Forever Loved: Grief Ministry Offers Hope for Advent, Christmas

By Wendy Healy from the Communication Office of the Holy Name Province

St. Anthony Shrine held a candlelight service of remembrance earlier this month for those mourning a loved one. 

The holidays are difficult for those who have lost a loved one. The void left by the deceased can grow more pronounced during the festive season. To help care for those who are in mourning, ministries around the Province offer grief programs, many with special events at the end of the year.

“I believe that Christmas is for healing,” Joseph Quinn, OFM, told more than 150 people who attended the Candlelight Service of Remembrance at St. Anthony Shrine the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

While the holidays can feel very sad for people who are grieving, Joseph offered them hope in the Christ child. “The child of our dreams came to heal. From the manger to the cross to the empty tomb to our hearts,” he told the attendees. The special service, part of Joe’s grief ministry, lets people know their loved ones will never be forgotten. He acknowledged that although hearts may be broken this holiday season, there is hope.

Celebrating Gifts of Love

The Christmas season is particularly hard on the bereaved, said Joe, who has been running the ministry for three years. The licensed funeral director and former college professor of mortuary science said that people don’t always feel the holiday spirit and the worst thing they can do is deny their feelings.

“I remind people that they do not grieve if they have not loved,” he said, pointing out that the name of the remembrance service was “Forever Loved.” “You cannot grieve over someone you never loved.” The service, he said, was about celebrating the many gifts of love, and realizing that the deceased are always with you. “The greatest way to remember is to share memories of life, not death,” he said in his homily.

The purpose of the holiday service, he said, is to help people prepare for the joyous season ahead. “Held the first week in Advent, it helps people prepare for the world outside of the doors of the church that says this time of year is joyful and happy, even though their hearts are broken.”

The service is part of a broader grief ministry, according to Joe, who meets with 12 people in a group setting for six weeks, three times a year. The group, open to all parishes in the archdiocese, includes people who have lost children, spouses, friends and other family members.

“It’s extremely intense and they come in as 12 different people with 12 different stories,” he said. The program is so popular that it has a wait list, he added, because it is the only program of its kind in Boston.

While the program is only three years old in Boston, Joe has been doing grief work and running support groups for individuals and seminars for friars for more than 30 years. “I’m from Long Beach Island, N.J. That’s my home parish. I managed a funeral home there and met the friars 37 years ago and started doing grief support groups for LBI. I found there was a great need.”