Story by Lois Rogers | Correspondent
Grief at the loss of a loved one can be a constantly evolving process.
Just ask Bob Rizzo of Mother of Mercy Parish, Asbury Park, who has been missing his wife, Theresa, for five years. While life certainly goes on for the 85-year-old, he said he still cries for the “lady who lit up his life” since 1952.
Memories of their family Christmas celebrations are especially apt to flood back at this time of year, said Rizzo, who after his wife’s death, devoted much of his time to a bereavement ministry in his parish.
“You can’t help but miss somebody, but you try to get on,” he said.
While he is no longer actively involved in bereavement ministry, one of the ways he copes is by reaching out to those he comes across who are experiencing the loss of a loved one.
So as he has in the past, this Christmas, Rizzo will touch base with the many friends he made in the bereavement sessions. He will also dig into the trove of printed material he’s amassed over the past five years – religious literature that offers insights on how best to get through the Christmas season – and re-home it where he thinks it will do some good.
And Rizzo, a great conversationalist, will also make every effort to actively engage in dialogue, not in a text or email, but face-to-face. Such engagements remind him of his early life in Brooklyn, where stopping by a neighbors’ house on a winter evening – or any other time of year – was just a welcome fact of life.
His advice for those experiencing grief during the Christmas season is to understand that many people are in the same situation.
“Realize you are not unique,” he advised. “Go out and talk to people. Be with people.”
A Time to Remember
Seasonal services in parishes throughout the Diocese can also bring consolation to those experiencing grief this Advent.
For six years, Deacon Michael McKenna of St. Rose of Lima, Freehold, has been assisting his wife, Betty Ann, at the “Celebrating Angels” gathering in the warm enclosure of the Victorian church that dates to 1882. On Dec. 10, dozens of faithful of all generations from the greater Freehold area attended the service.
Betty Ann McKenna
said she created the program to help those in the midst of grief who are feeling overwhelmed, not only by loss but by the expectations of others. The aim, she said, was to provide an opportunity to remember in a special way those who have died.
The recent gathering consisted of a prayer service conducted by Deacon McKenna where deceased loved ones were honored by family members placing personalized angel ornaments on the church Christmas tree. The ornaments become part of the decorations during the season and will be mailed home to the families after Epiphany.
Betty Ann McKenna said that over the years, the service has been well-received. “[It] lets people bring their grief somewhere at Christmas. Some people come every year.
“One woman, who has become a good friend, is Jewish and attends because she finds it a very comforting experience,” she added.
That’s how parishioner Christine Gregory described it. She attended the service to remember her late parents, Ruth and Richard. Gregory, who makes the most of Advent and Christmas by visiting events at the many churches throughout the area, called the service “spiritual and comforting – just right,” especially on a day when she learned of the death of one of her parish friends.
“She passed away this morning, and it is very comforting to be able to come here,” said Gregory, who added an angel ornament with her friend’s name on it to the tree. “Seeing [the angels] throughout Christmas means a lot.”
Peace & Quiet
Carol DeMuria is a member of the bereavement team in St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel. The loss of her parents, in-laws and brother made her realize the importance of consolation ministry, which is why last year, she committed to a six-month course offered by the Diocese. DeMuria, who led “An Evening of Prayer” Dec. 12 in the church, has been actively involved in the ministry ever since.
“We started with a small group, and now we are doing a prayer service every month for different intentions,” she said and added that offering a service during Advent is especially important. “As the holiday approached, I kept encountering people who were grieving.”
One such person was Rae Cristino. This is the second Christmas that Cristino will celebrate without her mother, Angelina Foglia. One reason she attended the prayer service, she said, is because she is on a mission to weave the spirit of her mother into ongoing traditions as well as create new ways to share memories.
Attending the service, she said, “gave me a sense of peacefulness among all of the hoopla.”
The parish service also welcomed a guest speaker, Noreen Potterton, a St. Benedict School social worker. Cristino said Potterton offered good coping suggestions for the holidays and advice such as “not to be pressured into doing everything we used to do.”
She also appreciated Potterton’s suggestion to make a list of things “you may want to do and weigh them for what is most important.”
The calm, quiet night of reflection and prayer in St. Benedict Church was just what she needed, Cristino said.
“Hearing the hymn, ‘You Are Mine’ really struck a chord,” she said. “I felt that God was holding me, carrying me through this. Just sitting in the church was a gift.”[[In-content Ad]]