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Survivors of those killed in Chicago’s onslaught of murders offered more than sympathy

You don’t ‘get past’ such grief, says Karl Wilson, a retired pastor who’s hosting a program next weekend at A.A. Rayner & Sons Funeral Home he hopes will help the grief-stricken cope this time of year.

Karl Wilson, a retired Chicago pastor, has come up with a program he hopes will help the grief-stricken cope better with their losses during the holidays. It will be held Dec. 19 at A.A. Rayner & Sons Funeral Home, 318 E. 71st St.
Karl Wilson, a retired Chicago pastor, has come up with a program he hopes will help the grief-stricken cope better with their losses during the holidays. It will be held Dec. 19 at A.A. Rayner & Sons Funeral Home, 318 E. 71st St.
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Death is not something one can get over.

So we carry our grief as bravely as we can.

But a recent headline made me reflect on how nearly impossible it must be for families to hold up against the onslaught of murder that continues to grip our city.

"More than 1,000 people have been murdered in Cook County this year, the most since 1994," the Sun-Times headline read.

"The youngest person killed was a 1-month-old boy," the story reported.

These killings mean that thousands of people have had to endure the heart-crushing loss of a loved one whose life was ended prematurely.

More than 1,000 families had to take that long walk to the funeral home and make arrangements.

More than 1,000 families had to pick through photographs of their loved ones, looking for the one that would memorialize them forever.

One thousand homicides in a year is a lot to bear. Where does all that pain and anger go? It makes me wonder how many of us can move forward without a trained professional guiding us.

I spoke with Spencer Leak Sr., co-founder of Leak & Sons Funeral Homes, who lamented the pain of assisting families who must bury children killed by gunfire. He's been taking care of the bereaved for decades, and he has run out of words that could comfort a grieving parent dealing with such a nightmare.

I also spoke with Karl Wilson, the retired pastor of Bryn Mawr Community Church, as well as a funeral director at A.A. Rayner & Son's Funeral Home, hospice chaplain and grief counselor.

He is keenly aware more has to be done to help these grieving families, especially during the holidays. So Wilson came up with a program he hopes will help the grief-stricken cope better with their losses.

He’s calling it "Managing Your Grief Through the Holidays." To be held Dec. 19, it will be an interactive event that aims to help families get beyond anger and the range of emotions often experienced during the holidays, Wilson told me.

"This is an honest and overdue first step to helping people not just to survive the loss but to find a way to live with the loss,” Wilson said. “People often say they want you to get over it or past it. But you don't get past it. You have to learn how to live with it in a way that inspires rather than destroys. The goal is to find some meaningful purpose for the individual who is surviving the loss.

"As funeral service professionals, we sit down with families, and we help them make arrangements. We sell them merchandise, all of the things associated with a funeral. But one glaring absence is helping families live beyond the events of a funeral. When you add COVID to this equation and the lack of supportive resources, people are feeling more desperate and isolated.

"We not only want to help you do what you have to do as it relates to your loved one but to help you.”

Wilson spoke of once having worked nights in the adult trauma unit at the University of Chicago Hospitals, where he had to sit with families who had gotten the worst news.

"It is impossible to help individuals understand and process their loss in those moments,” he said. “But the problem is there are very few free resources to help individuals face what is for them a catastrophic loss.

"I envision this as a small beginning of doing that follow-up.”

"Managing Your Grief Through the Holidays" will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. Dec. 19 at A.A. Rayner & Sons Funeral Home, 318 E. 71st St. It’s free, but space is limited to the first 40 who register by calling (773) 846-6133. Face coverings required. Bring a ribbon or ornament in memory of a loved one to decorate the tree.