Ministry of Presence for the Sick, Elderly & Disabled
World Day of the Sick: February 11, 2016
Breaking New Ground: Development of a Parish Grief Support Group
by Maryanne Rumancik
About a year and a half ago I asked my parish priest, Fr. Charles Fillion, if there was any ministry that he needed help with. He responded that he felt a grief support group was needed for the parish and that Archbishop Albert Le Gatt was encouraging each parish to develop grief support programs.
In celebration of the 24th World Day of the Sick 2016, February 11, 2016, I was invited by Deacon Stepan Bilynskyy (Archdiocese of St. Boniface) to share on my experiences in developing a parish grief support group. Pope Francis has chosen to focus on the theme of Entrusting Oneself to the Merciful Jesus like Mary: “Do whatever he tells you”(Jn 2:5) for the 24th World Day of the Sick 2016. This theme is based on the Second Luminous Mystery of the Rosary: The Wedding Feast of Cana. At first glance one might question the link between the World Day of the Sick and the Mystery of the Wedding Feast of Cana. Pope Francis teaches:
How much hope there is in that event for all of us! We have a Mother with benevolent and watchful eyes, like her Son; a heart that is maternal and full of mercy, like him; hands that want to help, like the hands of Jesus who broke bread for those who were hungry, touched the sick and healed them.
In my practice as an accredited music therapist I recall meeting people who have experienced a variety of losses which have caused them pain, suffering and grief. Some of these losses have included the death of a loved one, loss of physical or intellectual functioning, or abandonment by family and friends. One elderly man of 99 years, who was preparing for his own end of life, was still grieving the death of his child which took place decades earlier. Other older adults were preparing for their own end of life without the support of family or friends.
My role as a music therapist is to use music as a tool to try to facilitate healing on the physical, cognitive, emotional and spiritual levels. I am not saying that I have performed miracles! Rather, I believe that something more subtle and smaller takes place. Perhaps the willingness to encounter people where they are in their journey and to provide a glimmer of hope brings some form of healing. For me, it is about providing quality of life care and being present to people who are vulnerable or in need.
I am often inspired by Blessed Mother Teresa’s (soon to be canonized a Saint) words and work, especially her example of being present to others in need.
[Blessed Mother Teresa] beyond whatever material assistance she gave to the poor, she made it a point to, first of all, sit, listen, and comfort. She would spend time simply being present with the poor, face-to-face and heart-to-heart with those who had no one – knowing that no amount of blankets or bricks could warm the human heart. No government program could give the gift of presence – only individual hearts. Only the human heart can communicate the heart of God. (Langford, 2008, p. 97).
Although I was surprised by Fr. Charles’ invitation, I could see that it was an extension of work I was already doing and where I wanted to focus more. During my initial research I found that there were not a lot of resources available for grief support and that the materials were quite varied. We decided that we wanted to focus on educating individuals who had lost a loved one about the grieving and mourning processes. Our program was based on Dr. Alan Wolfelt’s Understanding Your Grief: Ten Essential Touchstones for Finding Hope and Healing Your Heart. This book and the companion journal provided important structure to our discussions and meetings. The first group ran last spring and there were ten 2-hour weekly meetings. During the meetings the participants discussed a chapter of the book as well as shared personal experiences.
Dr. Wolfelt compares the grieving process to being in a wilderness “Yet, you must journey through this wilderness. To find your way out, you must become acquainted with its terrain and learn to follow the sometimes hard-to-find trail that leads to healing” (Wolfelt, 2003, p. 3). His book, Understanding Your Grief: Ten Essential Touchstones for Finding Hope and Healing Your Heart, helped participants to identify some of the key markers on their grief journey.
My role as facilitator for the group was to “companion” or be present to the experiences that were being shared within the group. It was important to be “face-to-face and heart-to-heart” with participants in their pain. The weekly meetings provided a safe and confidential space for participants to share their stories of loss and their journeys. We learned together that the grieving process is not a linear journey and that one does not “get over” the loss of a loved one. Reconciliation with the loss or integration of the new reality, by working through one’s grief, allows one to move forward.
I believe that it takes a lot of courage for individuals to work through the grieving process. It is not an easy journey. Many emotions were shared in the group as well as tears and laughter. For the final meeting participants decided to bring photos of their loved one(s) to share with the group. We took the time to share each person’s photos (and albums) along with the stories that went with the pictures. I sensed a positive energy as participants did this with passion. It was a meaningful way to honor those no longer physically present, as well as provide closure for our time together as a group.
It was a privilege for me to be accepted by people to be a part of their grief journey. I was often humbled by their experiences and willingness to share. I was also inspired when I saw them reach out to comfort others who experienced losses as well as to grow in their faith. It is also a reminder to me about valuing relationships, setting priorities and the importance of reaching out to others in need.
