Deacon Henry DeMena leads a bereavement counseling training workshop Oct. 4 at St. Thomas More Parish in Sarasota.

Counseling the bereaved takes patience, time

Sarasota | A recent training seminar focused on helping educate parish volunteers who assist those suffering from bereavement.

Deacon Henry deMena, who holds a master’s degree in counseling with extensive training and experience in bereavement, led the two-day workshop at St. Thomas More Parish in Sarasota with the goal of helping volunteers give hope to those who are grieving.

The workshop was made possible by the Diocese Office of Family Life, which is part of the Office of Evangelization, to better train grief counselors with a goal of increasing structured bereavement support groups in the parishes.

Deacon deMena stressed throughout the workshop that grief counseling is very complicated because there are many factors that can impact someone’s grief, such as their attachment/relationship with the deceased, suddenness or closeness to the death, previous losses, support of family or friends, and other daily stress.

While the strength of one’s faith is directly related to how someone deals with a loss, Deacon deMena said counselors must be strong in their own faith before helping others. This is necessary because it is common for even the most devout to question where God is in their life when a loss occurs.

“This is why it is important not to use platitudes, such as ‘She’s in a better place’ or ‘He is no longer suffering,’” he added. “These have hollow meaning to someone who wants their loved one back or thinks about the suffering as something they could have helped prevent.”

Three keys of being an effective grief counselor are listening, supporting and educating, Deacon deMena said. This is not easy, since comments, small gestures or other seemingly innocuous acts intended to comfort the bereaved could have the opposite effect depending on how or when they are made to the bereaved.

“This is about being a good observer and listener who recognizes the cues of what feelings and emotions the person in mourning is really trying to express,” he said. “What is being projected on the outside is often very different than what a person is feeling on the inside.”

The workshop stressed the importance that bereavement is a process that takes time and work. Deacon deMena engaged the attendees by offering scenarios or situations and seeking how they would respond. This method is helping the volunteers learn that there is much more to bereavement counseling than saying kind words.

In addition, the group learned about the need for the bereaved to accept the reality of their loss, to work through the pain of grief, and adjust to life without the deceased, and finally encourage them to reinvest in life. Other topics covered included counseling bereaved children, as well as how to handle the holidays.