After many years Father Donnelly who has served the needs of many at St. Michael’s Cemetery retired. The Father could be the icon of an older priest. His soft-spoken demeanor and his obvious affection for all are written on his face.
St. Michael’s is a religious cemetery opened to all faiths. A large number of our property owners are Catholic. With the opening of All Faiths Chapel & Crematorium the ethnic and religious groups we serve reflect the diversity of Queens, New York. Within walking distance of our gates an international community lies in all directions.
The one constant at the Cemetery is the function we serve. Pre need may be our preference yet we are called upon daily to fulfill the requirements of families who have sustained a loss of a loved one. The funerals that arrive are large and as varied in their expectations, expressions of grief, colors of clothing, manner of memorializtion as the world.
A death is a loss regardless of anyone’s country of origin. Sorrow, grief, remorse, anger, frustration and fear meld with tears that seem to possess no limitations. The pain of loss is constant. Relief is fleeting and elusive. Respite may visit a person in pain but it fails to take residence for a long long time. The stomach tossing, inability to sleep, the memories and the electricity that snaps a body of someone in pain into spasms appear to be permanent.
It must seem to the sufferers that there is no hope to end their turmoil and no relief is possible. The isolation and the inability of really speaking with and connecting with a person or people are impossible considerations. Loneliness deepens the depression of loss tightening the hold on injured hearts.
The Priest who replaced Father Donnelly inquired as to the frequency of our Bereavement Group meetings. Frankly we had never offered such meetings. I admit the idea had not occurred to me. It was something for religious institutions to organize and not, in my opinion a cemetery which would only heighten the sense of separation.
The Father believed that St. Michael’s was missing an opportunity for aiding those in distress. He related the success enjoyed in Church meetings by coming to the assistance of the grieving. The question was what did we have to lose? In my opinion it is my dual responsibility of not losing and to help everyone who relied upon the cemetery.
Within a month of the conversation we held our first Bereavement Group meeting within our Chapel. Surprisingly 15 to 20 people at a time continued to come and go during the 3 hours we had set aside for the meeting. The second meeting was immediately scheduled but not by us. Those who attended our first meeting demanded it.
As always I reached out to the Funeral Directors who rely upon St. Michael’s. Gus Antonopoulos of Joseph & Farenga Funeral Home responded by providing refreshments.
The remarkable part of this was how many attended our Bereavement Group and insisted that being held at the cemetery was a tremendous relief to them. It was important to those who attended to be in close proximity to their loss ones. By holding the meeting on site they felt a connection and a relief not enjoyed elsewhere.
The Bereavement Group is now an integral part of our program reaching out to the families who have entrusted St. Michael’s. In doing so we found a need we never expected and with it satisfaction by opening our doors to those whose burden demands personal assistance. By listening to a request we opened our minds permitting benefits for those we care for, their families and establishing that we are obligated to do so much more than provide a resting place.