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placeholder Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish
has a festive
'welcome home'

Crèche Festival
draws 51 entries

Diocese, cemetery workers ink 10-year, no-layoff pact

Sisters find a new home for valued
piece of their history

Lourdes, a place
of healing for
wounded warriors

Advocate and
fighter for justice:
Gwen Watson

Food justice is theme
of HNU workshop

Widows and
widowers find
support at
Brentwood parish

Two find their voice
in writing stories
of Notre Dame

Retirement? No, thanks, I'd rather
be working

Christmas in Pinole

Christmas for All Saints' 'Busy Bees'

Just for Seniors

changes affecting church now an emerging reality
for nation

placeholder  January 5, 2015   •   VOL. 53, NO. 1   •   Oakland, CA
Senior Living & Resources

Sandy and Frank Heinisch, pictured at the diocesan wedding anniversary in October.

Widows and widowers find support at Brentwood parish

A new support group for widows and widowers has begun, offered by the Ministry of Caring at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Brentwood.

The group is facilitated by Sandy Heinisch, whose work in grief ministry was born of necessity: Her son died and she found nothing in the church at that time to assist her through that loss. She was determined that no one else have that same experience.

Widows and Widowers Grief Support Group
5:45-7:30 p.m. Thursdays

Immaculate Heart
of Mary Parish

500 Fairview Ave., Brentwood
Information: 925-513-3412 or sandynca@sbcglobal.net
A trained nurse and nursing instructor, she has gained extensive experience as a grief minister/counselor and trainer with the National Catholic Ministry to the Bereaved. She and her husband Frank have been married for 52 years, and are the parents of two surviving children and grandparents of five. She is the author, with David Nicoll, of "Lights for Dark Places," a book combining poetry and art, for those who grieve.

In addition to her service in the Ministry of Caring at her parish, Immaculate Heart of Mary in Brentwood, as grief ministry director for the Diocese of Oakland, she has trained grief ministers in two dozen parishes in the Diocese of Oakland, including St. Raymond in Dublin; Holy Spirit in Fremont; St. Catherine of Siena in Martinez; and St. Joseph in Alameda. She has worked in the formation program for the deaconate.

Michele Jurich of The Catholic Voice asked some questions about the group for widows and widowers, as well as her experience in grief ministry.

What are widows and widowers looking for when they join a group?

This question I brought to the Widows and Widowers Grief Support group. I asked them what were they seeking. This is what they said: We are looking to hear how others are managing their lives. How are they getting through the holidays, how are they getting through Social Security questions, how are they getting over being angry with God. They bond with each other with their common grief. With my own situation, I wanted to be with other parents who lost a child. They were the only ones who really understood the pain, the questions, the recovery.

How has the Ministry of Caring evolved at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish?

After the death of my 39-year-old son 10 years ago, I sought grief support from my own church. Unfortunately, at that time it had none. I went to secular and Protestant support groups. Something was seriously missing. It was my Catholic spirituality. I went looking in my own faith and found it with the National Catholic Ministry for the Bereaved. I took it back to Immaculate Heart of Mary, which had a temporary pastor at the time and said I wanted to bring this to our community. It began with about 10 members. We began with our attendance at funerals and evolved into our present Ministry of Caring. We now have many more members and from that group we have attendance at funerals, cards sent to the bereaved, health fairs, educational workshops, associations with local hospice organizations, widows and widowers support group, peer one-on-one counseling, and Day of the Dead Masses.

Any words for those who are grieving who might not have found the support they need?

Again, I return to my own experience. Don't give up looking for that right support for yourself. It may be one-on-one counseling or a group setting. Many people do well with groups, and others not. I have found that the best advice I could give to those seeking help and not getting it: Read, pray and seek out those who share that common bond of loss. Those who have had a significant death in their lives know exactly what to say. The vast majority of mourners just want to be heard. They want to know that they are not crazy. They need to know everyone grieves differently and at their own pace. There is no expiration date on grief. You never get "over" the loss; you learn how to cope. This can be accomplished in a group setting or one-on-one.

How can parishes begin to serve the needs of people who are grieving?

We as Catholics must hear and live the beatitude: Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted. You don't need to start your own Ministry of Caring. Perhaps it would be over a cup of coffee with a newly widowed neighbor. This ministry is a quiet ministry. We don't hold fundraising events. Our presence is felt at the time of need. The most important thing is to be known by the pastor and the parish at large. The people need to know you are there for them. At the time of funerals, we give the mourners a card with our phone numbers and grief ministers' names. We tell them that we are available if they need us. The willingness to be present for them is the important factor.

Lastly, this is very important to remember: Grief never ends … but it changes. It's a passage, not a place to stay. Grief is not a sign of weakness, or a lack of faith … it is the price of love.

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