St. Benedict Monastery program aims to help cope with grief during holidays

Deborah Deasy
| Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Everyone grieves differently after losing a loved one.

“Be gentle on yourself,” advised Sister Irene Moeller, a member of the Benedictine Sisters of Pittsburgh.

“Don't do things that are very difficult or stressful,” said Sister Irene, organizer of “Afternoon of Reflection for the Bereaved: Grieving through the Holidays,” a free program for people of all faiths from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. Nov. 16 at St. Benedict Monastery in Richland.

Each participant will receive a folder of printed materials and ideas for ways to honor a lost loved one during the upcoming holidays, or any season. “My definition of ‘holiday' is a special day that has meaning for the next of kin and the deceased,” said Sister Irene, parish social minister and pastoral associate at St. Teresa of Avila Roman Catholic Church in Ross.

A family member, for example, might arrange to open Christmas dinner by lighting a candle for a deceased loved one, and then inviting all present to share a brief memory of the deceased person. One also might invite children to create placemats illustrated with drawings or the name of a missed loved one.

“Always include children in the grieving,” said Sister Irene, who plans to provide many boxes of Kleenex and wrapped mints for participants in the “Afternoon of Refection for the Bereaved.”

Sister Irene expects to welcome people of all ages who have lost children, parents, siblings and spouses.

“All this is confidential. Confidentiality is very important,” Sister Irene said. “They may never see each other again.”

Speakers will include Franciscan Sister Janice Campbell, pastoral associate and bereavement coordinator at St. Ursula Roman Catholic Church in Hampton, and licensed professional counselor Jay Sperling of Pine.

“My goal is to let people know that grief is normal,” said Sperling, who has a master's degree in community counseling.

“When you are in the midst of your first set of holidays, grief is like the elephant in the room,” Sperling said. “Everyone is afraid to talk about or mention the deceased person, and yet they should, because everyone is thinking of them.

“When we bring those feelings to the forefront, and share them, it allows people to feel more comfortable and grieve together,” said Sperling, supervisor of the Sperling Family Funeral Home in McCandless. “Part of the problem is that no one wants to see anyone cry or be in pain.”

The “Afternoon of Reflection,” an annual gathering, will open with a prayer service and Scripture reading, plus brief introductions by participants, before a 45-minute break with refreshments where attendees can meet each other and share experiences, followed by speakers' remarks.

“I realized people need something to help them get through the grieving process,” said Sister Irene, who began this program in 1995. “These emotions are worrisome to them.

“I feel people who are grieving are very vulnerable, physically, spiritually, mentally and emotionally,” said Sister Irene. “Grieving affects our whole being.”

Advance registration is requested by Nov. 9 for “Afternoon of Refection for the Bereaved” at St. Benedict Monastery, 3526 Bakerstown Road, Richland ( For information, call 412-367-9001, ext. 540.

Deborah Deasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6369 or

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