Filed Under:  Columns, Opinion

Stages of grief hit many forms of death

17th December 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Fr. Jerome LeDoux
Contributing Columnist

Twenty percent Hispanic, 40 percent Black and 40 percent white, Holy Cross Church in Dallas had been in our conversation for the six years and five months that I have been here at Our Mother Of Mercy Church in Fort Worth. Finally, it came alive as Jo Ann Goudeau, in the name of the Holy Cross Life Force Team, invited me to speak.

The occasion was a Holy Cross Life Force Team prayer brunch at high noon, Saturday, November 10. Seeking input and inspiration, the Life Force Team had invited me to share thoughts on grief. OMM church member Joyce Thomas Brown was my personal chauffeur for the occasion, since she had decided to get a piece of the action.

Small and in disrepair, the original Holy Cross Church building from 1956 is still there, while a new, much larger structure that seats 750 graces the campus. Also spacious is the relatively new hall named after vibrant evangelist Sister Thea Bowman, F.S.P.A.

Their mission statement reads, “The Life Force Team is a ministry whose purpose is to provide spiritual, emotional and physical support for families and individuals during critical times such as illness and loss. Our services include personal outreach, workshops and referrals to professional counseling and other agencies as needed.”

That mission fits flush into the fascinating findings of Swiss-born American Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross who was puzzled to find no manual or instructions for assisting people faced with death. So she decided to compile such a manual from her personal experiences over the years, publishing a landmark book on death and dying in 1969.

As to be expected, the Life Force Team was dealing with the same issues so well recounted by Dr. Ross. Other doctors around the world are leading the ministry that includes nurses, medical counselors, pastoral counselors as well as laypersons who aim to comfort, console, uplift, minister to, pray with and, in a word, heal people in every way.

Now universally famous, the five stages of grieving encompass everything that a bereaved person goes through, whether that person is the one dying or someone grieving over one who is dying or dead. Their order is Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance, although one may experience them out of order or skipping one or the other.

It is unnerving to see the stage of anger in action. I knew one person who had worked hard at contracting and aggravating his case of diabetes. He delighted in having his cook wrap oysters with bacon, pinion them with a toothpick, then fry them to crunchy delight. He worsened this by eating lots of boudin and gratons (hog cracklings).

After many years in hog heaven spent feasting on such cholesterol-laden victuals, my hapless friend was first slowed, then bedridden and eventually pushed toward death’s door by a terminal case of diabetes. I could hardly believe the intensity of his seething anger toward himself for all he had done to himself over the years by unbridled eating.

There are numerous cases of heavy smokers who likewise harbored terrible bouts of resentment against themselves when their nicotine addiction finally led to surgical mutilation of their tongue, mouth, throat or lungs in hopes of beating accursed cancer. But, even with half of his tongue removed, one such unfortunate still smoked endlessly.

“Cocaine first puts you in heaven, then drags you down into hell,” one addict told of her grief. Black tar heroin, meth, etc., add up to a $400 billion industry from hell.

As intense and deep as it can be, grief triggered by impending physical death is often much less painful and less enduring than the emotional death brought on by a cold, devastating divorce where at least one party had invested all her/his love, hope and emotional resources as well as all the physical treasures and memorabilia of life.

One friend called almost nightly for three years, undergoing the death her divorce ordeal put her through. My parishioners and I felt this kind of death and funeral at the closure of St. Augustine Church by the Archdiocese of New Orleans on March 15, 2006.

In consoling, counseling, supporting and healing the grief-stricken, we must never forget the sheer magic God has put into our bodies, minds, emotions, hearts and very souls. With evident joy, people tell us that they experience a healing through our eyes, our smile, our face, our voice, our laughter, our hands and all the things we say and do.

This article was originally published in the December 17, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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