The above icon, Deposition from the Cross, was written by myself while on retreat March 2014. The process of writing an icon is also a journey through the wilderness or darkness and I am able to see many parallels with the grief journey. In my experience of writing icons, there is a lot of uncertainty, steps forward and steps backwards with attentive listening to the Holy Spirit for direction. When I gaze upon this icon I see many different emotions portrayed at this dramatic moment when the Crucified Christ has been taken down from the Cross and rests in his Mother’s arms. Suffering and pain co-exist with peace and glory. Mary, the faithful disciple, remains with her Son until the end (or what appears to be the end). Anticipation of the Resurrection allows one to see the glory within the icon. I think that this is the challenge of the grief journey, to work through the pain and suffering of loss in order to live in hope again.
In conclusion, Pope Francis extends an invitation to all to assist those who suffer and grieve:
On this World Day of the Sick let us ask Jesus in his mercy, through the intercession of Mary, his Mother and ours, to grant to all of us this same readiness to be serve those inneed, . . . We too can be hands, arms and hearts which help God to perform his miracles, so often hidden. We too, whether healthy or sick, can offer up our toil and sufferings like the water which filled the jars at the wedding feast of Cana and was turned into the finest wine. By quietly helping those who suffer, as in illness itself, we take our daily cross upon our shoulders and follow the Master (cf. Lk 9:23). Even though the experience of suffering will always remain a mystery, Jesus helps us to reveal its meaning.
My life has been enriched and blessed by reaching out to those who suffer and grieve. It has been a privilege to be invited into their journeys and to “companion” them along the way.
- Langford, Joseph. (2008). Mother Teresa’s secret fire. Huntington, Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division.
- Pope Francis. Message of his Holiness Pope Francis for the 24th world day of the sick 2016. Retrieved January 30, 2016 from:
- Wolfelt, Alan D. (2003). Understanding your grief: Ten essential touchstones for finding hope and healing your heart. Fort Collins, CO: Companion Press.
- Wolfelt, Alan D. (2004). Understanding your grief journal: Exploring the ten essential touchstones. Fort Collins, CO: Companion Press.
Standing on Holy Ground
And God called to Moses from the middle of the bush: “Moses, Moses!” He said, “Here I am.” Moses answered. “Come no nearer,” God said. Take off your shoes, for the place on which you stand is holy ground.” Exodus 3:4-5
If you should ever hear God speaking to you from a burning bush, and it happens more often than most of us realize, take off your shoes for the ground on which you stand is holy.
Sr. Macrina Wiederkehr, OSB
THE MINISTRY OF PRESENCE to the Sick, Elderly and Disabled
VISION: The Ministry of Presence to the Sick, Elderly and Disabled is called to grant a non-judgmental, healing and listening presence within parish communities of the Archdiocese of St. Boniface.
MISSION: The Ministry connects persons of diversity of age, ethnical, educational and social backgrounds into the community that reaches out to residences, group and personal care homes and hospitals.
The Ministry develops and sustains parish based groups of people, who respond to the emotional and spiritual needs of individuals by bringing a caring presence and a living reminder of God’s love.
The Ministry supports the Archbishop, Parish Priests, Deacons and Parish Life Directors to provide effective pastoral care, yet promotes personal and group leadership.
FUNCTIONS OF THE VOLUNTEERS
- To sustain : Volunteers will provide support, comfort, and understanding for individuals going through a time of crisis.
- To guide : Volunteers will help another person, either by direction, clarification or confrontation, to find solutions to problems or existential questions.
- To heal : Volunteers will aid individuals in finding wellness or wholeness from physical or mental conditions, injury or disease (in an emotional and spiritual sense).
- To reconcile: Volunteers will help persons to heal and rejuvenate relationships with neighbor(s), self and God, whenever those relationships were compromised or weakened.
The committee will develop a comprehensive interactive training program (12 hours of training, 3 weekend retreats 4 hours each, at the end of training certificate to be given). The training program will be piloted in Steinbach RC Church, afterwards analyzed and debriefed with the Committee for further development. The goal is to have a power-point based resource, providing a standard across the Archdiocese training that can be easily used by multiple presenters. This may be beneficial with communication and collaboration with Health Care Authorities and will assist in community building at large.
The ''Standing on Holy Ground'' course is comprised of 12 hours of interactive training, including the following topics:
- Spirituality of the Ministry of Presence.
- Identifying Spiritual Needs.
- Ethics: Matters of Power, Sexuality and Confidentiality.
- The Art of Listening and Interpersonal Communication. Inclusive language.
- Visitation: Older Adults; Persons with Visual, Hearing and Intellectual Disabilities.
- Visitation and Prayer.
- Death and Grief.
