How does a person tackle day-to-day life after suffering the numbing loss of a loved one? What happens after the flowers, food, the donations of remembrance and thoughts and prayers from everyone else fade into the past?
To address this concern as a parish, Msgr. Francis Malone, pastor of Christ the King Church in Little Rock, brought together individuals with an expressed interest in this kind of ministry in August 2013.
According to group facilitator Deacon Mike Rector, “It started because two worlds came together — the diaconate and the laity.”
“In my third year of diaconate training (in 2011) candidates were to select and work in an internship approved for the formation class. In one of my conversations with Msgr. Malone, he pointed out a need in our parish that was not being met when he said, ‘Mike, we are fine in our ministry of caring for the sick and the dying until the time comes to work with family members immediately after the funeral. There are people out there all alone in the months following it.’”
Rector knew exactly what Msgr. Malone meant because of his own experience with death. As a teenager, Rector, along with his mother, cared for his younger brother who died at age 16, suffering from muscular dystrophy.
Kathy Kordsmeier at St. Joseph Church in Conway assisted Christ the King in setting up the program.
“Working with Sandy DeCoursey, then director of parish life and outreach in our parish, we were able to create a program based on the ideas shared by Kathy Kordsmeier. This includes the Ministry of Consolation book provided by the National Catholic Ministry to the Bereaved Inc.”
During this time, Lauretta and Steve Koenigseder decided to become more involved in parish work.
“I had just retired and we wanted to do something specifically for our church,” Lauretta Koenigseder said. “As a nurse, I am drawn to comfort and to console people and through Martha’s Meals, a program in our parish that provides dinners for families after funerals, Steve and I discovered a booklet, “Journeying Through Grief,” that we could distribute to these families after the funeral.”
The catalyst for getting the ministry started came in the form of a letter in June 2013 from parishioner Dale Emmerling to Msgr. Malone. Following the death of his wife Joyce in 2012, Emmerling attended a grief support group sponsored by Fellowship Bible Church in Little Rock. Emmerling urged his pastor to consider providing the same kind of support to grieving families at Christ the King.
Msgr. Malone said the mourning process takes time.
“In the first year, you have to deal with the anniversaries, the birthdays, the holidays and the anniversary of the death itself,” he said. “It is especially difficult if the loved one was the only one you were living with at the time. The children are all grown. It will mean the home environment has changed drastically.”
Another team volunteer, Corky Keys, witnessed that drastic change when her husband died suddenly 20 years ago.
“Weekends were long after that, and my children tried to help but I knew they had their own lives to live, and I wanted them to do that,” she said. “My job as a nurse played a big part in my grieving recovery. Soon I started some activities at church and with some of my single friends and, by the grace of God, I found myself slowly healing.”
Keys said by sharing life stories through the grief support group “we lessen our anguish. As we progress on our journey, maybe we too have something to offer the newly bereaved that we wouldn’t have been able to do earlier. We become stronger as we hear how others cope with their unique situation.”
Msgr. Malone agreed with Keys’ assessment.
“I feel that the best ambassador for this idea of grief support in our parish comes from those who have experienced the loss of a loved one and have been able to go through the mourning process with such support,” he said.
Companions on a Journey: A Ministry of Consolation meets at 9 a.m. Saturdays, March 8, March 22 and April 5. The final meeting, a memorial service for loved ones, will take place in the church. For more information, contact Rector at (501) 681-8137.
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