After Words – you can take it with you!

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December 16, 2016

After Words-you can take it with you!

By Sister Karen Zielinski, OSF

A little folder packed with words, ideas, and other things to help you with your loss.

“Everyone grieves in different ways. For some, it could take longer or shorter. I do know it never disappears. An ember still smolders inside me. Most days, I don’t notice it, but out of the blue, it’ll flare to life.” — Maria V. Snyder, Storm Glass. Used with permission.

It all started with Sister Jordan Schaefer.

About a year ago, Sister Jordan, who works in pastoral care and mission integration at the Franciscan Care Center, a long-term care facility and rehab center, called me. “Can you help me put together a folder we can give to family and friends who are grieving? There is a profound sense of loss after the memorial service or burial is over. The days that follow are empty and lonely, and they deeply feel their loss.”

Her ministry includes many things, and she is very involved with addressing the spiritual needs of individual and family members who have lost a loved one.

Jordan shared that she noticed a deep sense of personal loss after memorial services and burial. When these are over, people continue grieving and can experience abruptly extreme loneliness and emptiness. She thought that in this digital age, where a person can shop, read a book, order tickets and office supplies using their cell phones or tablets, there might be something helpful in handing a person dealing with a traumatic life experience-the loss of their loved one- with something they can take home, something they can touch.

The two of us talked about what to include in this little folder. Since people do not experience the passing of a loved one often, this time of sadness can be addressed by some well-thought out aids. She wanted a small folder with items that might help with a person’s grieving process. The folder includes a variety of readings, poems, journal questions to write down memories, and two small mandalas for reflective, peaceful coloring. There are even colored pencils included in the folder. The whole idea of the folder, was a “take away”, a tangible aid that might offer comfort during the days and months after their loss.

I asked a number of my Franciscan Sisters who worked in various ministries related to grieving for their help. My sisters sent me books with related Scripture quotes, poems on family roots, many small poems and prayers, all related to bereavement. Some offered comments on what people found comforting and helpful, and what things people did not seem to use after a loss.

For this spiritual advice, I contacted many Sisters: Pam Nosbusch, a Hospice chaplain in Nashville; Faith Cosky, hospital chaplain at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor; Julitta Campbell, Spiritual Visitor at the Commons of Providence in Sandusky; Nora Klewicki, Director of Mission Integration at Providence Care Center, Sandusky; Joy Barker, Director of Pastoral Care at St. Clare Commons, Perrysburg; Mary Thill, Patient Liaison at Mercy St. Vincent, Toledo. For creative editing and comments, I spoke with Sister Judy Zielinski, Director of Faith & Values Programming at NewGroup Media, South Bend; Sharon Havelak, Artist for All Good Things, Sylvania; and Ann Marie Emon, Computer Lab Assistant at the Thomas M. Wernert Center in Toledo. It was a lot of research, but well worth the months developing something that might offer those with a loss help and hope. Their cumulative advice helped me decide what to include or delete.

Some people find that the repetition of coloring a mandala, quietly, can offer them a sense of control while grieving their loved one. Coloring can give us a sense of tranquility, and spiritual peace. Others like to write, and the journal starter questions can give people a focus for writing down memories.

The After Words folders were debuted recently at Dayton’s Westminster Presbyterian Church. Pastor Sue Hamilton, one of the pastors, invited me to lead a training/reflection day for a mixture of people: Church Care Partners, Stephen Ministry members, staff from Dayton area Hospices, and church members. The day was special since all those present were somehow actively engaged in the loss of loved ones. They commented on the folders and bought some to use in their special ministries.

I did not do this project alone. It took input from people dealing with their losses, those who minister as chaplains in churches and hospices, hospitals, and nursing homes. The contents came from the real world, from the marketplace, from those involved in the very real, traumatic event of losing someone we loved.

I think it can help make some lives a little more peaceful. I pray that it does.

After Words is available at the Sylvania store, All Good Things, 419-824-3749 or online at

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