Monday, October 14, 2019
Priscilla A. Greear - Florida Catholic
KEY BISCAYNE | Every September, Dorothy Brandreth remembers a very personal 9/11: the day she attended her 28-year-old son’s funeral following his fatal drug overdose.
Her son was living in New York and “so vibrant, full of life.”
“The question always comes up, ‘where were you on 9/11?’ And all I can think of was that I was at my son’s funeral. It was just devastating,” said Brandreth, a nurse, spiritual director and psychotherapist. “It really shocked me. I didn’t even know he was doing drugs.”
Since his death in 2001, she’s walked a rugged path to peace, living with complicated grief. “It’s very painful in the beginning. There are a lot of questions and anger towards God. Why me and my son?” said Brandreth, a parishioner at St. Matthew Church in Hallandale Beach. “Eventually it does work into acceptance but it’s allowing yourself to feel all that angst and the loss. And of course, one of the things that always gets me is that I was in Massachusetts and he was in New York and how could he die without his mother there? That just still pains me.”
Invited by her pastor, Brandreth started a grief support group in August at St. Matthew, to help others grieve and find peace. “There’s a great need within the parish for the ministry,” she said. “I think in just the short month it has helped the people coming to the group, just being able to talk about it and not feel guilty. Because so often people, especially family, are like ‘you should get over this.’ With grieving, everybody is different and has their own timeline.”
Brandreth and 31 others from across the Archdiocese of Miami spent two Saturdays, Sept. 7 and 14, at St. Agnes Church on Key Biscayne learning the skills needed to refresh or develop grief ministries in their parishes.
The event was the fourth volunteer training sponsored by MorningStar Renewal Centerand Global Grief Support, an ecumenical bereavement ministry training team led by MorningStar director Sue DeFerrari, social worker Diana Carmona, grief counselor Ligia Houben and Lutheran chaplain and Global Grief president Rev. Dr. Dale Young.
The first training was held at First Church of Coral Springs following the Parkland massacre. It was followed by others at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in South Miami and at MorningStar in Pinecrest. Topics included the nature and stages of grief, language usage to the bereaved and group facilitation.
DeFerrari said that many people try to anesthetize their grief through diversions, from alcohol to Disney. But “you have to go through it to come out healthier on the other side. You might have your scars but to get to that place of peace you have to go through it.”
As secular grief groups typically discourage religious discussion, the training addressed the importance of church ministries acknowledging spirituality as an essential resource and allowing people to express their faith — including anger, doubts and sadness.
“We learned about the spirituality of grief and being able to connect our Christian story, our faith stories, to the grief process. So we in particular focused on the story of the exile, from having to move from this place of grief and detachment and uprootedness and loss to a place of resolution, of re-rootedness, of healing and restoration,” DeFerrari said. “You’re learning but you’re invited to connect it to your own experience and in that way you gain the tool so that you can recognize it in other people.”
While some parishes have bereavement ministries, DeFerrari encourages more churches to train facilitators. “We don’t want anyone to feel alone in the darkest time of their life. We want them to know God is with them and the parish is the place we can experience that. Our vision is to help parishes raise up healthy ministries to walk with people who are bereaved,” she said. “The grief doesn’t stop after the funeral.”
Lay minister Morella Diaz serves in Emmaus ministry at St. Hugh Church in Coconut Grove. “You have someone who is really going through a very sad situation and you just don’t know what to do,” she said. “This has been part of my process of growing and developing in bereavement support.”
She eventually plans to assist with the parish’s nascent bereavement support group. “For me spirituality has always been very important in making decisions, going through situations and putting things in the hands of God and asking him to guide me and give me strength,” she said. “This workshop helped me a lot as to how to ask questions that will really make a difference and not just with the usual comments — you’ll get over it, don’t worry, God has a plan.”
Participants also explored other types of grief, including loss of jobs, relationships, homeland and professional identity. That’s particularly relevant at St. Hugh, which continually receives immigrants fleeing oppression in Venezuela and other parts of South America.
Diaz herself experienced loss of family unity when relatives fled violence in Venezuela and scattered. “You have so many other losses that all come together and in a moment of crisis can just surface. And maybe you didn’t understand why and reacted some way you didn’t have to. In my community this is a very important ministry to have.”
Gonzalo Lauria was so eager to help his pastor at St. Agnes, Father Juan Carlos Paguaga, build a bereavement ministry at the parish, that he sponsored five workshop participants — his wife, daughter, two cousins from Pompano Beach and himself. He’ll soon be heading up the new ministry at the parish. “I’m in several ministries — we all need this. It’s a tool,” Lauria said.
He added that the church is an ideal setting to bring people together from diverse backgrounds for healing. “We get together with people from many countries and we are able to help because our grief is common,” he said. “You can bring meaning to your grief. It’s probably one of the strongest ways to come out of your grief, to come out stronger.”
Brandreth found help after her son’s tragic death through grief counseling and supportive friends. And “if I didn’t have my faith I don’t know if I would have survived.”
A bitter consolation: Her two nephews who worked at the Word Trade Center were at her son’s funeral when the twin towers collapsed. And she finally stopped asking why. “I feel like I’m at peace with it now,” she said. “I feel certain I can do that (support group) and have enough empathy for people and their situations.”
After the training, she apologized to her granddaughter for “cutting off her grief” and telling her to “let it go” in mourning the death of an elderly loved one. And she was reminded to have faith in the group process. “Sometimes, being a nurse, I always want to fix but I have to realize I’m not going to fix. I have to allow the healing process to work.”