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If you have lost a loved one to suicide, you are not alone

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Theresa Civantos Barber - published on 05/24/24

A religious sister founded the first ministry for Catholics grieving a suicide loss, after experiencing this loss herself.

If you are a Catholic grieving the complicated loss of a loved one to suicide, you are not alone.

“My hope and desire is that those who have experienced suicide loss know that they are not alone. God has not abandoned them, their families, or their loved one who died, and the members of Holy Mother Church walk with them as they grieve,” said Sr. Kathryn Maney, M.S., in an interview with Aleteia.

Sr. Kathryn knows this journey personally, and she is the founder of Remember, the first ministry created specifically to serve Catholics grieving a suicide loss. 

When she lost her sister Clare to suicide, Sr. Kathryn found herself in a difficult situation. She craved support for herself and her family but found that the options available did not meet her needs as a practicing Catholic.

First she participated in a secular group, but found that it felt short: “It was very helpful, but also limited because it did not address the whole person, body and soul.”

She later tried a Catholic-sponsored group but found it less helpful. “Prayer was not regularly mentioned or included, and the program director encouraged ‘helps’ that are actually contrary to the faith, like consultation of mediums,” she said. “I was disheartened to say the least.”

This discouragement became the inspiration for her ministry. “My spiritual director suggested that I work to start something,” she recalled. “I prayed about it and strove to let God lead the way. He has provided, and many persons have generously come forward in the process to make Remember possible.”

Concluding the first pilot program

Remember is still in very early stages. The pilot program for 12 weeks of group meetings will conclude in May 2024. 

Sr. Kathryn worked closely with Dr. Matthew Breuninger, a professor of psychology at Franciscan University of Steubenville, to develop it. He co-authored materials, helped outline the 12-week program, and has been very instrumental in the development of Remember.

“When the participants have completed their evaluations, we’ll edit the materials, finalize the leaders’ guide and journals and hope to publish materials after a copyright is obtained,” Sr. Kathryn said. At that point, the website will be finalized and training can begin for leaders to offer Remember in their parishes. 

A blessing in the process has been that Remember now operates under the umbrella of Red Bird Ministries, a Catholic organization that systematically guides individuals and couples through the complexity and drama that happens with a loss. 

Red Bird Ministries already has many offerings for parents who have experienced the death of a child, such as retreats, comfort calls, a phone app, webinars, online groups for Lent, and more, so working with them has simplified the process for Sr. Kathryn to develop Remember.

“I would absolutely recommend this group”

A participant in the pilot program, Judine, shared her experience with Aleteia. “Before Remember, I had not found any grief support group, especially with regard to suicide,” she said. “Being able to walk alongside others who have experienced a similar trauma was a gift. I didn’t know how much it would help to be with a group like this. I think the Holy Spirit was helping out a lot, and I would absolutely recommend this group to anyone with no hesitation.”

Sr. Kathryn found that, in her experience, those suffering from the complicated grief associated with suicide loss need human helps as well as the grace that comes from prayer and the Sacraments. 

She designed the Remember program with all this in mind: The first half of Remember focuses on the psychological tools that aid a person who is grieving, while the second half focuses on Church teaching, forgiveness, and Ignatian prayer in order to allow participants to intentionally bring their experience of suicide loss to the Lord in prayer. There’s no other grief program quite like it.

Wisdom for those grieving

Several years into it, and having worked with others mourning a suicide loss, Sr. Kathryn understands the distinct nature of this grief. 

She offered the following advice for anyone who has lost a family member or friend to suicide:

  • “Be very honest with God in prayer. Tell Him everything that you are experiencing and allow Him to speak to you in your pain and sadness.”
  • “Seek consolation and refuge in the Sacraments and Eucharistic adoration.”
  • “Find a faithful, trusted individual who is willing and able to listen to you and hear your story of loss. A faithful Catholic therapist and a spiritual director are very helpful.”
  • “Remember that because ‘Life is changed, not ended,’ you still have a relationship with the one who has died. Find ways to maintain that connection.” 

While Remember is a Catholic program through and through, anyone is welcome to participate. At the same time, Sr. Kathryn pointed out that this is not the only step that will be needed along the way of healing. But as the first and only Catholic program serving people in this specific situation, Remember meets a huge need.

Anyone interested in participating in a “Remember” group, or bringing Red Bird ministries to their local diocese or parish, can find more information at Red Bird’s website.

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