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Bereavement groups play special role for holiday season

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Pat Buckley and Sheila Munafo-Kanoza. (Courtesy Photo)

By Steve Trosley
The Catholic Telegraph

Members of grief counseling groups in Cincinnati area high schools will be hearing a clear message this holiday season: “There will be a time when you feel sad.”

Sheila Munafo-Kanoza, executive cirector of Companions on a Journey and her partner, Pat Buckley, will be guiding high school students and adults through a familiar exercise in the coming weeks. They will urge students and parents to write letters to family members who have died to say good-bye and to make Christmas ornaments to remember the loved one.

Munafo-Kanoza and Buckley started Teens in Grief at Moeller High School in 1997 after a pilgrimage to Italy for the Beatification of Marianist Founder Father William Joseph Chaminade. She had lost her husband to cancer in 1993 and was moved by the way her son’s classmates supported him after the loss.

In 2000, after the pilgrimage, she and Buckley, who lost a son (a Moeller graduate) to an act of random violence, they were invited by Brother Robert Flaherty, to put together a program in the context of a school day. Munafo-Kanoza said, “students were invited to come and they were receptive.”

She said the program continues to this day at Moeller, Mount Notre Dame and others with 24 groups in 22 schools and ten adult groups. She says one of the most encouraging things about the program is that the older students are most helpful mentoring their younger classmates, dealing with a death of a parent or sibling. Buckley says they show a genuine understanding of being “a Christian witness.”

“We are not mental health professionals,” she said. She explained they bring out faith stories from the students as well as explaining that all in life requires a balance. They use the old Slinky toy for that example. “Every member of the group gets a Slinky.”

They use a number of other techniques and explained that today’s youngsters are more open to mental health counseling and professional support to help navigate grief.

The groups also function as support for those contemplating suicide, an increasingly disturbing problem among those under age 18.

For more information, contact Sheila Munafo-Kanoza, founder and executive director, at 513-870-9108, or sheila@compassionsonajourney.org.

This article originally appeared in the December 2014 print edition of The Catholic Telegraph.

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