Talking about deceased loved one is first step to healing

By Peter Finney Jr., Eternal Life, Clarion Herald

The office of Deacon Dave Farinelli, clinical supervisor and counselor at Catholic Counseling Service of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, is a safe haven for feelings and for tears.

When Deacon Farinelli counsels persons who are grieving because of the death of a loved one – whether the deceased died suddenly or declined over a long period of time – he always tries to get them talking in detail about the person they have lost.

It’s the elephant in the room that so many people can’t talk about with their friends, who often don’t know what to say and retreat into innocuous conversation.

“A lot of times, at the very beginning, I tell them to talk and tell me as much as they can about their child or the person they lost,” Deacon Farinelli said. “What kind of person was he? Did you enjoy being with him? The more they talk, the better they are. I also tell them to journal because they may not be comfortable talking about it, but they may be more comfortable writing it out. 

“They can write letters to the person who died, saying things they needed to say. They can tear it up or burn it or keep it – they can do whatever they want with it. It’s a chance for them to put down what they felt when they lost that person. They can say the things they always wanted to say. That definitely helps them unpack all of that.”

Submerged feelings

Getting the grieving person to actually talk about their feelings is critical because they often have submerged those feelings.

“I tell people to bring their albums, and we can go through the pictures,” he said. “I want them to tell me about their child or loved one. They cry almost the entire time, but they’re proud and really happy that somebody wants to talk about their child because the normal response from other people is, ‘How are you doing?’ but they don’t really want to know and they go on to other topics and wind up never talking about the person who has died.”

Deacon Farinelli’s experience is that in cases of sudden death, such as suicide, the sadness and guilt can be overwhelming. He worked recently with several clients who lost teenage sons to suicide.

“You never get over a death that comes suddenly,” Deacon Farinelli said. “It is just a question of how to live with that new normal.”

Fallout of suicide

Many times the loved one of someone who has committed suicide comes to him with the idea that the person has committed a sin that will lead to him spending eternity in hell.

“That comes up right away,” Deacon Farinelli said. “One of the things I tell them is nobody in their right mind commits suicide, so if you’re not in your right mind, you’re not intending to do harm. We’re not judging, but at the same time we’re pretty sure God has mercy.”

Deacon Farinelli agrees with all grief experts who insist there is no timetable to the grieving process.

“None,” he said. “People think, ‘Well, it’s been a year, I ought to be over it by now,’ but that’s not true. You’re going to get over it when you get over it or you can move forward with the new normal.”

Although the circumstances of death have little to do with the grieving process, there are differences. One woman he counseled lost two adult children to diseases within a year. Another had difficulties when death came after a long illness.

“Sometimes in the case of a long illness, there’s an immense relief that comes when the person dies, but the fact that the person is no longer there and they are not caring for them comes back to haunt you in a bunch of ways,” Deacon Farinelli said. “Did I do enough for them? Was it my fault? Could I have done something differently? Did I get impatient? Did I say something that they remembered and now I can’t say I’m sorry?”

Can talk about faith

One of the blessings of serving as a counselor at Catholic Counseling Service is that Deacon Farinelli can openly discuss faith as an integral part of the dying process.

“It makes all the difference, because now we have some reason to go into the faith dimension and tell them that God is love and God is mercy and God takes care of those who have died,” Deacon Farinelli said. “We’re not making any judgments about whether the child or the person was living a good life.”

Sometimes Deacon Farinelli will counsel parents together who have lost a child. 

“Several years ago, a couple had lost their only son in an industrial accident, and we worked together for two years,” he said.

When is it time for someone to seek counseling for grief? Deacon Farinelli advises people to “err on the side of I might need this rather than wait until they’re so low that they don’t want to do it.”

“I would suggest that they call us or call a counselor and set up an appointment,” he said.

At a pastor’s request, he once visited a woman who was terminally ill in her home, not really knowing what to say.

“I had never done that before, and I was scared out of my mind not knowing what I would say,” Deacon Farinelli said. “I walked in the door and sat down and turned to her and said, ‘So, you’re dying, huh? Want to tell me about it?’ And she said, ‘I’m so glad you asked. No one wants to talk to me about it.’ I remember on one visit, she was on oxygen, and she asked me, ‘Do you mind if I smoke?’ And I said, ‘No, but please turn off the oxygen. Smoking may not kill you, but you smoking with oxygen could kill me.’”

Deacon Dave Farinelli, LPC-S, LMFT, is clinical supervisor and counselor at Catholic Counseling Service of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. He can be reached at 861-6245.

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