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December 14, 2015   •   VOL. 53, NO. 21   •   Oakland, CA
Other front page stories
 
A blessed, holy Christmas
as we begin Year of Mercy

 
A safe house for victims of
human trafficking
Burying the dead, and caring for survivors
 

Robert Seelig

Among the corporal works of mercy — and the one that perhaps makes people feel the most uncomfortable — is burying the dead.

"We're living in such a death-denying culture," said Rev. Padraig Greene, parish relationship director with Catholic Funeral & Cemetery Services.

But there's no denying death when you work in Father Greene's ministry. In addition to presentations at parishes, educating people about the diocesan funeral and cemetery services, he works in grief ministry.

More than 600 people attended his "Coping with the Holidays" sessions over the past couple of months.

"The anticipation is worse than the day," he said.

But for those who could use a quiet place and a sympathetic ear, Father Greene will open the Mullen Commons at St. John Vianney Parish in Walnut Creek from 1:30 to 3 p.m. on Christmas Day for a drop-in session.

 
Related Story
Coping with grief
during the holidays
 
Those who might seek it out could be lonely or, just as likely, needing to get away from too many well-intentioned people.

"They need to come in from the cold," he said.

As part of his ministry, Father Greene has been training grief ministers, many of whom have suffered the loss of a love one. "They place their healing hearts in the service of others," he said.

"You can only do that if you have done some healing," he said.

That is particularly the case at Cooper's Chapel in Oakland's Fruitvale District, where he has trained 10 grief ministers who some of have suffered the death of a child, some by murder.

Ministry to the bereaved is one of the hallmarks of Catholic Funeral & Cemetery Services, which under the leadership of Executive Director Robert Seelig, has reshaped the mission of the diocesan organization.

"I figured it would take five years for the financial turnaround," he said.

That was 2002.

"At 36, I was very curious: Are cemetery gates narrow and closed or open and wide?"

For baptized Catholics, Seelig said, burial in a Catholic cemetery is a "birthright."

"I didn't think cemeteries were a place of judgment," he said. "They need to be the place we take everyone in their brokenness," he said. "We're all broken."

"Death is a sacramental moment," he said. For those who mourn, it's a "reflection on our faith. Do I believe in the resurrection? How have I been living my life?"

He was also concerned with Catholic cemeteries' relevance, and the ability to serve changing needs of families.

"Are we losing touch with what's going on," he said, noting that people are more mobile than a generation ago.

Cremation was an example. Vatican II allowed cremation. "In 2002, we were still facing questions: If I choose cremation, can I still have a Catholic funeral?"

The answer was – and is – yes.

Scattering of ashes or keeping the remains at home in an urn are not acceptable in Catholic teaching. But the cemeteries didn't have many niches. "If you toured a Catholic cemetery in 2002, you couldn't see where cremation fit," Seelig said.

The care of the living became a high priority as well.

"The church needs to be actively engaged in ministry to families at the time of death," he said. Through the grief ministry, that service continues.

There's no timetable to grief, Father Greene points out. People put a limit on their support of grieving people, Father Greene said, usually ending on the first anniversary of the death.

"The deeper the love, the greater the pain, the longer it takes," he said. "You don't realize the power of relationships in our lives until we lose one.

"Death ends a life, but not a relationship."

For those who are grieving at Christmas, Father Greene suggests rituals may help. Set a place at the table for your loved one. Offer a toast with a favorite beverage.

"If we believe in the resurrection, they're with us," he said. "Their spirit envelopes us."

And if you're looking for something to say to someone who is grieving, a simple, "I'm with you," is a powerful message.


Coping with grief during the holidays


The death of a loved one is always traumatic, but during the holidays, the feelings of loss can be even more pronounced. Each person has to grieve in his or her own way. There are some general tips that can help you get through this difficult time.

1. Only do what feels right.

2. Accept your feelings — whatever they might be. Don't let anyone tell you "how you should feel." Do not think you are protecting your family by not expressing your sadness.

3. Call on your family and friends.

4. Plan ahead — plan in advance how you want to spend your time and with whom.

5. Scale back — do not plan holidays as if nothing happened.

6. Give.

7. Acknowledge those who have died with rituals. Do something to honor the memory of your loved ones.

8. Do something different. Create new holiday traditions.

9. Skip it.

10. Focus on the children.

11. Take care of you. Eat well and exercise. Allow yourself small physical pleasures like hot baths, naps and favorite foods. Avoid drinking too much alcohol or using other drugs.

12. Give yourself a break from grieving with distractions like movies, dinner out, prayer/meditation, reading a book, listening to music or getting a massage or a manicure. You must work through grief but you don't need to focus on it all the time.

13. Consider a grief support group.

(Father Padraig Greene is parish relationship manager for CFCS Oakland.)

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