Aline Garneau felt lost after the death of her husband Roger four years ago. They had been married for 52 years and she didn't know how to live without him. She sought help and found it through GriefShare, a non-denominational ministry that brings comfort and healing to the grieving.
It changed her life. "It was a deep spiritual experience where I found acceptance, love, encouragement and guidelines for recovery," she says. "(Once I completed the program) I felt that I was quite capable of handling what was going on in my life but I also felt I could help others who were grieving."
At the end of the 13-week program, Garneau became a facilitator. Two years ago, she helped start the program at Edmonton's St. Thomas More Parish. After Christmas, she plans to bring GriefShare to her own parish – St. Theresa's in Millwoods.
Deacon Randall Abele and his wife Roseanne, who took the program following the death of their daughter in 2011, have been facilitating GriefShare at St. Thomas since last September.
The deacon described GriefShare as a support group for people grieving the loss of someone close. "It brings people together who have lost someone through death," he said. "It builds community and also helps people through their time of suffering."
Abele said the program is necessary because there are many people out there living lives of quiet desperation without any support. Many spend years grieving their losses. GriefShare helps them to deal with their "new normal," he said.
"In this program people actually minister to each other. People here study about grief but then they share how it's playing out in their own lives."
Each week the GriefShare group watches a video seminar featuring top experts on grief and recovery subjects. After viewing the video, group members spend time as a support group, discussing what was presented in that week's video seminar and what is going on in their lives.
They also interact with others who have experienced a recent loss, learn about their experiences and have the opportunity to share their own.
During the week, members use their workbook for further personal study of the grieving process and to help sort out their emotions through journaling. Groups usually spend time discussing questions and comments from the workbook study.
GriefShare has an Evangelical background. To give participants a Catholic point of view on grieving, organizers have included the book Grieving with the Help of Your Catholic Faith as part of the course material.
Abele believes the Edmonton Archdiocese intends to promote GriefShare to other parishes that may have an interest in it.
"Certainly there is a need out there. No question." It costs about $30 to join the program, enough to pay for the course material.
When the Abeles lost their daughter, Garneau invited them to join a GriefShare support group.
At the couple's request, she agreed to facilitate the program at St. Thomas More. "I said 'Of course' because my dream was to get this program into the (Catholic) Church." She led two 13-week sessions at St. Thomas More before the Abeles took over the program.
Garneau was reading books from the public library to deal with her grief until a friend invited her to GriefShare four years ago. She attended the whole 13 weeks "and it was very, very good for me because there was a workbook and I love doing homework and studying things."
She said the course, which she took with a "group of Evangelical people," contains lots of Scripture and questions she would never think of asking. One of them is "What's your biggest loss?"
"It showed that although I lost my husband I also had lost my way of life. So it was very good to make you think and ponder and ask yourself questions."
Garneau said in addition to helping her understand grief better, GriefShare also provided her with a community.
"It was great to be able to be with other people and listen to their stories because our society doesn't know too much about grieving and they think a week or two and get on with it."
Through the GriefShare group, Garneau also learned that it was okay to express her emotions.
"Many times in my life I had not allowed myself to grieve and supressed my emotions. This was a great time of deep inner healing," she said. "GriefShare gave me hope of recovery. I would have joy again."
Garneau has facilitated five groups of 13 weeks each since she completed the program herself.