By Becky Aubut
EAST FALMOUTH, Mass. — When M. Donna MacLeod lost her daughter Erynne to cancer in 1988, MacLeod found loving support at her then-parish, Sacred Heart Parish in Hopedale, Mass., and to show her appreciation to the parish for their support, MacLeod decided to give back by creating a bereavement ministry.
“I had no idea that I’d be called to accompany others who mourn,” recalled MacLeod. “Their compassion for our whole family during Erynne’s final months, the funeral, and afterward made me want to do something to say thank you. So I asked permission to coordinate their supportive efforts so that every family who faced the loss of a loved one would get the same outpouring of God’s love in their time of need. A funeral ministry to the bereaved was formed through the commitment of our priests and many parishioners.”
When the pastor of Sacred Heart Parish passed away two years later, parishioners created a support group to handle their grief, and the associate pastor approached MacLeod and asked her to write up something and facilitate the group with him — and “Seasons of Hope” was born.
“Those who came were struggling with the Spiritual side of grieving,” said MacLeod. “Using whatever I came up with each week, we set out to find the Lord in the midst of our grief. Our Catholic faith and traditions gave us strength and hope. Later, my husband and I moved to the Pacific Northwest and then to Florida. Our parishes welcomed the groups. Over time, four ‘Seasons of Hope’ six-week seasons evolved. I was amazed at how the group process inspired gratitude and openness to God’s compassion, consolation, and mercy. We were truly blessed.
“In 2005, our group in Medford, Ore. insisted that ‘Seasons of Hope’ was needed in parishes everywhere. I would discover that Ave Maria Press agreed; ‘Seasons of Hope Guidebook: Creating and Sustaining Catholic Bereavement Groups’ and four participant journals were published in 2007. Thanks to the grace of God, ‘Seasons of Hope’ has spread across America and beyond. Recently, retirement led my husband and me back to New England to be near our oldest daughter, Meganne Duckworth and family.”
Rose Mary Saraiva, coordinator for bereavement ministry of the Office of Faith Formation in Fall River, first heard about “Seasons of Hope” after she lost her daughter Rachel in 2006.
“I was looking for anything that could help me with my grief,” said Saraiva. “Her story was so similar to mine, in that she too had lost a daughter, and in her healing wanted to help others in a faith-filled walk through their grief. And now Donna is a resident in our diocese; what a great asset for us.”
Now a member of St. Anthony’s Parish in Falmouth, MacLeod will facilitate “Seasons of Hope” at the parish starting October 28 and running through December 2. All group sessions offer Scripture-based sessions for those who are grieving; each session follows a simple and supportive format of commentary, Scripture, prayer, group exercises and faith sharing through the foundation of Catholic tradition.
“One of my favorite (Scriptures) is John 20:11-18, an account of Mary Magdalene at the tomb,” said MacLeod. “She surely had great love for our Lord, knew Him well, bravely supported Him at Calvary, yet, grief blinded her to His Risen presence. Grief can do that to us too. Mary Magdalene did, however, recognize our Lord that day and once she did, she was given an assignment — to bring hope in Christ to the other disciples.
“My favorite exercise is when we stop to listen to Sacred music that expresses the Scripture story of the session. Sacred music has a beautiful way of easing open our aching hearts to let in God’s message. It also lifts the spirit.”
Though not actually being sponsored by the Office of Faith Formation, Saraiva will be the self-described “silent partner” who will help welcome individuals, sign them in, and help distribute materials. Saraiva said she hopes people attending will walk away from each session feeling supported and loved, and with a true understanding they are not alone.
“God walks besides us not only in good times, but in our darkest of days as well, and when we can no longer carry ourselves, He carries us,” said Saraiva. “Also, my prayer is that they understand they do not need to travel this road alone, that others have been there before and understand the array of emotions and confusion that surround us in grief.”
MacLeod said the feedback from those who have attended the sessions has been overwhelmingly positive, and she appreciated that St. Anthony’s pastor, Msgr. Stephen Avila and the parishioners have given a “very warm New England welcome” to “Seasons of Hope.”
“They have tended to the brokenhearted in so many beautiful ways and are supporting the ‘Seasons of Hope’ group with prayers and by spreading the word about this Christ-centered group to those who are hurting,” said MacLeod, “and grieving parishioners have found the courage to join our first group here at St. Anthony’s.”
For those interested in registering to reserve a seat and booklet, contact MacLeod at 508-477-1401. The first session will begin on October 28 and will be from 8:45 a.m. – 11 a.m. and will be held at St. Anthony Parish, 167 East Falmouth Highway in East Falmouth. Anyone wishing to do so, can attend 8 a.m. Mass prior to the session.