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By Joseph Reistroffer | Image By Getty Images/iStockphoto/fizkes | May 2022

‘Transformation of Mourning’ Helps Those Who Grieve

Kathy Bourne lost her husband on Oct. 7, 2002. Twenty years later, his death is still raw, and she just can’t bring herself to visit his grave.

“It’s too painful,” she said.

Bourne is still mourning and grieving.

“It gets lonely at times, especially when I see married people together,” she said. “Living as a widow for 20 years is not easy.”

She said she finds comfort in talking with Father David Whitman, pastor of St. Paul’s in Spartanburg. At other times, she feels abandoned.

“Pray for those living alone,” Bourne said. “Widows are kind of forgotten. … We are just cast by the wayside, and it’s not fair. I just want widows to have a voice.”

Kathy Schmugge, director of Family Life for the Diocese of Charleston, also wants widows to have a voice, a place where they can unburden themselves. So, she and her friend Mary Frances Gerber started an online program called “Grief and Loss of Those We Cherish: A Transformation of Mourning.”

Their last programs went from Advent through Christmas and again from Lent through Easter. Three have been held so far. Sessions were once a week and each meeting offered different topics and prayers, Schmugge said. It began as a diocesan resource but has grown beyond South Carolina.

The program offers books and resources while helping people come to terms with their loss.

“It’s not psychological; it’s spiritual,” Schmugge said. “They share their experiences. They work through the grief. Most of all, they realize they are not alone.

“Knowing that you are not alone makes those other pieces so much easier,” she said. “It’s a very lonely journey if you don’t have someone to walk it with.”

Gerber, who facilitates the program from the Diocese of Kansas City, Mo., said participation in the online sessions extended “from the West Coast to the East Coast.” She said that a session on Our Lady of Sorrows can be the perfect companion for a person walking through intense grief.

“Our Lady has a lot of experience with grief,” Gerber said. “Meditating on Our Lady and their sorrows can certainly be very helpful” to those who are mourning, she added.

Damalis Martinez, a 34-year-old from New York City, is mourning the loss of her father.

“A year after my father’s passing, the group led by Mary and Kathy did more for me in a few months than almost a year of traditional talk therapy,” Martinez said. “I was alone, pregnant and extremely depressed. I don’t know what would have happened without them. All the other participants were really there for me as well. It was a very dark time in my life. I’m very grateful to their ministry.”

Another participant named Barbara, from St. Michael Church in Murrells Inlet, said the program showed her how to process her feelings after losing her sister.

“I needed to be able to express my thoughts, and your group allowed me to do this,” she said.

Then there was Kathleen from Las Vegas, who said she looked forward to participating in each Zoom session.

Kathleen, a family therapist who recently lost her husband, said the sessions were invaluable.

“I had to remind myself each week that I was participating for my benefit, for my healing, not as a therapist ministering to the rest of those on the call,” she said. “Each week brought an opportunity to learn from each of the other participants and a safe place to express my feelings and loss.”

Gerber and Schmugge said writing down feelings of pain helps participants deal with loss.

“We encourage writing a daily journal,” Gerber said. “Writing helps us in processing what happens to us. When we can’t process it, we can become sick,” she said.

Schmugge said one widow took that to heart.

“She writes a letter every day to her husband,” Schmugge said. That kind of dialogue helps her “get it out” and heal, she added.

Another way the program works is by generating friendships. Schmugge said it brought together three widows from Myrtle Beach.

“Now they go out for coffee, and they are tighter than tight,” she said.

Schmugge believes Kathy Bourne could benefit from the “Grief and Loss of Those We Cherish” program.

“Jesus is asking us to comfort those who are in mourning,” Schmugge said. 

This online program is one way to do that during the COVID-19 epidemic.

“If we were in person, you know I would reach out and give you a hug,” she said.

While an actual hug may not be possible, a virtual one from those who understand grief and loss is surely the next best thing.


Joseph Reistroffer is a long-time writer who teaches religious education classes at St. Paul the Apostle Church in Spartanburg. Email him at jrjoeyr@gmail.com.