Prayers for the death of a child

prayers for the death of a child

Pope Francis has asked for prayers for his nephew’s wife and children, who died today in a car crash in Argentina. Below, prayers for the the dead, even for the death of a child:

Prayer When A Child Dies

With a mother’s strong love
you shelter us in your shadow, Lord
and you mourn as we do the death of this child.
Hold this child gently in your hand
and help us to await in joyful hope
the resurrection of the dead
and the life of the world to come.
-Gabe Huck

Prayer for the Death of a Child

Deliver us from all evil, O God,
for we would not lose hope,
would not forget your love.
Love this child forever
as we have loved him/her.
Guide our steps in the way of peace
till with our eyes we behold you
and shall praise you with all the saints
for ever and ever.
– Gabe Huck

Order of Christian Funerals

Lord Jesus Christ,
by your own three days in the tomb,
you hallowed the graves of all who believe in you
and so made the grave a sign of hope
that promises resurrection
even as it claims our mortal bodies.
Grant that our brothers and sisters may sleep
here in peace
until you awaken them to glory,
for you are the resurrection and the life.
Then they will see you face to face
and in your light will see light
and know the splendor of God,
for you live and reign for ever and ever.

Orthodox Liturgy

O gaping earth!
Receive the body formed of you by the hand of God
and again returning to you as its mother;
for what has been to his image, the Creator has already
Receive then this as your own.

Psalm 103:15-18

Surely God knows how we are made,
And recalls that we are dust!
Our human life is a reed,
A flower that blooms in the meadow.
It is gone when the wind blows over it;
Its place recalls it no more,
But the grace of the Lord is eternal,
Resting forever on those fear God.
God’s justice belongs to their offspring,
To all who keep the covenant;
Who remember to do what God commands.

Thessalonians 4:13-14

We do not want to be unaware about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve like the rest who have no hope.  For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep.

On Grief

“It is the will of him who sent me that I should lose nothing of what he has given me: rather, that I should raise it up on the last day.” (John 6:39) That is our faith conviction about life in Christ.  But we need to know what we do.  We counter the mystery of death with a greater mystery still, the mystery of risen life.  In the meantime there is grief, and nothing in Christian faith asks us to deny grief.  We have known, all of us, someone who made an immense difference.  We thank God for just that much.  And we ask God for just enough strength to handle our grief.”  – Gerard S. Sloyan

Mother of God Light in all Darkness

Mother of God, Light in all darkness,
Shelter Christ;
our flame of hope,
with your tender hands.
And in our times of dread and nightmares,
let Him be our dream of comfort.
And in our times of physical pain and suffering,
let Him be our healer,
And in our times of separation
from one another,
Let Him be our communion.
– William Hart McNichols

Therefore, we see panikhidas and prayer at home for the dead are beneficial for them, as are good deeds done in their memory, such as alms or contributions to the church. But especially beneficial for them is commemoration at the Divine Liturgy. There have been many appearances of the dead and other occurrences which confirm how beneficial is the commemoration of the dead. Many who died in repentance, but who were unable to manifest this while they were alive, have been freed from tortures and have obtained repose.

How important commemoration at the Liturgy is may be seen in the following occurrence: Before the uncovering of the relics of St. Theodosius of Chernigov (1896), the priest-monk (the renowned Starets Alexis of Goloseyevsky Hermitage, of the Kiev-Caves Lavra, who died in 1916) who was conducting the re-vesting of the relics, becoming weary while sitting by the relics, dozed off and saw before him the Saint, who told him: “I thank you for laboring me. I beg you also, when you will serve the Liturgy, to commemorate my parents”—and be gave their names (Priest Nikita and Maria).** “How can you, O Saint, ask my prayers, when you yourself stand at the heavenly Throne and grant to people God’s mercy?” the priest-monk asked. “Yes, that is true,” replied St. Theodosius, “but the offering at the Liturgy is more powerful than my prayer.”

prayers for the death of a child

 Therefore, we see panikhidas and prayer at home for the dead are beneficial for them, as are good deeds done in their memory, such as alms or contributions to the church. But especially beneficial for them is commemoration at the Divine Liturgy. There have been many appearances of the dead and other occurrences which confirm how beneficial is the commemoration of the dead. Many who died in repentance, but who were unable to manifest this while they were alive, have been freed from tortures and have obtained repose. In the Church, prayers are ever offered for the repose of the dead, and on the day of the Descent of the Holy Spirit, in the kneeling prayers at vespers, there is even a special petition “for those in hell.”