- Diocesan Protocol for the Protection of Children, Youth and Vulnerable Adults.
Expected outcomes of the training: To provide safe and effective service, volunteers are expected to be reliable and mature individuals, able and willing to communicate with the team (in hospitals, personal care homes, L’Arche homes, etc.); able to effectively and non-judgementally communicate with the families; be dependable; have excellent listening skills; understand non-verbal communication; be sensitive and aware of advantages and hazards of physical contact; be able to “meet people where they are”; have good understanding and respect to personal and institutional confidentiality.
STRUCTURE / RETAINING
The Ministry for the Sick, Elderly and Disabled is dedicated to ongoing discernment through prayer, education and mutual dialogue.
During the base training, it would be reasonable to identify potential leaders that are mature and can work collaboratively with the parish priests. Then a leaders training program should be developed (Ignatian Spirituality, Benedictine Spirituality) outside of the basic 12 hour course.
ONGOING TRAINING AND SUPPORT
An important part of sustaining groups is to have a means for regular parish and diocesan – based meetings, educational sessions and retreats (annually, quarterly).
GRIEF SUPPORT NETWORK
The Ministry of Presence will support existing grief support resources across the Archdiocese. The Ministry of Presence will identify community resources and utilize them for support, where resource information will be developed and provided to the parishes across the Archdiocese. Faith based grief support groups will be developed within the parishes, in a term of two years, by identifying potential leaders, training them and supporting them. The Ministry of Presence will make an effort to build partnership with various community organizations, such as: Compassion Project (Catholic Health Corporation of Manitoba), http://www.chcm-ccsm.ca/compassion-project/; Youville Community Health Centre https://www.youville.ca; Healing Ministry / prayer groups across Archdiocese of St. Boniface, etc.
Grief Support Community Resources
One of the biggest changes in life comes when someone we cherish leaves us through death. Grief is a reaction to losing someone. We all have experienced those loses throughout our lives. We all know grief, in our unique, personal way. Yet grief is something that connects us, as we all experience it. It is neither bad nor immoral, and cannot be processed by someone else.
We need to acknowledge that our grief has exacted its toll on us, but also appreciate what we have learned; understand that we can, and that those who cared about us want us to, move on. To view the Grief Support Community Resources, click here.
GOAL OF PASTORAL SERVICES FOR THE SICK, ELDERLY and DISABLED
Grieving being a common occurrence among the elderly (deceased relatives and friends, poor health, loss of home and autonomy, such as a driver’s license), the goal is to help the elderly, with respect and compassion, to maintain or recover a positive attitude toward aging. Spiritual needs are tied in with the essence of the person and its raison d’être. Like everyone else, the elderly are searching for the meaning of life and a sense of belonging to a community that shares their fundamental values. They also seek to connect with a transcendent Being so as to make sense of their suffering and grief.
Religious support requires skills in developing supportive relationships and in theology, as well as knowledge of available resources. The goal is to help the elderly and the sick to recognize their self-worth and to retain hope. Religious support adds an essential ingredient to the life of the housebound faithful. Ties with God and the community sometimes require changes to one’s worship practices. For example, televised mass may become the only possible mode of Sunday worship. A member of the community can bring them communion at home. In this way, the Communion minister becomes a special Church messenger for the elderly, thereby ensuring continuous participation in parish life.
The committee responsible for the diocesan Ministry for the Sick and the Elderly has started its work with Communion ministers by presenting workshops for persons already providing this service, inviting them to share their experiences and find enrichment in reviewing their own practices. To this end, we have studied documents such as: Un Dieu nomade, (A Wandering God) from the Centre for Spiritual Health in Québec, and the film, This film is about Compassion, from the Catholic Health Corporation of Manitoba. The workshop, already presented to Francophones in May 2013, will be translated into English and offered to anglophone Communion ministers of the Archdiocese in 2014.
The Cathédrale and Précieux-Sang parishes have set up a survey to identify the spiritual needs of senior Francophones in Saint-Boniface, in cooperation with the Université de St-Boniface, le Centre de santé, la Fédération des ainés franco-manitobains (FAFM) et le Conseil des francophones 55+.This initiative is supported by the Archdiocese and the Catholic Health Corporation of Manitoba. The results of the survey will be available by the end of March or early in April. Using this information gathered through the evaluation of the spiritual and religious needs of Francophone seniors, we will maintain our goal of responding to the needs of the elderly and the housebound sick.
The committee responsible for the Diocesan Pastoral Services for the Sick and the Elderly wish to offer a better response to the needs this particular group has identified. Our goal is to provide an enhanced presence so as to ensure that the ministry of Christ’s love and healing is alive and well in our midst.
Ministry of Presence to the Sick,
Elderly & Disabled
Coordinator: Stepan Bilynskyy, Permanent Deacon
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