By Becky Aubut, Anchor Staff
FALL RIVER, Mass. — “Grief doesn’t pick you by race, color or creed. Grief is universal, there’s one language spoken and that’s pain and hurt,” said Rose Mary Saraiva, who launched a bereavement support group in the Fall River Diocese by 2012, and now has seen the ministry grow in leaps and bounds.
Saraiva can relate to those suffering from loss; her 23-year old daughter passed away in a car accident in 2006, and by 2010, Saraiva was looking for a way to channel her grief into something positive. After earning a certificate from Bristol Community College in thanatology (the study on how loss affects physical, psychological and social well-being), Saraiva used her parish as a place for group meetings. Now more than two years later, Saraiva has a formal list on the Office of Faith Formation’s website of additional bereavement support groups that meet outside of the Fall River/New Bedford area.
“I have a folder of contacts of people calling me, asking who can come to this group,” said Saraiva, pulling out the folder from her desk in her office at the Office of Faith Formation, where she works not just in the bereavement ministry, but also as events coordinator and in the Marriage ministry.
What began as messages in parish bulletins has grown through word-of-mouth into multiple agencies calling her, from local hospitals to private and public schools; a Google search for bereavement support groups in the Fall River area will result in the Office of Faith Formation at the top of the list. Even the website “The Grief Toolbox” has picked up Saraiva’s efforts and posted her group as a resource. All of this attention and seeing the bereavement ministry grow showcases a need that is finally being met, said Saraiva.
“They’re hurting. I was there. I know exactly what it feels like, and you feel so isolated,” she said. “That’s one of the things that resonated over the past couple of years — I’ll ask, what have been the hardest things during the grieving? And they’ll talk about the loneliness.”
What helps those suffering during their grief is “coming together and just sharing stories,” said Saraiva. “Just realizing they’re not crazy, not alone and that somebody else feels the same way we do. Just being able to talk about their loved one. Once they’re outside of the [support group] setting, nobody wants to hear about it anymore. That’s the hardest thing — nobody really wants to hear it anymore. For them, the support group is a safe environment.”
During the sessions, many attendees may hear the same stories or share the same stories over and over again, but that repetition brings its own source of comfort, said Saraiva. Grief has no time frame, and everyone grieves differently and in his or her own way. That weekly contact gives those seeking comfort a steady support system as they work through the pain.
“It’s scary to reach out to someone for help,” said Saraiva. “When you’re a grieving or bereaved person, the hardest four-letter word to say is ‘help.’ It took me a while to get help. I can tell when someone is new to the support group because there’s a hesitation, a fear, that ‘what in the world am I doing here?’ One of the things I recommend to anyone is give it at least three tries. If a group doesn’t work for you, that’s OK. Most facilitators do not get upset with that. They understand you have to find what fits and what works, but definitely give it three times.”
As Saraiva’s list of area support groups has grown, so has the need to create groups that concentrate on specialized areas of grief. Already widow/widower support groups have begun to pop up, and Saraiva said her own eclectic group of grieving individuals who range from siblings, grandparents and parents, would benefit from sharing with those who have more in common — especially the youngest members of the support group.
“I would love to do a teen-age group,” said Saraiva, who said she’d like to have someone in his or her late teens or early 20s, working alongside an adult facilitator, become lead facilitator of a group. “The reason that has come up is because I’ve had people come with their parents. I’ve had teen-agers with a mother, father or grandparent. They’ll be there but feel isolated because there aren’t other teen-agers there. They shared but they were reserved.”
Another group that Saraiva feels would benefit from becoming more specialized would be those dealing with the sensitive subject of suicide. “When I’ve had people come to the group who have suffered a loss from suicide, they sometimes feel there’s a stigma with it. They’re looking for a support group” that deals solely with those who lost someone from suicide, said Saraiva, adding that the recent death of actor Robin Williams has thrown a bright spotlight on the subject.
“With Robin Williams’ death, now people are starting to realize the impact suicide has on individuals and families,” said Saraiva. “Not because he’s a celebrity, but also the confusion over suicide and how people view it. He made it visual, and made people realize that grief and depression is tough. Now there’s all this information coming out about grief and support.”
Saraiva is also looking for a co-facilitator for her own group that she could take under her wing to teach, and then allow that co-facilitator to branch off into his or her own group. “That would be ideal,” she said, “and once they’re comfortable, they could branch off and do a segmented group. That way I can say, on such-and-such a night, there is a group just for [a certain type of group].”
There is no competition between groups, and that anyone who hears of a support group is welcome to contact her so that she can post the information on the Office of Faith Formation website. Already the additional groups are opening up options for individuals who may have had a conflict with meeting times; a newly-posted group is offering sessions in the morning, allowing those who may work a second shift or are uncomfortable driving at night, to find support.
“We need bridges between support groups” and communication is key to making that happen, said Saraiva. “We’re looking and if we can plug you in, we will.”
Saraiva wants to get the word out that though many of the support groups listed on the Office of Faith Formation website fall under the diocesan banner, anyone of any faith — or even lack thereof — are welcome to join and find comfort; she wants everyone to know they are not alone.
“I don’t turn anyone away. We need to meet the needs of the community. The Beatitudes say it well: ‘Blessed be those who mourn, for they will be comforted’ (Mt 5:4). That’s Pope Francis’ biggest thing, to live by the Beatitudes. I have people call me and ask if this is strictly a Catholic thing, and I tell them that grief doesn’t have a denomination,” said Saraiva. “The key of the group is, what you hear here, stays here. Tears are welcome and invited. It takes a lot of courage to say what you’re going to say, so we give people their space.”
BEREAVEMENT ONLINE RESOURCES
Office of Faith Formation in Fall River
The Grief Toolbox
St. Joseph’s Rectory
1335 North Main Street
Fall River, Mass.
508-678-2828 [ext. 27]
Meets Tuesday, 7-9 p.m.
VNA of Southeastern Mass. Inc.
(Hospice and Palliative Care)
502 Bedford Street, 4th floor
Fall River, Mass.
Call for current day/time
Adam’s House (Sun Porch area)
1168 Highland Avenue
Fall River, Mass.
Starts Thursday, September 11, 10-11:30 a.m.
**Please register for session by September 8
**Runs for five consecutive weeks
St. Mary’s Parish Hall
783 Dartmouth Street
South Dartmouth, Mass.
Meets Wednesdays, 6:30-8 p.m.
Whaler’s Cove Assisted Living
114 Riverside Avenue
New Bedford, Mass.
Starts Monday, September 8, 10-11:30 a.m.
**Please register for session by September 5
**Runs for five consecutive weeks
Edgewater II Apartments (Widow/Widower Support)
49 Borden Road
Every fourth Monday, 11 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
La Salette Retreat Center
947 Park Street
Every other Wednesday, 10-11:30 a.m.
Rainbows (Children suffering loss)
Our Lady of Lourdes School
52 1st Street