By ERIKA ANDERSON, Staff Writer | Published April 27, 2006
Sometimes it’s hard to remember to breathe, especially when one is grieving.
It is during those times that Lorene Hanley Duquin finds the “breathing prayer” especially helpful.
Duquin, the author of several books about grieving, taught the breathing prayer to those who attended her workshop, “What To Do When Bad Things Happen,” at the National Catholic Educational Association convention April 19.
The workshop was part of the National Association of Parish Catechetical Directors Convocation of the NCEA convention.
Duquin encouraged workshop participants to stand and perform the breathing prayer.
“Take a deep breath in, and breathe in God’s love,” she instructed. “Now breathe out all your tension. Take another breath in, breathing in God’s love and now breathing out all your fear … sadness … anger and frustration.”
The workshop was full of both parish religious educators and Catholic school staff members, who were anxious to know more about how to help those who are dealing with loss, be it from death, divorce or job loss.
Duquin spoke of the “four tasks of grieving” through which all facing a loss must go.
First is accepting reality, she said.
This is when they question what happened, she said.
“During this stage, people need to tell their story, and they need to tell it over and over and over again. That’s the way they come to accept what has happened to them,” she said. “They tell the story because they have to get it from the inside to the outside (of themselves).”
The second task, she said, is experiencing pain.
“There is no timetable for these stages,” she said. “When dealing with a grieving person, you have to remember that you are not going to be able to take away the pain, and that the pain is part of it. They have to go through it.”
The pain may manifest itself in physical and mental symptoms, Duquin said, and she said that those grieving may not experience those symptoms until four or nine months after a loss.
“But people might not attribute it to their loss, because it happened a few months ago,” she said.
The third task is adjusting to life after loss.
“This is when they ask ‘who am I now?’” she said.
Finally, the fourth task is finding new meaning in life.
“This is their Easter Sunday. They went through the agony in the garden, the crucifixion and Holy Saturday. This is a time of emotional and spiritual transformation,” Duquin said, a time when something bad is “turned into something good.”
Duquin, who herself is a breast cancer survivor, remembers the wisdom a priest told her. He told her she was like a crushed grape.
“Are you going to be wine, or are you going to be vinegar? Will you come out of this bitter or better?” she said. “As Catholic leaders we can help people come out of this in a positive way.”
Children need to grieve in their own unique way, Duquin said. She included ways to help grieving children, such as creating a sense of security, assuring them that the loss is not their fault, encouraging them to express what they feel and answering questions honestly.
“If you don’t know the answer to a question, tell them ‘I don’t know.’ It’s important to answer them truthfully,” she said.
For those who work in religious education programs or in schools, Duquin encouraged them to have a plan for “what to do before something bad happens.”
The plan should be accessible, kept in a drawer so it can be pulled out as soon as it’s needed. There should be a list with people to contact, counselors and priests, and a supply of printed materials on grieving.
“Everyone should be prepared. Maybe you could think of doing some sort of in-service for your teachers or catechists,” she said, adding that people who have suffered a significant loss in their lives are often people who can help the most. “Draw transformed people onto your crisis teams.”
Most importantly, Duquin said, it is important to “keep your spiritual batteries charged.”
“Take time for meditation and quiet reflection,” she said. “Whatever you need to do to charge those batteries. Don’t think of yourself as a teacher or a catechist, but as an instrument of God’s love.”
Virginia Sanford, a first-grade teacher at St. Thomas the Apostle School in Phoenix, fought back tears when talking about the workshop.
“We’ve had a couple of different kids who have lost somebody, and I wanted to have a better idea of what to do for them,” she said, adding that she has also faced loss in her life. “I’ve been to 15 funerals in the past (few) years. I loved the breathing prayer. It gives me a sense of remembering that my faith has always gotten me through and the reassurance that it always will.”