Perhaps social media has increased our awareness, but chances are you or someone you know is enduring a season of grief right now: the death of a loved one, friend, neighbor or coworker.
Loss always produces grief. There is no escaping it. If you try to deny it or postpone it, it will only gather force and become more debilitating the longer you try to suppress it. That is one reason prayer is an indispensable resource for a grieving heart. While intelligible prayer may seem impossible in the early days of a deep loss, one or more of the following prayers may become helpful as the shock begins to subside:
1) Pour out your grief.
“Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and body with grief” (Psalm 31:9, NIV). My heart is broken, my mind exhausted. I cry out to you and hardly know what to ask. All I can do is tell you how I feel and ask you to “keep track of all my sorrows. . . . all my tears in your bottle. . . . each one in your book” as I pour them out to you (Psalm 56:8, NLT). Amen.
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2) Ask for comfort.
Jesus, You said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4, NIV). I am mourning; send me Your comfort now. Wrap around Your arms around me and hold me tight. Send angels of mercy to me. Shower Your comfort on me through those around me, and keep far from me those whose words and actions are no comfort. Amen.
3) Ask for healing.
O God, come to my assistance; O Lord, hurry to help me. Please take the consuming anguish I feel right now; take it from me and hold me in Your arms. Heal my broken heart and bind up my wounds (see Psalm 147:3). Amen.
4) Ask for peace.
Jesus, You told Your followers, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe in Me as well. . . . Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives” (John 14:1, 27, NIV). I need Your peace. I need “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding” to guard my heart and mind (Philippians 4:7, NIV). I need peaceful sleep. I ask for peaceful thoughts and emotions to rule my days and nights. Amen.
Read More: The Garden That Healed Our Grief
5) Ask for hope.
Lord, the Bible says You are “close to the brokenhearted and those whose spirits are crushed” (Psalm 34:18, NLT). Draw close to me and rescue me. Help me not to grieve like those who haven’t discovered Your kindness and mercy, who have no hope (see 1 Thessalonians 4:13); lift me up and give me hope once more. Help me to believe that tomorrow will be better, and the next day will be easier, and that a day will come when I will feel a surge of energy and expectation for what You are doing and where You will take me. Amen.
As the prayers above suggest, you may find special comfort in reading and praying the Psalms during a season of grief. They can help you take the time to grieve well and to pray as much as you are able.
You may ask yourself, should I give grieving parents gifts? I received a variety of gifts of condolences when Todd passed. Lots of food, flowers and money but the most cherished gifts were definitely the stories that others shared with me about how Todd had impacted their lives. Many of those stories involved a mischievous and/or humorous element because that’s who he truly was, an adventurous free spirited soul full of determination, courage and laughter with a spark of a rebel mixed in for good measure.
Stories: Grieving Parents Gifts
As the stories of Todd’s lives emerged from people I knew well and others that I didn’t, I relished every moment and found myself in awe of how a 12 year old child could have so much impact on so many people, young and old alike. Every story brought a smile to my face when I really didn’t think I would ever be happy again. As Todd’s 6th grade teacher stated so eloquently put it, “I never met a child who was more charming and mischievous all in the same breath. It was impossible to stay mad at him.” Yes, that summed him up pretty well.
I never met a child who was more charming and mischievous all in the same breath. It was impossible to stay mad at him.”
My initial fear was that people would forget Todd and what a bright light he had brought into my life and the world. But, as I listened to these stories and let them settle in to my being, I came to realize that nothing can ever be lost. Memories last forever and the emotions associated with those stories remain with us in our hearts. We never know what will trigger a memory, but when it does, the story plays again and the characters live on. Todd was a character. He did have an impact on others in his short lifetime. To know him was to love him – on his terms of course. There was no way people could possibly forget Todd.
Never underestimate the power of a story for those who have lost a child. It will stay with them longer than you can imagine.”
Table of contents
Grieving Parents Gifts Ideas
Prayer: Grieving Parents Gifts
Prayer is definitely the single most powerful grieving parents gifts to give for healing. I’m convinced it helped move through the grieving process beyond my ability to understand it or express it here. In my opinion, it’s the one thing you can never have too much of. It’s like having too many Angels. Not possible. I really appreciated when others thought of Todd and sent me their prayers. I know they helped lift me from my overwhelming sadness, even if for just a moment, into a higher space where I could feel a glimmer of hope that maybe I wouldn’t always feel so bad. That hope was the little spark that kept me moving, especially in those early days.
Books: Grieving Parents Gifts
I also treasured books and anything written that spoke to an everlasting life. In my heart I know that we are all eternal souls but I didn’t fully understand what that meant. As Todd’s mother, I was driven to find validation of what my heart knew but my mind couldn’t explain. Books became my life line as I sought to expand my understanding of where Todd might be and more importantly how he was. All I really wanted to know was that he was okay and that I would one day hold him again in my arms.
