The funeral ends, but the grieving continues

“Our job doesn’t end when we have buried the deceased,” said Larry Reader, who oversees more than two dozen Catholic cemeteries in South Jersey.
“It extends to the families, not just for them to visit the cemetery, but to have actual events at the cemetery for those who have loved ones buried there,” said Reader, acting director of cemeteries and executive director of temporal affairs for the Diocese of Camden. “So it doesn’t just drop at the end of the funeral process. The people aren’t left on their own.”
To help those they serve – the survivors of the recently deceased – the Cemeteries Department recently held bereavement ministry training sessions for the staff of diocesan and parish cemeteries.
The training sessions were the result of a new partnership between the Cemeteries Department and the Office of Faith and Family Life, which routinely helps parishes establish bereavement ministry programs.
“These sessions were a good opportunity to offer our staff a day to talk about how we can better serve the people. Our staff are very involved with the mechanics of burying the dead, which means they are often in contact with the bereaved,” said Marianne Linka, acting assistant director of cemeteries and director of business solutions for the diocese.
Approximately 2,500 people are buried in Catholic cemeteries in South Jersey each year.
“People don’t always join groups to help them through their grief, but they usually do come back to the cemetery,” Linka said.
About 60 people attended the seminars held on May 3 and 16. Attendees represented each of the 15 diocesan-administered cemeteries and 10 parish cemeteries.
St. Joseph Sister Kathy Burton, co-director of Faith and Family Life, co-led the sessions, which included an overview of the entire funeral ceremony from the wake to the interment, pastoral issues staff might encounter, and grief and communication.
“Helping the pastoral staff in each of these areas understand a little more deeply helps them minister to the people they serve a little more deeply,” Sister Kathy Burton said. “Cemeteries are not just a business. They are one way the church reaches out to console those families who are grieving.”
“What we were trying to do is help our staff get a better understanding of what’s involved in a funeral – all the different stages, all the different people involved, the bereavement process that goes way beyond the funeral – to give them an idea of the big picture,” said Reader.
Anne Mazza is an office support person at Gate of Heaven cemetery in Berlin. For the past seven weeks she has participated in the full course of bereavement training offered by the Office of Faith and Family Life.
“There is a certain language that they use. You don’t say, for example, ‘I know how you feel.’ You can’t know how another individual feels,” Mazza said.
“Grieving is a process and it can take a long time or a short time depending on the individual and their specific situation. We must as people be sensitive to the feelings of others. It’s not about us in this ministry. It’s not about our story. It’s about helping others with theirs,” Mazza said.
The training sessions are one way the Cemeteries Department is continually trying to improve its services, Linka said.
In addition to the four Masses held each year in several of the diocese’s mausoleums, the department has begun offering memorial services for the families of those who have buried a loved one in the past year. The next one will be held June 8 at New St. Mary Cemetery and Mausoleum in Bellmawr.
The memorial Mass will be followed by a ceremonial butterfly release and refreshments to allow families to reflect on their loved ones’ lives and share memories with one another, Linka said.

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