January 20, 2006

‘Mission Day’ will help people cope
with traumatic loss

By Mary Ann Wyand

Bereavement ministry can be daunting at times because each loss is unique and each person grieves in a different way.

That’s why the archdiocesan Catholic Cemeteries Association began offering an annual “Mission Day” four years ago for pastors, parish staff members, funeral directors, cemeteries staff members and lay volunteers who provide grief ministry at archdiocesan parishes.

Steven Tibbetts of Minneapolis, a psychotherapist, educator and funeral director, is the keynote speaker for the association’s fourth annual “Mission Day” on Feb. 1 at Our Lady of Fatima Retreat House, 5353 E. 56th St., in Indianapolis.

Tibbetts, who teaches at the School of Mortuary Science at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, will discuss “Understanding and Responding to Traumatic Loss—Understanding the Assumptive World” and “Interventions for Traumatic Loss—How to be Supportive, Do’s and Don’ts.”

He also is a board member of the National Catholic Ministry to the Bereaved.

The traumatic loss of a loved one is extremely stressful for survivors, Tibbetts said, who are immobilized by shock.

“Everyone has assumptions about the things that they think could possibly happen in their world and the things that they think could possibly never happen,” he said. “Then something comes along that is a violation of that assumptive world, and the greater the violation, the greater the trauma” experienced by survivors.

People in shock over the sudden death of a loved one often have limited coping skills, techniques and experience in dealing with that kind of loss, Tibbetts said. It is normal to have a difficult time accepting the fact that a loved one died because of murder, suicide, an accident, sudden infant death syndrome or other unexpected health problems.

“It’s so unimaginable,” he said. “There’s no time for goodbyes, no time for preparing people.”

Especially when a loved one is murdered, he said, people feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to turn for help in their time of grief.

“It’s important for people to understand that denial is very necessary,” Tibbetts said. “Denial is a very important part of the grief process, and it’s OK when people experience denial … before accepting the reality of what has happened.”

He recommends that people in ministry help grieving people take enough time saying goodbye to a loved one by spending more time with the person’s body during the wake and funeral service.

Tibbetts said research indicates that the more time survivors spend with the deceased person’s body, the better they seem to adjust to the bereavement process.

Father Patrick Beidelman, pastor of SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral Parish in Indianapolis and part-time director of liturgy for the archdiocesan Office of Worship, will discuss “The Funeral Rites from a Liturgical Perspective.”

The program also includes a small-group discussion on “Applying Our New Skills in Our Respective Workplace” as well as prayer, breakfast and lunch at the archdiocesan retreat house. It concludes at 4 p.m. A free-will offering will be accepted to cover expenses.

Msgr. Joseph F. Schaedel, vicar general and pastor of Holy Rosary Parish in Indianapolis, and Marilyn Hess, associate director of healing family ministries for the archdiocesan Office of Family Ministries, will begin the Mission Day at 9 a.m. with morning prayer followed by an introduction to the program and its purpose.

“It promises to be a day of reflection, insight and group activities,” Msgr. Schaedel said. “The idea to have such a day grew out of the increasing realization on the part of our cemeteries’ staff that their work was more than just ‘work.’ It is really a ministry. It is one of the Church’s corporal works of mercy to bury the dead.

“This is true not only for the Church’s official ministers, but for everyone involved—from the sales counselors in the office to the groundskeepers,” he said. “I was so touched by the stories [that] our maintenance folks shared with me about their encounters with people visiting graves in our Catholic cemeteries. As a staff, we wanted time to reflect on our ministry together. Then came the idea to invite our funeral directors who partner with us in this corporal work of mercy. Many parishes have bereavement committees [and] we have included them as well.”

Msgr. Schaedel said “It is a privilege for all of us—clergy and laity—to work with families during their time of grief at the loss of a loved one. Hopefully, through our annual Mission Day, we can support and help one another in this wonderful work for the people of God.”

(For more information or to register, call Mary Williams at Our Lady of Peace Cemetery in Indianapolis at 317-574-8898 by Jan. 25.) †


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