I’m convinced that because that became my overwhelming desire, that’s why I had one of the most vivid dreams about a year after his death. In the dream Todd appeared to me and I got to hold him again. I was so shocked and so elated. As I cried tears of joy and ran my hands through his beautiful soft wavy hair again, he said, “I know you worry about me because I see you cry in the night. But I’m okay. Really I am. I’m not in Heaven yet because it takes a while to get there and I still get in trouble now and then with the Angels. (Laughing) But I’m okay and when it’s time for you to go, I’ll be the first one you see. I promise.”
I know you worry about me because I see you cry in the night. But I’m okay. Really I am.”
I woke up feeling like the weight of the world had just been lifted from my shoulders. I still remember it like it happened yesterday. I’m convinced the power of prayer and the books I read were the precious seeds for that powerful experience. Was it a dream or was it real? I don’t know. All I can say for certain is that I was sleeping so my mind was out of the way. It was as real to me as these words here and it was definitely my greatest gift in my darkest hour.
Grieving Parents Gifts Not to Give
I realize that my family and friends felt helpless in the immediate aftermath of Todd’s passing and they all wanted to do something, anything to make me feel better. But the advice did not help unless it was coming from a parent who had also lost a child. For example, someone at Todd’s funeral said, “I know you’ll be okay because you are one of the strongest people I know.” Although that person was really trying to be encouraging, that was like a huge slap in my face. My immediate thought was,’ I wish I was a weaker person, maybe Todd would still be here.’ Sometimes less is more when it comes to words.
Grieving Parents Gifts: Storm of Joy
Todd and I wrote Storm of Joy together. It’s really a gift of hope to others, especially parents who have lost a child. While it’s framed as a fairytale, it’s based on the story of my life and my relationship with Todd both before and after his death. Our hope is that Storm of Joy opens the conversation about death in a way that both children and adults can relate to, in the energy of the child where all things are still possible. For it’s in that place that I believe we can all learn to communicate again with our loved ones in the higher realms. We know that we will join them there eventually, but we don’t have to wait until we get there to communicate again. How we communicate is as unique as each of us but Storm of Joy reminds us to trust what we can’t see and that’s why we believe it’s a great gift to grieving parents. The love for a child lives on forever in our heart and Storm of Joy reminds us of what we know is true, that we are all eternal souls, that we can still communicate, and that we all live happily ever after.
Of all the pains that life can hand us, arguably the most searing is the death of a child. A parent’s world irrevocably and horrifically changes forever, no matter what the circumstances or the age of the child.
In what seems to be a manner contrary to the natural order, parents not only have a physical and emotional part of themselves ripped away, but also have the loss of all of the hopes, dreams, and aspirations they had so completely invested in their child.
With this loss, a parent’s world radically and dramatically changes forever. Most friends, relatives, and acquaintances do not know how to approach or console for fear of offending or upsetting the parent. Many parents say they begin to feel that they are treated as if they have a contagious disease. In an attempt to seem normal, or “over it,” emotions are suppressed and the parent begins to withdraw or become distant. This reaction, however, compounds the all-encompassing feeling of being totally alone.
Many well-intentioned attempts have been made to assist parents in recovering emotionally from their loss, including psychotherapy and various support groups. However, in an attempt to be all inclusive and “politically correct,” the spiritual perspective of the grieving process—or even the existence of God—is usually lacking (or actively avoided) in many of these approaches.
It was the personal experience of my own family and this deep need for spirituality that led to what is now known as the Emmaus Ministry for Grieving Parents.
Thanksgiving evening of 2002, a healthy, ambitious and successful young US Air Force Captain, Paul Monaghan, took his own life, without any explanation or warning signs. As unexpected as a lightning strike on a clear blue day, Paul’s death shattered our idyllic, comfortable family life forever.
For five years afterwards, when she wasn’t numb, my wife, Diane, frantically searched. Searched for answers from her son’s wife on what actually happened. Searched for answers from his friends on what he was like leading up to his death. Searched for answers from Air Force investigators, who took an entire year to file their death report. Searched for answers not so much to the question of “why” as to “how”. How could her beautiful son do this to himself? How could he do this to the family he loved so much? She frantically searched for understanding, read an entire library of books on the death of a child and suicide, went to psychiatrists, psychologists, and psychotherapists, joined support groups and journaled. Nothing helped at all.
During these years, she prayed for two things: the strength to get out of bed in the morning and an understanding of how she could make some good come from such a horrific tragedy, but her prayers seemingly went unanswered. She felt God was not listening. During this time, she says, she received some strength from her faith, but not much comfort.
Then one day, everything changed. Undoubtedly, it was the Holy Spirit that prompted her to attend a totally unrelated program that eventually led to a deep relationship with a compassionate religious sister, who was a Spiritual Director. They met at St. Anthony Shrine, a Holy Name Province Franciscan community in Boston, MA. Slowly, after five years, her numbness began to subside.
