Love is Listening

At the beginning of March, Gardens of Gethsemani, our Catholic Cemetery, started a new initiative called the aftercare card program. It consists in sending out five mailings throughout the year of someone’s loss with grief support material and messages of hope, comfort and prayer. One of the mailings is a survey asking for feedback It is also an opportunity to reach out and see if there is anything else we can do for our families. In the feedback we have observed many community members asking for further grief support. We’ve also had families and priests reach out personally to ask us to begin formal grief support groups.

This is something that has been on the heart of the Gardens staff for a long time, and we have decided that this is the moment to make it a reality. The current pandemic has brought to our attention with even more boldness the importance of support, rituals and the caring presence of others while people are grieving. We have partnered with St. Patrick’s Parish in Maple Ridge to offer a grief support group in early 2021.

Three words come to mind when I think of a grief support group: presence, listening and powerful.

Having someone be truly present is such a gift these days. Having three, four or eight people be present to you all at the same time can be a powerful experience. Sometimes when someone is grieving it is hard for just one person to carry their pain and emotion. When this pain is brought forth and shared in a safe group setting, the pain can be held differently and softened. Together we are stronger and this strength enables us to carry difficult emotions and to listen to and process them; and what can be processed and integrated, can be healed (Bessel Van der Kolk).

Michael Verde says love is listening. How we all crave to be fully listened to, seen and understood. How often do we have to keep much of us silent and secret for fear of being judged, criticized or shunned.  Grief can bring about challenging emotions and experiences. If these are kept buried inside for too long, it may cause feelings of shame, guilt and low self-esteem. When these emotions and experiences can be shared they become less scary, they can be normalized and experienced in a bigger context of human experience and compassion.

Not everyone is ready to join a support group. Some people prefer one on one support from a close friend, priest or counselor. Some of us find support in bible studies, prayer groups and other types of gatherings. There are so many different ways to give and receive care, and all of these are important.

For all those who may be grieving at this time, be it a loss of a loved one or the loss of a job, a relationship or a community; I encourage you to reach out. Don’t keep the pain to yourself. With the current restrictions we are still allowed to meet for one on one counseling, for spiritual direction, confession, support groups and walks. If you are interested in joining a grief support please contact Anna, the Gardens outreach manager at aloch@rccav.org. If you would like to speak to a counselor, the Archdiocese has put together a list of competent registered counselors that can be accessed online at beholdvancouver.org/services/counselling

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