By Becky Aubut
FALL RIVER, Mass. — The end of the calendar year signals tidings of joy and thanksgiving, but when you’re grieving the loss of a loved one — whether recent or longer — Santa brings with him a mixed bag of emotions.
Rose Mary Saraiva, the driving force behind the creation of a strong bereavement ministry in the Fall River Diocese, 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 six years later, Saraiva has a formal list on the Office of Faith Formation’s website of bereavement support groups (www.FallRiverFaithFormation.org/Bereavement).
“With Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year around the corner — even Halloween, I had somebody bring up Halloween — all major holidays,” said Saraiva, that often have significance to either those who have passed, those who are still here, or both.
“When it comes to the holidays and grief, it’s taking your time,” she said. “It’s not trying to rush or pre-anticipate how you’re going to feel. Sometimes we go into this doomsday mentality, and [think] it’s going to be hell. And it may not even be the first holiday you felt that; sometimes the first holiday is a blur. My daughter died in September, and I basically coasted through Thanksgiving and Christmas. Some people coast because they’re still numb. Sometimes the second one is when they realize they’ve gone a whole year without their loved one. All of the sudden it hits them, and it’s ‘what do I do now?’”
“People just need to take a step back and be in the moment, take it as it comes, and not worry about the day; you’ll get through it,” said Saraiva.
“We have so many misconceptions about holidays and grief, including the belief we need to be strong. We have to contain our emotions. We can’t cry. We don’t want to ruin anybody else’s holiday,” said Saraiva, and that’s so far from the truth. “You can express your emotions, and you’re going to need to. If you don’t, you’re going to be a volcano ready to explode. You need to be allowed to feel. Someone you love is missing from your holidays. You need to grieve.”
Then comes the dilemma for some: Do you follow through with your holiday plans?
“You do what you need to do,” said Saraiva. “You have to be good to yourself, even if some people say that sounds selfish. When you’re sick, you go to bed and take care of yourself. But when we’re grieving, we’re too busy saying ‘we’re OK,’ and we forget that we’re not OK.”
The questions continue to roll in: Do I put up a tree? Do I decorate? One rule is: don’t worry about what everyone else is thinking, worry about what would be important to you and your loved one.
“Was it a holiday that meant a lot to them?” asked Saraiva. “If it was, why would you not honor them with whatever tradition you did? Maybe make a new tradition? If this was someone you bought a gift for each Christmas, buy something for someone else in their name, or a charity that needs it. If you sent $20, donate $20. That type of thing.
“If baking is your forte, and you’ve made the [deceased] person’s favorite every year, make the favorite dish for someone else. Things like that give the holidays meaning and keep the memory alive. You’re doing things to honor them, instead of [saying], ‘I’m not going to put up a tree.’”
Support groups meet all year, but wind down during the holidays; they will start back up again in January. During the lull, Saraiva offers an annual prayer service.
In its sixth year, the prayer service offers individuals and families who attend bereavement support groups the chance to come back together again, or give support to those wishing to be surrounded by those who “get it,” said Saraiva. Open to everyone, you don’t have to come alone but can bring family members.
“I have a book that I’ve kept from year to year, and when they come in, they sign in it a loved one’s name,” said Saraiva. “What I do is, there’s a point in the service where there’s just instrumental music, and they’re invited to light a candle. While they’re doing that, the names they wrote down are recited.”
Saraiva also offers materials for people to help them create a smooth journey through the holidays while dealing with grief.
“Ritual is important when you’re grieving,” she said. “You need something that ties in with your loss, plus it gives you the opportunity to be in an environment where people get it. They’re all missing someone they loved. They want people to remember them. One of the keys that people don’t realize is, people don’t mention the name because [they think] it will cause pain. It’s the reverse; if people don’t mention my loved one’s name, it will hurt, and you think everyone has forgotten them.
“It’s been 10 years since my daughter died, and still some people won’t bring up Rachel’s name. I talk about her, why shouldn’t you? The prayer service is an opportunity to hear their loved one’s name, to hear it read off and acknowledged by everyone present. That’s key.”
The prayer service will be held on December 6 at 7 p.m. at Holy Trinity Parish, 951 Stafford Road in Fall River. Please RSVP by calling Saraiva at 508-678-2828. After the service, refreshments will be offered at the church hall.