For a family grieving over the loss of a loved one, ringing in the new year can signal a time of renewal. But for those still grappling with the emotions of having celebrated the holidays without a family member, two organizations in Queens offer bereavement assistance to help manage that lingering sense of sorrow.
Although St. Adalbert in Elmhurst is a Catholic Church, people of any faith are welcome to attend the ministry’s bereavement groups.
The bereavement sessions at St. Adalbert’s are for both children and adults and are broken down into five specialized support groups based on age and circumstance of death. The meetings are held once a month at the church.
“When a death happens in the family — whether it be a sibling, parent or grandparent — everybody in the family is grieving in their own way,” Eileen Pesek, the director of bereavement ministry for the last 26 years, explained. “It’s almost like a mobile over a baby’s crib. When you take one of the figures off, it’s unbalanced and they have to become a new family. It really just changes the dynamics of the family forever. They will never be the same family again. It might make them more sensitive to each other.”
When a parent dies, the more a child is included in the grieving process, the less frightening it is to him.
“That’s why if children want to go to a funeral or a memorial service, it’s a good idea,” said Pesek. “They see people crying, but they understand why.”
According to Pesek, when a parent dies, children usually ask three questions: “Did I cause it?”; “Is it going to happen to me?”; and “Who’s going to take care of me?”
She has found that kids of all ages, including teenagers, tend to blame themselves.
“They have magical thinking. They think that if they had a disagreement with that person or in their mind they thought badly of that person and then the person died, that their magical thinking caused the death.”
In the event of a death of a child, Pesek recommends that parents attend a bereaved parents support group.
“Nobody understands the loss of a child compared to other bereaved parents. Other people say they know, but they don’t know. That’s a light in a time of darkness for the parents. They see other people who’ve lost their child, and they’re moving forward in their grief, and they’re able to enter back into life again, able to smile again, able to talk. It does offer them a lot of hope that just maybe I’ll be able to do that, too.”
Pesek also advises that parents appoint a shepherd, or a trusted person who will be emotionally available to the other children while the parents deal with their own grief.
“Parents are in a very fragile state when a child dies. [It would be helpful] if they could ask someone, ‘You know, I’m fragile, I’m not myself. Can you be especially attentive to my children if they want to talk about it?’” She believes that parents must deal with their own grief as a role model for their children. After all, if a family does not confront each other’s emotions and communicate each other’s anguish to one another, the members of the family will never be able to heal themselves.
“My motto is, ‘Grief does not go away. It will wait and demand your attention.’”
The Hospice Care Network in Fresh Meadows offers a vast network of bereavement support services to the community, including phone counseling, professional referrals, educational seminars, and consultations to civic organizations in crisis settings.
Support group counseling is moderated by licensed social workers and mental health workers. While participants in the support groups are required to pay a minimal fee, individual therapy is free of charge to any member of the community.
“Each person grieves differently, and as many individuals as there are, that is how many ways there are to grieve,” said Barbara McGuire, a bereavement counselor at the network, who encourages group therapy, but also believes in individual counseling. “Healing is also individualized and specific to that person and how they cope.”
McGuire said that the network offers support groups for both children and adults, yet the therapeutic approaches within each group are different.
“We started the children’s bereavement program, because we recognize that they have unique needs,” she explained. “It gives children a safe place to be with their peers who have gone through something similar. We do storytelling, art, creative writing, puppetry and game-playing. It’s all done in a multi-therapeutic mode. With adults, it’s more geared towards education and conversation.”
Most importantly, McGuire says, grief counseling has taught people how to ask for help outside of their families.
“The stigma of receiving support isn’t as strong as it was years ago, but I do think it’s good for people to know that seeking help is a good way to go through this,” she observed. “People often say ‘time heals,’ but it’s what we do with that time that’s more important. It’s important for people to know that it’s OK to seek support in this time. Their pain and heartache cannot be dissipated but going through the journey with someone helps to make it a little less lonely and a little less difficult.”
• • •
These services are available to all citizens of the community and do not require health insurance.
St. Adalbert Church [52-29 83rd St. in Elmhurst, (718) 639-0212], ask for Eileen Pesek, Director of Bereavement Ministry.
Hospice Care Network [59-07 175th Pl. in Fresh Meadows, (516) 832-7100], ask for the Bereavement Department.