St. Gregory the Great, in answering in his Dialogues the question, “Is there anything at all that can possibly benefit souls after death?” teaches: “The Holy Sacrifice of Christ, our saving Victim, brings great benefits to souls even after death, provided their sins (are such as) can be pardoned in the life to come. For this reason the souls of the dead sometimes beg to have Liturgies offered for them … The safer course, naturally, is to do for ourselves during life what we hope others will do for us after death. It is better to make one’s exit a free man than to seek liberty after one is in chains. We should, therefore, despise this world with all our hearts as though its glory were already spent, and offer our sacrifice of tears to God each day as we immolate His sacred Flesh and Blood. This Sacrifice alone has the power of saving the soul from eternal death, for it presents to us mystically the death of the Only-begotten Son” (Dialogues IV: 57, 60, pp. 266, 272-3).

St. Gregory gives several examples of the dead appearing to the living and asking for or thanking them for the celebration of the Liturgy for their repose; once, also, a captive whom his wife believed dead and for whom she had the Liturgy celebrated on certain days, returned from captivity and told her how he had been released from his chains on some days—the very days when the Liturgy had been offered for him. (Dialogues IV: 57, 59, pp. 267, 270).

Protestant theologians find the Church’s prayer for the dead to be somehow incompatible with the necessity of finding salvation first of all in this life: “If you can be saved by the Church after death, then why bother to struggle or find faith in this Life? Let us eat, drink, and be merry…” Of course, no one holding such a philosophy has ever attained salvation by the Church’s prayers, and it is evident that such an argument is quite artificial and even hypocritical. The Church’s prayer cannot save anyone who does not wish salvation, or who never offered any struggle for it himself during his lifetime. In a sense, one might say that the prayer of the Church or of individual Christians for a dead person is but another result of that person’s life: he would not be prayed for unless he had done something during his lifetime to inspire such prayer after his death.

St. Mark of Ephesus also discusses this question of the Church’s prayer for the dead and the improvement it brings in their state, citing the example of the prayer of St. Gregory the Dialogist for the Roman Emperor Trajan—a prayer inspired by a good deed of this pagan Emperor.

**These names had been unknown before this vision. Several years after the canonization, St. Theodosius’ own Book of Commemoration was found in the monastery where he had once been Abbot, which confirmed these names and corroborated the vision. See the Life of Elder Alexis in Pravoslavny Blagovestnik, San Francisco, 1967, No. I (in Russian).

Excerpt from The Soul after Death by Fr. Seraphim Rose

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This grieving child prayer is for adults whose child has experienced the death of someone they love.   Often we’re not sure how to help a grieving child pray because we’re not sure what to do or say.  Here are some helpful guidelines.

1. Expect your child to behave like a much younger child emotionally, socially or physically after the shock of grief.

One thing adults can do is to remember when working with children , is to realize that it is normal for children and teens to regress in emotional, physical and social skills 3 to 5 years. Example a 10 year old child, may begin acting like they did when they were 5 or six years old. In talking with our grieving children we need to remember regression of social , emotional and even physical skills is a natural response to shock and grief.

These regressions are a natural way for children ( teens are different and we will discuss helping teens in a separate article) to “create a safe place” to deal with the unimaginable. This regression tells the adults “how to support the child.” Go back to the 10 year old child. Lets pretend this child at age three when not getting their way “sulked, withdrew, and cried.” This would be our internal processing child. The one who gets both quiet and snuggly, but who will not talk. During their grief process, as they are again withdrawing, silently attending the service, possibly wetting the bed at night, seeking a safe lap to snuggle in, the child is grieving in a natural healthy way.

2. Respond to the child’s behavior with the things that helped comfort them at an earlier age. 

As the child regresses to that safe place where they were taken care of, the adults need to respond just as they did when the child was younger. Snuggle and let the child choose when to get off the lap. Be quietly present , allow the child to talk and listen. Talk in concrete words. The ways we will help a child grieve, is different because children do grieve and think differently than adults or even teens.

