May 26 – Juan Diego Academy commencement
• May 29 – Diocesan offices are closed on Monday for the Memorial Day holiday.
• May 31 – St. Joseph Academy commencement

Submit information to be included in the Weekly Update to Brenda Nettles Riojas, Director of Diocesan Relations, by e-mail at or by fax to (956) 784-5082.