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Grief is a God-given gift that helps others adjust to a loss

God is present in the midst of grief, pastor, psychologist say

Father Joe Kempf has witnessed plenty of heartache lately.

Fr. Kempf
Like many other priests, part of his ministry is comforting families when they lose a loved one. But lately, some of the funerals he’s presided at have been for people who have died at a young age. Witnessing tragedies in the news, such as the shooting death at a Catholic Supply store, also have evoked feelings of grief in many people, he added.

The pastor of Most Sacred Heart Parish in Eureka said that the gift of faith can help people process grief in healthy ways. Father Kempf has addressed the topic — as well as finding God in moments of loss — in several books and videos over the years, including “No One Cries the Wrong Way: Seeing God Through Tears,” published in 2001.

Knowing that there is eternal life after life on earth can bring peace in the midst of loss, he said, but it does not take away the need to grieve. “How we grieve will vary according to how different we each are,” he said. “There is no correct way to grieve and no time limit.”

So where does God factor into this? Father Kempf said it is important to take great care when speaking about God to those who are suffering. “Phrases such as ‘God never gives you more than you can handle’ or ‘everything happens for a reason’ seem to suggest that God is the cause of their heartache, and give many people a distorted image of God,” he said.

A more accurate image of God’s presence in the midst of grief is shown in the Gospel of John, when Jesus stands before the tomb of his deceased friend Lazarus. In the end, Jesus calls Lazarus from the tomb, bringing him back to life. But the part of the story many people miss is that Jesus first weeps at the death of his friend (John 11:35).

“I have often been with people who know great heartache and have sensed — if they could see God — they would see God weeping with them,” Father Kempf said.

“No, God does not send us suffering or death” Father Kempf stressed. But when suffering does happen, God is right there with us to bring good out of them. “Often, there is something of God that is forged in our souls through

suffering that we would have not known except through what we have suffered,” he said.

Grief is a God-given gift and healthy process designed to help people survive a loss, according to Suzanne Harvath, a psychologist, coordinator of human and pastoral formation and associate professor of pastoral theology at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary.

“We are learning how to adjust our life and our beliefs and our feelings in order to go on in our lives without wherever it is we have lost,” she said. “It is a lifelong adjustment process.”

She cited four primary grief tasks developed by psychologist William Worden of Harvard University, which are needed to complete the mourning process. The tasks aren’t meant to be sequential, Harvath noted, and people may move back and forth among each task as they process their grief. They include:

Accept the reality of the loss: This entails eventually coming to peace with the fact the loss happened — and that will take time. Our assumptive beliefs have been disrupted, especially in situations where a loss happened suddenly. “We are all touched by a death of a community member, whether we know this person or not,” Harvath said. “But the other thing we are grieving is a loss of innocence, a loss of safety, a loss of sense of well-being.” That’s why people ask questions in an attempt to make sense of a tragic situation, such as the shooting death of Jamie Schmidt at a Catholic Supply store. “Here’s a nice lady who went to the store to buy rosary parts — something like this shouldn’t have happened to her,” Harvath said.

Experience the emotions associated with a loss: It’s important for people to talk to others about how sad, frightened or angry they are about a loss. Talking with others helps with the healing process. On 9/11, for example, it was difficult to watch the airplanes as they crashed into the World Trade Center buildings. For most people, an acceptance of the situation grew over time. “We kept talking about it, expressing emotions and getting help with those emotions.”

Adjust to the environment where the loss has occurred: Certainly a loss changes us, Harvath said, but we look for ways to adjust our ways of living in order to keep living our lives.

Form an enduring relationship with the person or situation we have lost: When a person dies, or we experience a situation where a loss has occurred, we begin to see a shift from a relationship of presence to a relationship of memory. We will never forget the person, or the situation as it was before the loss, Harvath said.

Grief is unique to each individual, said Harvath. It is important to respect others’ expressions and help them as they proceed in their grief, not being afraid to acknowledge their loss or emotions, she added.

Of course, there are times in which grief becomes complicated. Recognizing signs that a person is stuck in their grief is important, Harvath noted. In those situations, support from a professional counselor or a trained spiritual director can prove beneficial.

Through tragedy, Church offers healing through prayers, sacraments
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Blessing, prayer service at Catholic Supply is one visible example of Church’s healing ministry

BY JENNIFER BRINKER | [email protected]twitter: @jenniferbrinker

In November, Archbishop Robert J. Carlson gathered with a small group for a prayer service and blessing of Catholic Supply in west St. Louis County.

It was two weeks after a gunman came into the store and sexually assaulted two women and killed 53-year-old Jamie Schmidt of House Springs.

The prayer service was an opportunity for victims’ families, Catholic Supply staff and others to communally pray for healing for those who were impacted by the horrific events. “We ask the Lord to dispel our fears, to heal the physical and psychological wounds that have been caused by the evil that happened in this place, and to bring comfort and peace in His ever abiding presence,” the archbishop offered in the opening prayer.

As St. Paul once said, nothing — not even death — can separate us from the love of Christ (Romans 8:35).

Through prayer, the faithful can be sources of healing to others. That was Archbishop Carlson’s reason for wanting to pray with others at Catholic Supply, he said. “In the world today, there are people who are broken, maimed, sad and desperate,” he said. “As Church, we’re called as best we can in our own way to be a healer.”

Citing the story of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, Archbishop Carlson noted that Jesus was teaching His disciples about relying on the Lord, even when they felt they didn’t have enough food to give to the people. “He was taking the disciples through the school of apostleship,” he said. “We all have gifts, but our gifts are never enough. We always have to rely on the Lord’s help.”

The Church is a path to healing, most visibly through the sacraments. Members of St. Anthony of Padua Church in High Ridge, for example, offered a Mass of remembrance for Schmidt, who was a parishioner and member of the choir there. The Eucharist — the source and summit of faith — united a hurting community and offered an opportunity for healing.

“The prayer tonight healed hearts and brought people closer together and closer to Our Lord,” pastor Father John Reiker said after the Nov. 20 Mass. “You can feel it. You can feel the power of Jesus here.”

Other examples in which the local Church has offered healing include regular prayer services for victims of sexual abuse by clergy or others; as well as the Rite of Naming and Commendation for a Baby Who Has Died Before Birth, which is for families who have lost a baby through miscarriage, stillbirth, abortion or accident.

The archdiocesan Catholic Renewal Center also offers a Healing and Deliverance Ministry. The method complements the sacramental life of the Church and helps the person reconnect in their relationship with Jesus, the source of all healing. There are more than 80 members who are trained to offer healing ministry in the archdiocese.

“In the perfect world, everyone is healed — that’s the heavenly kingdom,” Archbishop Carlson said. “But we have to be constantly involved in healing now. In these very difficult times, like the evil that took place at Catholic Supply … we should be praying for them,” he said.

When reading the news about someone facing something difficult in their lives, we should pray for them, Archbishop said. “Even taking the time when someone dies to go to the funeral home — your presence makes a difference,” he said.

Additional resources

Saint Louis Counseling provides professional counseling services throughout the St. Louis area. Visit saintlouiscounseling.org

The Catholic Renewal Center offers spiritual direction and a Healing and Deliverance Ministry. Visit www.archstl.org/ catholic-renewal-center

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