 . Realize that children grieve and think differently than adults.

Children grieve differently than adults for many reasons. First of all, children have a closer and sweeter understanding of spiritual things. Spiritually children are closer to the “spiritual world “ of wonder, imagination, and a belief that the world is a safe and happy place. Children are also quicker to forgive and faster to move on with compassion for those they love as well as those who have hurt them. There are even stories of young children who are new big sisters/brothers sitting quietly at the crib of the newborn and saying:” tell me again about how beautiful heaven is…tell me what his voice was like, I’ve forgotten”.

This mysterious connection children have to the spiritual is connected to their undeveloped brain where by they can live in total fantasy and make believe. Unfortunately this ability to live in fantasy and in ability to separate reality and fact from fantasy makes most adults ignore the real grieving needs and natural process of children, leaving children with little appropriate support and a life time of unhealthy grieving.

4. Realize that children may take what you say literally so choose simple, truthful words.

Secondly, children believe what adults say to them. Children also live in the moment. It is not unusual for a child whose parent has died, to ask if they can go outside and play with their friends. This spiritual understanding of life also plays into the innocent belief in everything adults say.

If an adult, in explaining stomach cancer tells a child that “grandmom has spaghetti tumors in their tummy” to explain the cancer, that child will never eat spaghetti or any other noodle again. In a similar way, to tell a child “Momie went to sleep and woke up in heaven” will cause the child to not sleep, and when they do sleep have night mares about the boggey man coming to get them.”

Because children live in the moment, they do not “ put the dots together” between what they have over heard adults say and the last time they were with the person who died. We adults need to gently and carefully help them put the story together with the facts with their feelings.

5.  Use a counselor or a book for children to help you communicate with your child about their feelings. 

One way I work with parents/adults in helping children understand death is to color. We use a gingerbread person and think of our happiest memory. We notice where we feel that memory and color on the gingerbread person yellow where we felt happy. Each feeling is then identified in a same way. We talk about how all these feelings are normal when we are missing someone who has died. Yes we have to use the correct words. Mommie died. Mommie is dead. Mommie died of cancer, she cannot come back.

This is because a child’s developmental process is still ongoing, unlike an adult, whose brain and physical development are complete. Adults have the full ability to think logically and theoretically at the same time. Children don’t. That is why as adults who are grieving and supporting the children in their grief, we need to remember our children do not have the adult ability to understand grief, yet they have a marvelous ability to trust us as we help them. To help us, help them, there are many wonderful books about death, grief dying that we can read with and to our children. All that we do must be at the emotional and social level of our children developmental abilities.

6. Use prayers with children that focus on their relationship with the deceased and their current understanding of God.

That is why the prayers we pray with grieving children should center on the specific relationship the child has with the deceased.   It also would take into account the child’s relationship with and understanding of God. Less helpful to children are prayers that center on abstract ideas like “comfort, peace, protection.” An example of children prayer may be something like: “ Dear Jesus, we are so confused. We know you love us, and you love mommie. We cannot understand why Mommie died. Help us to remember how very much mommie loved me, and how she loved you. Thank you Amen.

 7. Create a space and time for your grieving child that fits your child’s temperament

When working with parents whose child is experiencing grief over the death of a parent or “parent figure” or sibling, I ask the parent how the child reacted to not getting their way when they were 3 years old.

The reason is most children are “real with their reactions to disappointment, fear, anger” at age three. Most children at age three have one of two responses. One is to get quiet, cry, pout, go to their room with a comfort blanket or lovey. They will behave in some predictable way that is a way of internal processing that may seem like withdrawl. Another common response is to cry, wail, kick, throw things, or do some sort of outward expressions of their feelings.

Both of these responses are natural and normal reactions to loss and grief.

I encourage parents to create a safe place to talk with their child that allows for the child’s natural temperament to be expressed. A comfort blanket or lovie with pillows for the snuggly child who needs to have snuggles and space away and alone. Lots of pillows and soft toys in a safe room for the child who throws things, kicks and screams.   Parents who can be emotionally with the child, providing a safe place to let the child express their emotions will be able to provide the safety that helps the child to grieve in healthy ways.

