Experts offer advice, support groups for the bereaved
By ROSE YBARRA 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 one1. 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
“VERBUM MITTITUR SPIRANS AMOREM”
Valley Awakening Retreat for Young Adults Ages 21-35 Set for July 1-3Valley Awakening, a diocesan young adult retreat, will be held on July 1-3 at Holy Spirit Parish in McAllen.
Awakening is a Catholic retreat held at many colleges and universities across the country, as well as in a number of dioceses. It is a weekend retreat where young adults grow closer to God, make new friends, and experience spiritual renewal.
The retreat, though focused on Catholic teachings, is open to people of different denominations who wish to experience the Christian message of hope and love. Awakening invites young adults to experience God’s unconditional love through a variety of talks, prayers, songs, fellowship, and group discussion.
The Campus and Young Adult Office of the Diocese of Brownsville offers a retreat for young adults who aren't in college (whether you never attended or already graduated).
Early registration fee for Valley Awakening is $60 before June 17 and $80 after. Register online at www.cyam.net
Join Bishop Flores for Theology on Tap June 29Join Campus and Young Adult Ministry for Theology on Tap with the Most Rev. Daniel E. Flores on Thursday, June 29, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Schneider’s German Gasthaus & Beergarden, 5507 N Ware Rd., McAllen.
Who are young adults? People between the ages 18-39. That includes single or married, with children or no children, student or non-student.
For more information on Theology on Tap or the Campus and Young Adult Ministry, call (956) 784-5045.
San Martin de Porres School Planning Pre-4th of July Festival Please support Catholic education in the mid-Valley by attending the Pre-4th of July Festival to benefit San Martin de Porres School in Weslaco. The event, which will feature food, games, rides, chalupa bingo and more, will be held from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday, July 2 on the grounds of San Martin de Porres Parish and School. For additional information, contact the school at (956) 973-8642.
Sacred Heart Parish in Hidalgo to Break Ground on New SanctuaryBishop Daniel E. Flores and the Fathers of the Pharr Oratory invite the faithful to a Mass and groundbreaking ceremony at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 2 at Sacred Heart Parish, 208 E. Camelia St. in Hidalgo. For more information, contact the parish at (956) 843-2463.
Teenage Girl Retreat Scheduled for July 9The Stewardship and Development Office is pleased to introduce Stacy the Caterpillar, our stewardship mascot, at an upcoming event for girls. In partnership with Simple & Natural®, a retreat for teenage girls aged 13-16 and their mothers or other female guardians is planned for Saturday, July 9 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Bishop Marx Conference Center on the San Juan Pastoral Center grounds. Join Stacy at this fun and fact filled event on a journey to discover “Who Am I?”
At this gathering, we will celebrate the wonderful grace of having been created a girl and the gift of womanhood! Please announce the event at your parish/religious groups. This event is free of charge, breakfast, lunch and a registration packet will be provided. Registration is on a first come, first served basis. For additional information please call (956) 784-5095.
Summer Food Program Volunteers NeededCatholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley is in need of volunteers for the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) 2016. The SFSP was established to ensure that low-income children continue to receive nutritious meals when school is not in session. Free meals are provided to all children at approved sites in areas of the Rio Grande Valley.
We are in search of responsible and committed volunteers for the months of June through August to help maintain the program running smoothly. Volunteers will work out of our San Juan or Brownsville offices. Hours are flexible. All volunteers will receive training detailing their responsibilities. Volunteers should have an available form of transportation as well as a driver’s license and automobile insurance.
For questions or referrals of interested individuals please contact Tracey Perez, Food Program Coordinator, at email@example.com or (956)702-4088.
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Catholic Diocese of Brownsville1910 University Boulevard • Brownsville, Texas 78520 • (956) 542-2501 • (956) 542-6751 Fax 700 North Virgen de San Juan Blvd • San Juan, Texas 78589 • (956) 781-5323 • (956) 784-5081 Fax Contact Us Copyright © 2014 Diocese of Brownsville. All Rights Reserved.