How do you minister to parents whose children have died?
It's a bright and beautiful August day as you begin work as pastoral associate at a parish in the Archdiocese of Boston. That is, until you get the call to come to the home of two parishioners you know very well. For some unknown reason, their perfectly healthy 12-year-old son collapsed on the field during football practice and died for no apparent reason. How could this be?
You have recently been ordained as permanent deacon and love ministering to your parishioners. When you least expect it, at 10 p.m. on a Monday night, you are called to come to the hospital immediately. The 30-something couple you have been supporting for months through a high-risk pregnancy desperately needs your help. They just gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, but tiny Emily is stillborn.
As a newly-hired bereavement minister, you are tasked with developing a comprehensive program for grieving parishioners. You have identified several excellent programs focused on funeral planning, follow-up liturgies, and support groups for those experiencing the loss of a spouse, sibling, or parent. But what is out there for parents who have experienced the death of a child? Clearly, their grief is very different. You can't find anything anywhere.
"Blest are those who grieve, for they shall be comforted." One of our most important mandates is to minister to the bereaved. Parents whose children have died is a unique subset. Ministering to them is a daunting task to anyone. The grief of a parent whose child has died is often raw, unrelenting, irrational, inconsolable -- and scary to anyone trying to help.
The Emmaus Ministry for Grieving Parents, a Catholic ministry serving the spiritual needs of grieving parents in the Archdiocese of Boston since 2009, answers this call. It serves the spiritual needs of parents whose children of any age who have died by any cause, no matter how long ago.
The Emmaus Ministry offers Half-Hour, One-Hour, One-Day, and Weekend Spiritual Retreats focused on the rich teachings of the Catholic Church: Life for children who have died has changed, not ended. Someday families will all be together again. You can pray to your children, as well as for them.
Kelly Meraw, director of Pastoral Care at St. John-St. Paul Collaborative, has coordinated Emmaus Ministry Spiritual Retreats and has ministered to many grieving parents over the past several years. She says, "Being a spiritual companion to parents who have experienced a loss beyond all words has brought the face of Christ Crucified to each minister involved. The Emmaus Ministry supported us in every aspect of the retreat that may have once seemed daunting. We are each changed and sanctified for having been a part of it."
Father Eric Carpine, OFM, an Emmaus Spiritual Leader said: "It is a sacred privilege to be part of the good and the love that the team brings to hurting and grieving parents. In many cases, this unique ministry is the first to actually understand the depths of the loss of these parents."
Parents, who have been to Emmaus Ministry retreats, have said: "We came away emotionally and physically exhausted, but with a renewed faith that our children are truly alive and still with us. We came away with Hope."
"It felt as if we were all part of a giant heart beating as one."
"This was a Godsend for us. We have been so isolated in our grief and have not had any help with the spirituality of the grieving process. We are so grateful for this ministry."
If you currently serve grieving parents -- and are looking for ways to minister more effectively -- please consider coming to an Emmaus Ministry retreat. The Family Life Team of the Archdiocese of Boston invites not only grieving parents, but also anyone who ministers to grieving parents to experience the Emmaus Ministry firsthand. As a guest or as a participant, you are invited to this special Archdiocese of Boston Emmaus Ministry Retreat on Oct. 15 at the Pastoral Center from 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Pre-registration is required. Space is limited.
For more information, contact Emily Elliott at 617-746-5756 or Emily_Elliott@rcab.org. Or call Diane Monaghan, Paul's Mother at 800-919-9332.
One-Day Spiritual Retreat for Grieving Parents on Oct. 15, 2022, at the Pastoral Center.
An invitation to: All who minister to grieving parents.
All grieving parents.
Pre-Registrations required at www.emfgp.org.