Over and over again, she talked with her Spiritual Director about the promise of eternal life…the fact that life has changed for Paul, not ended. The fact that she would indeed see him again. For the first time since 2002 Diane, in the rich teachings of the Catholic Church, finally found peace, comfort, and hope.
All this while, I was on a different journey. I put my feelings and emotions in a tightly wrapped box deep within me, while pretending to the entire world that nothing was wrong and that I was fine.
It is indeed fortunate that my wife and I had the wisdom to grant each other the ability to grieve in our own ways and so avoid what many married grieving parents experience – a good marriage becoming fragile or totally falling apart because of resentment or misunderstanding of the ways in which each other are grieving.
Eventually Diane made the life-changing decision to leave her position as vice president of a local college and go to work raising money for the Shrine in Boston. Growing more deeply in her spirituality, she eventually felt called to ask the Guardian of St Anthony Shrine if he would support a ministry to spiritually serve other deeply wounded grieving parents. She believed that focusing on the spirituality of the grieving process could help many other parents as much as it helped her. He agreed, and together they decided to offer a spiritual retreat for parents whose children had died. They opened it to any parent whose child of any age had died by any cause—no matter how long ago, and no matter how close the parent did or did not feel to God.
And so, with nothing more than trust that the Holy Spirit would guide their efforts, Diane and the Franciscan friars of St Anthony Shrine held their first retreat in March of 2009. I initially wanted no part of this endeavor, reasoning that real men bear up no matter what, fearing any display of any weakness or helplessness. Nevertheless, I ultimately went to the retreat to support Diane. There is no doubt in my mind that during that weekend I, too, was showered with the gifts the Holy Spirit so generously offered that day.
Fr. David Convertino, OFM, then Guardian, described that initial retreat, “This was one of the most grace-filled experiences that I have had during my entire life as a priest and as a friar.”
From this uncertain beginning, the Emmaus Ministry for Grieving Parents was born. It now offers One-Hour, One-Day, and Weekend Spiritual Retreats wherever it is called to do so.
The ministry does not provide therapy or function as a support group. In fact, parents are told that they will not be asked to stand up and relate their stories, or even to speak at all, unless they choose to do so. Rather, the ministry seeks to create a safe and sacred space for parents to “undress their hearts” before God and others who know and feel their pain—and to focus on the tenets of our Catholic faith and the certainty of the Communion of Saints now and in the future. Truly it is new evangelization in action.
Since its inception, this ministry has helped hundreds of parents initiate or reinvigorate their relationship with God—and with their deceased children. Over the past eight years it has evolved into a ministry for grieving parents offered by grieving parents. Very much parent-led, it is a ministry requiring very little parish or diocesan time or money. Parents struggle through and share the horrendous pain of their own journeys with each other, while inviting Jesus to join and comfort them, just as he comforted his grieving disciples on the road to Emmaus.
To the best of our knowledge, there is no other similar type of ongoing ministry focused on the spirituality of the parent’s grieving process anywhere in the United States. Since its inception, the ministry has served hundreds of parents from sixteen states, as well as Canada.
While its spiritual home continues to be St. Anthony Shrine in Boston, the ministry, as a 501(c) (3) non-profit, now partners in ministry with the Archdiocese of Boston, the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston WV, and parishes in RI and CT as part of its mission to assist other parents and dioceses in introducing and maintaining this powerful ministry.
After one or more initial retreats offered in collaboration with our Boston-based retreat team, typically local parents are called by the Holy Spirit to carry the ministry forward in their own areas. In providing witness through personal testimony to other parents, many have found that “It is in consoling that we are consoled.”
Introducing the ministry in your area at little or no cost is relatively easy. Because we have been blessed with generous donations and several grant awards, we are able to come to you, wherever you are, bringing many years of experience and well-developed templates for offering your Emmaus Ministry for Grieving Parents spiritual retreats. Please call us at 617-542-8057 for more information or email [email protected]
About the author
Charley Monaghan is a co-founder of the Emmaus Ministry for Grieving Parents, which serves the spiritual needs of parents whose children of any age have died by any cause, no matter how long ago. The ministry is based in Boston, MA.
To lose someone you love is to alter your life forever…The pain stops, there are new people, but the gap never closes… This hole in your heart is the shape of the one you lost – no one else can fit it.
For death is no more than a turning of us over from time to eternity.
– William Penn
Sorrow makes us all children again – destroys all differences of intellect. The wisest know nothing.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
There are no goodbyes for us. Wherever you are, you will always be in our hearts.
– Mahatma Gandhi
It’s so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone.
– John Steinbeck
I guess by now I should know enough about loss to realize that you never really stop missing someone-you just learn to live around the huge gaping hole of their absence.
– Alyson Noel, Evermore
In sorrow we must go, but not in despair. Behold! we are not bound for ever to the circles of the world, and beyond them is more than memory.
– J.R.R. Tolkien