Patricia and Doriano Baisi with a photo of their late daughter Jenny and her favourite stuffed unicorn. Photo courtesy Baisi family

Support group offers solace in time of pain

By  Agnieszka Ruck, Canadian Catholic News
  • October 2, 2021

SURREY, B.C. -- Doriano and Patricia Baisi’s eldest daughter Jenny was the kind of person you’d find first in line if you mentioned you needed some help.

Despite a learning disability, mental illness and serious back pain, Jenny volunteered at community events, kept close relationships with her two sisters and parents and babied her dog Sarah.

“She had a huge heart. She was generous and liked to help people,” said Patricia.

So when the Baisis learned 46-year-old Jenny was found unresponsive in her home March 14, the sudden loss — likely from a heart attack — broke their hearts.

“You go into a numb shock at first. My brain wasn’t functioning, it was a fog,” said Patricia.

The couple sought various ways to cope with the pain, including talking about her with family and friends. But when the people around them seemed to grow tired of talking about the loss, they found solace in a new grief support program at Gardens of Gethsemani cemetery in Surrey.

“We just talk about our grief. Grieving hurts and everybody understands that pain,” said Patricia. “When you really sit and listen you can hear the pain but you can also hear the lessons.”

The grief support group at Gardens of Gethsemani is made of nine participants and cemetery outreach manager Anna Loch, who is also a trained counsellor. The initiative, launched this year, grew out of a cry from members of the community.

In March 2020, staff began sending five cards a year to people whose loved ones were recently buried at the cemetery with messages of hope, comfort and prayer. During that program, Loch phoned each person and conducted a survey to learn more about how to best support those grieving.

“I would hear from people: ‘I would love more grief support. I am all alone. I am really struggling. It would be great if the Church could do more.’ ”

She soon realized there were no Catholic grief support groups in the area and a great need for one.

“We’re always waiting for the perfect building or the perfect COVID situation, but there was a need, so we just started one,” she said.

Loch is using a Catholic program called Seasons of Hope, written by hospice care and bereavement specialist Donna MacLeod, which offers four seasons of six weekly sessions each. She started the first season in July.

From day one, Loch said the response has been positive.

“Being with other people who get it, they don’t need to keep back the tears,” said Loch. “They can just share, and look around, and see everyone nodding and saying, ‘I get you.’ There is this power and strength in empathy and common experience.”

Loch said in some cases group members experience emotions they can’t quite voice, and it takes someone else with a similar experience talking about it to help them understand it.

“The COVID pandemic has brought to our attention with even more urgency the importance of support, rituals and the caring presence of others while people are grieving.”

In one session, Loch invited all members to bring photos of the loved ones whose deaths they are grieving. The Baisis brought a photo of Jenny, along with her favourite stuffed unicorn. For Loch, the images and stories were incredibly powerful.

“As a facilitator it was such an honour to listen to these love stories. That’s what they are to me,” she said. “Grief is a witness to love: to the love they had for that person, and the fact that we were made for love and connection.”

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