I did many things during Pastoral Year, and if “every one of them were written down, even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” But one experience from this year at Cathedral that stands out was a conversation that I had with someone who participated in our bereavement ministry, called GriefShare. I will, for privacy, call this person “Jane.”
We had our first GriefShare meeting in July. About twenty people came, and every single one of them had a story about losing a child, spouse, or friend to illness, cancer, or suicide. Some losses were as recent as May, while others dated back several years but were still affecting their lives.
“Jane” came because she had lost a daughter to a longtime illness. Jane said that although her daughter had died over a year ago, she still mourned and felt a lot of anger, because certain relatives had not reached out to her after the death of her daughter.
One evening, Jane was telling the small group that I was helping to facilitate that she had been struggling especially hard with this anger, because it was near the anniversary of her daughter’s death. I listened with the others while she talked, then asked if I could recommend a Bible verse for her to pray with. She said yes, and I said that I had been looking at John 20:23, where Jesus gives the apostles the authority to forgive sins.
In this verse, Jesus tells the apostles that the sins they forgive are forgiven and the sins they retain are retained. I believed that Christ wanted her to hear this verse because she was “retaining” the sins of those people who had not communicated with her after her daughter’s death. By doing this, she was allowing resentment to be retained in her life, and this resentment was preventing her from being as close as she could be to Christ and to others.
I do not know if she prayed with that verse after we talked, but she was grateful for those in our small group who were willing to walk with her as she faced this struggle. I was grateful, not only for her willingness to share, but also for two lessons that I learned:
First, our conversation reinforced the importance of listening. Jane mentioned that even family members and close friends sometimes had difficulty just listening. Instead, they often wanted to offer easy solutions, pious sayings, or simplistic advice.
Second, I re-learned the fact that God speaks to us in a very personal way through the Bible. Sometimes, I forget that Scripture is more than an ancient tome that we hear at Mass or a book of sayings that we put on bumper stickers and fridge magnets. Scripture is “God’s love letter to us.” It is him speaking to us in every circumstance, good and bad, of our lives, just as a friend would.
Although I am no longer an official part of the Cathedral’s staff, GriefShare is still going! It meets every Thursday through October 1st, from 6-8pm, in the room that used to be the school’s cafêteria. Contact Vicki Compton at [email protected] for more information. If you are struggling with the loss of a loved one, I could not recommend it more.