For the Clergy

Grief is a normal, natural process that takes place after the death of a loved one. Those experiencing grief may have many or few outward signs of mourning.

Numbness, tears, sadness, anger, withdrawal from others, and sometimes physical ailments are all necessary, vital and normal parts of the process of healing. It is important for the bereaved person to understand that his painful feelings are normal and it is "okay" to express them.

How Can I Help?

Assisting with the Funeral
Often clergy are involved with planning a funeral or memorial service. This is a painful period when confusion and shock reign within the bereaved family. Nevertheless, necessary decisions must be made.

Clergy can encourage family members to be together, and to participate in planning the service, if that is their wish. Single parent, separated and divorced families may face additional problems. Please remember that all children, regardless of age, will be deeply affected by the death -- ensure that siblings will feel included at this crucial time.

After the Funeral
Many families have reported that, while their clergy were helpful at the time of the funeral service, the families needed more support afterwards.

Depending on your individual relationship to the family as a pastor and counselor, try to remain close to the family or see that a network of support is established on your behalf.

The family may be unable to reach out on their own. The funeral takes less than an hour -- but the grieving becomes part of that individual's or family's life. While coping with the funeral calls for one expression of ministry, supporting the long term grief process requires another.

What about the Bereaved Family's Faith In God? How is That Affected?
All family members are unique - after the death of a child, each reacts to God differently. They may direct anger at a "God of retribution" or display a "why have you forsaken me, God?" attitude. It may be hard to understand "why" or "for what purpose" a child must die -- or hard to accept that God would take back a child.

Faith may be shaken. A spiritual leader can help by offering support at this time. It can become a time of examining faith in oneself and in God. How you handle this question of faith can be critical to the future faith of the individual that you are counseling.

Take the time to be a true friend and seek the wisdom to counsel gently. Remember that listening to another's pain is the most helpful way to assist the grieving process. Resist the temptation to provide pat answers! Often we feel powerless and ineffective sitting with the bereaved -- yet, to "be there" with them is the most meaningful form of ministry we can provide.

Grief Support is not my Specialty. What Other Resources are Available?
The wisest counsellors are often those who know when to make a referral. In addition to your pastoral ministry, bereavement groups like Bereaved Families can provide support. Bereaved Families offers self-help support groups and access to referral resources.

Shouldn't the Family be Over Their Grief After Six Months?
Grieving has no time limit. It can take at least 18-24 months just to stabilize after a loved one dies.

Individual differences are important to remember. The family may appear to be coping rather well at the time of the death and the funeral. In actual fact they are more likely to be in shock, feeling nothing but a sense of numbness.

As time goes on, grief may manifest itself in tears, depression, anger and physical symptoms of distress. Panic and guilt are often present. Along with depression, many may feel hostility and resentment.

No one follows a prescribed "grief pattern". Eventually, families begin to resume normal activities and even to see hope returning to their lives. It is unreasonable to expect the bereaved to "become themselves" again after such grief. The death of a child profoundly and permanently changes a family and its members.

What About Grieving Children, How Can I Help Them?
Children and young adults grieve differently than adults.

When a child dies, responding to the needs of the surviving children can be most difficult for the parents. The spiritual leader can help by being sensitive to the needs of surviving children and by helping the parent(s) see just how important the surviving children's own grief and needs are at this time

Bereavement groups are available for siblings of young persons who have died -- in some communities, these groups are available at toddler age and up. Books on adolescent grief are available. As well, storybooks can help young children and parents share their feelings about death. All can be invaluable in helping children or youth cope with bereavement.

How Do I Recognize The Symptoms of Abnormal Grief?
Normal grief reactions can appear exaggerated to those who have never experienced bereavement. If you believe, however, that the grief seems "out of proportion" it is wise to seek the advice of a person experienced in grief counselling. Often, what is labelled, as abnormal or pathologic grief is, in fact, the normal pattern for parental and sibling resources.

How Bereaved Families of Toronto Can Help
Bereaved Families provides a caring support system designed to help families cope with the painful reality of their loss and return to the mainstream of life.

Small group discussions led by trained bereaved facilitators are available for parents, siblings (age 3 through 30) and grandparents. Over a period of three months, small groups of approximately eight meet each week for two-hour sessions. More informal meetings with Bereaved Families are available through family nights, newsletters and individual contact. Where needed, we can provide a professional referral.

Professionals with expertise in the nature and dynamics of grief supervise all group programs and train the bereaved parents for their sensitive role as group leaders.

Bereaved Families also provides educational programs and workshops for professionals and for the bereaved.