By LINDA M. LINONIS
People struggling with grief and the feeling of loss after the death of a loved one tend to feel that pain more during the Christmas season.
The loved one no longer is there to fill his or her chair at the holiday table and participate in family traditions.
A bereavement ministry, a collaboration of St. Jude Church in Columbiana and Our Lady of Lourdes Church in East Palestine, offers Seasons of Hope, a Christ-centered support group. Sessions are planned for 3 p.m. Sundays at St. Jude Church, 180 Seventh St. Though this session is during the Christmas season, the group is offered throughout the year.
Deacon Chris Evans leads participants in prayer, Scripture and sharing. He said the group is offered by the Catholic church but participants of various faiths are welcome.
Evans said the support group has the name Seasons of Hope, but it’s not geared to nature’s seasons. This is the fourth session offered this year. Other sessions took place roughly during Lent, the spring into summer, at summer’s end into fall and the current session, which began Sunday. There are breaks between the sessions. Each Sunday afternoon session lasts about an hour and a half. The next session will begin in late January or early February. Usually about 10 people attend.
Evans said Seasons of Hope was started by a hospice nurse and bereavement ministry specialist, Donna Macleod, who lost her youngest daughter to cancer. The response of her parish prompted Macleod in 1988 to organize faith-sharing groups for those who mourn.
The scripted program follows a guidebook, one for each season. Each of the four seasons has a “point of departure” for the journey; each of the 24 sessions follows a certain theme. The first session Sunday was on “Father’s House,” that is, heaven. This weekend will be path to understanding.
Evans said participants have lost spouses and other loved ones. Some people are having difficulty “letting go” even though the loss was years ago. “It’s an opportunity to come in and reflect ... and hear other people’s stories,” he said.
Evans emphasized that “there’s no pressure to share” ... people can just listen.” He added, “People can share as the spirit prompts them.”
“We recognize that human beings struggle with our response to death,” he said.
In the support group, Evans said people no longer feel all alone and realize others experience similar emotions. “That sharing is key. And what is shared in the group stays with the group, It’s keeping a confidence,” Evans said.
What sets this support group apart from others is its use of faith as a resource. “We talk about passages from the Bible and how they apply today,” Evans said.
Often, Evans said, people who have lost a spouse wonder why God didn’t “take” them together. “They ask, ‘Why am I still here?’” he said. “We talk about the idea that maybe God isn’t done with you yet.”
Surviving spouses and loved ones can take comfort in the Christian belief “that the loved one is waiting for them on the other side.”
“A lot of the hurt is tied up in memories,” Evans said. But when the group discusses if not having a memory would be easier, all say they would retain memory.
“There’s no magic pill,” Evans said when it comes to coping with grief. “But knowing we will see our loved ones again is a comfort.”
For information, call Evans at 330-402-5450.