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A challenge for all
of us: Don't waste
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Sister Alana
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Sister Ancila

placeholder May 23, 2016   •   VOL. 54, NO. 10   •   Oakland, CA

Grieving is not about forgetting, says a parent. Grieving with others in a safe, facilitated environment provides a process to sort through the myriads of feelings.

A challenge for all of us: Don't waste your grief

Rainier Maria Rilke, poet and noted spiritual writer wrote a collection of poems in the early 20th Century.

At one point in one of his poems, he encourages his readers not to be a "waster of sorrows." In another of his works he encourages a young friend to use his sorrows in a positive way as a means to help him grow in holiness.

Rev. Padraig Greene

This is a challenge for all of us. Everyone has grief in life of one kind or another. The important question is not whether we have losses in our lives or not but what can we do with them so that we don't waste them.

The reality is what we do with our grief can have a tremendous impact on our growth as a person, psychologically, emotionally and spiritually. With this article I will share some words of life from people who embraced their grief and gave it quality time in our Grief Ministry.

So many authors as well as so many people who postponed grief work for years or even decades have indicated that our grief will come back to haunt us.

We need to integrate our grief into our lives in a way that leads to growth and that is the focus of the CFCS Grief Process provided now for the past two years at funeral centers and parishes. In a safe environment, with trained/supervised grief ministers, participants learn skills as well as "do grief work" to integrate their grief into their lives and grow spiritually and psychologically.

Jesus experienced grief in his life. In fact, there are at least two times in the New Testament when Jesus cried. We know he cried when his good friend Lazarus died. Jesus also experienced great emotional pain in the Garden of Gethsemane. He prayed "in his anguish." Jesus is our role model in showing us how to grieve and not waste it.

If we are not to waste our grief, the first thing we have to do is to grieve. We can choose to be bitter or better. Some grieving persons choose to be bitter and begin to have health issues and doctors recommend medication.

In making a commitment to grieve, we choose life. If we don't, the pain will always stand between us and maturing in life. Failure to grieve intentionally causes a part of us to become caught in the past that will eventually influence the quality of our emotional and spiritual health.

Grieving is not about forgetting. Grieving allows us to heal and to remember our loved ones with love rather than pain. Grieving with others in a safe facilitated environment provides a process to sort through the myriads of feelings.

Gradually you begin to let go of the loved one and integrate the memories into your heart and spirit as you restructure your life and begin to live again.

Shakespeare once said; "Put words on your sorrow? Many people feel that it is a sign of weak faith to feel sorry for ourselves. It is a profound help towards feeling all the emotions we are experiencing. If you don't feel it, you won't heal it. A significant part of our process is allowing participants the space to feel all their grief feelings as they experience the reality of their loss. We can never forget that the depth of the pain is due to the quality of the reality they had with the deceased. The greater the love, the deeper the pain, the longer the grief process lasts. In a sense it is never completed in this life.

If we simply try to spiritualize or rationalize our grief or dismiss or run away from it we will not grow emotionally or spiritually.

If, as Ram Dass, a noted spiritual author suggests, life is the ultimate spiritual teacher, we cannot learn unless we attend school. This usually means allowing ourselves not only to be touched by life, but to fully participate in it. The unexperienced life does not teach anybody anything.

Sometimes we numb ourselves or shelter ourselves from grief but none of these strategies lead to healing.

Avoidance, rationalization, alcohol, prescription drugs, careerism may numb the pain but they also hurt us in fundamental ways. They prevent us from forming a relationship with the deceased as well as enjoying the store of memories.

None of them is respectful of the relationship we had with the deceased. None of them acknowledges our capacity to find meaning in our grief and be a source of compassion to other hurting persons.

Grieving makes us more compassionate toward others. That is why a key component of CFCS' Grief Process is a team of wounded healers who share their stories in a heartfelt way and become sources of healing for the participants and companions for the journey for as long as needed. And then they become "wounded healers" for others, a sign they have not wasted their grief.

(Rev. Padraig Greene is parish relationship director for Catholic Funeral & Cemetery Services Grief Ministry of the Diocese of Oakland.)

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