DARIEN — Lillian Toll lost her mother in the mid-1990s. While down in Dallas for the funeral, the Darien resident wandered into a church, feeling lost, when she saw the New Day Journal advertised in the back of the church literature.
The New Day Journal is a program that offers a structured approach to grieving. The journal itself, used in bereavement programs, was developed with a psychiatrist and written by Sister Mauryeen O’Brien, who works out of the Archdiocese of Hartford.
“I said, ‘That’s the hand of God. That’s just amazing,’” Toll said.
Toll went back to her pastor at St. Thomas More and suggested the Darien church start a bereavement group using the journal.
Toll, along with fellow parishioners Jo Lombardo, of New Canaan, and Peter Eder, of Darien, went to the diocese in New York to participate in thanatology — the study of death — training. The three took a nine-week course, involving videos, assignments and tests, before becoming certified to co-facilitate the group. They’re trained to run the program, as well as recommend professional care should a member need it.
The “New Day” bereavement program at St. Thomas More has now been running since 1993. The nine-week program runs twice a year: once in the spring and again around the winter holidays.
“We like to include major holidays,” Toll said. “The holidays are so hard for people who are grieving.”
Though the program is held at the church, it is non-denominational, free of cost and for people from any community. Anywhere from three to 20 people participate per session. The program is also confidential and for adults in all walks of life and stages of grief.
The three co-facilitators said there’s no “typical” group member. Though they’ve seen more men join the group, as well as parents who’ve lost adult children, the group has people who’ve lost their parents, siblings, even a fiance. They also see attendees who lost someone suddenly, as well as many who lost a loved one after years of acting as their caregiver.
Despite the different types of loss, the group drives one single message home: It is normal to spend a long time grieving someone you love. Lombardo experienced that herself after her husband died in the 1970s.
“There was nothing (to help),” the New Canaan woman said. “When I heard about this opportunity, I said we needed it.”
The group takes a more structured approach to help participants dive into different topics of grief fully each week. The New Day Journal walks participants through “the four tasks of mourning:” accepting reality, experiencing pain, adjusting to a new environment and “emotionally relocating” the deceased.
The latter aims to keep those grieving from relying on physical possessions, instead encouraging them to keep their memory alive and believe they are always with them.
Many of the sessions focus on sharing stories and photos of loved ones after the group gets acquainted with one another. Some members choose to journal and share while others do not.
“I think the most important element is telling stories and getting it out in that safe environment,” Eder said.
Eder, Lombardo and Toll all said they’ve seen friendships grow out of the group as people work together to overcome the anger and grief that comes with a loss. Often, people feel a sense of loneliness and sharing those feelings reminds them they’re not alone.
“For us, it’s great knowing they’re feeling better and getting back into their lives,” Toll said.