Disappointment, feelings of anger, unfairness, fear, guilt, feeling misunderstood, and feeling isolated are all normal feelings children feel when facing death and grief.

8. Draw on the positive things you believe when praying with a grieving child

 To build a prayer that supports the child in this tender time of sorrow and grief, adults need to know what they believe about life, death, eternity, and forgiveness. Any prayer or support offered the child must come from the honest tender faith of the adults who are supporting the child, today tomorrow and forever.

Obviously death causes all of us to question what we believe. I will often spend time with the parents/caregivers giving them time to talk about their questions, their grief and feelings in a safe place to express where they are. We do a similar grief work that I will teach them to use with their children. This so that as a family parent/caregiver and child(children) can together grieve in a healthy way, the death of the person they loved. Only after doing this work as adults ourselves, can we  set aside your ( our) questions and ask yourself what positive things you believe.   It doesn’t have to be profound, nor does it need to answer all of life’s questions. It simply needs to come out of a place of love, hope and faith.   For it is from this place we will best be able to support our child ( children) in their grief.

Remember that Jesus said, “Let the little children come unto me, for to such as these belongs the Kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:14)   Think of yourself as simply bringing the child into the presence of Jesus through prayer.

The following is a prayer to pray with a grieving child.

Dear Jesus, we are so sad right now. We love (person who died) so very much and we will miss them a lot. We know you love us, we know (person who died) loved you and you loved them. Take care of them and take care of us when we miss them. Thank you for those who love us and who loved (person who died). Amen

  9. Provide a safe place to grieve and remember  

Think of ways to provide a safe place for the child and adult to cry, remember, laugh, hope, grieve with the strength of a faith in the risen Savior, Jesus The Christ.

If you have a child that is outwardly expressive, think of the safest loving place in your home. Is it your big bed where the whole family piles in? How about the TV /Family room where popcorn and movies take place with lots of snuggle room on the floor?

Add to this safe place lots of pillow, move out furniture so that a temper tantrum can take place without harm to the child.

If you have a child that seeks to be alone, provide all the same comfy pillows and soft places for a temper tantrum, with easy access to a safe exit to their room where you have already made the area safe by removing sharp objects and locking the windows. This way the child can “retreat to the safety of their room” as they process their grief in their own way. Internalizing their grief without withdrawing totally from the family.

Helping the child build a prayer book or journal of all the things and memories the child experienced with the deceased person helps the child remember and process what the person means to them.

 10. Remember that grief does not have a set timetable. 

Grief is not a step by step check list that brings healing. When a child experiences the death of a loved one, they will miss that person and perhaps grieve that person all of their lives. As adults supporting grieving children, we can help them grieve as they grow and develop into healthy happy adults, by allow the natural healing process to happen throughout the child’s life time encouraging the child to continue to express their thoughts and feelings about the person who died.

Other helpful articles

Talking to God when enduring grief

A prayer for hope and assurance that death is not the end

Death of a pet prayer

Praying your worries away by Barbara Ingram

Offering living prayers for those whose child is acutely or chronically ill by Barbara Ingram

Copyright Barbara Ingram 2017.  All rights reserved.
I was honoured to have attended a child’s passing last night. Kayleigh was nine years old. She would have turned ten in November. Leukaemia had ravaged her body and she was extremely weak from both the illness and the aggressive treatments she had endured over the past few months.

Several hours earlier, the doctors had worked determinedly to resuscitate her when her heart failed. I didn’t need to ask in this case, I instinctively knew that Kayleigh’s mother still had not moved to acceptance that her daughter’s body was failing and thus had refused to sign the ‘DNR’ order, allowing Kayleigh’s spirit to pass on without further interference with her body. But you could see in the eyes of the kind doctor and nurses that they knew what the inevitable outcome would be.

In the early afternoon Kayleigh was talking with her seven-year-old sister Justine and mother. I sat in a chair far in the corner of the room. I could still just barely hear them speak, but couldn’t always clearly hear what was being said. Justine had been devotedly swabbing Kayleigh’s lips with a small sponge on a stick to provide moisture to her lips.

It was just before 5 when Kayleigh’s mother said she needed to take Justine home where her grandmother was preparing dinner. She would return within the half-hour. I promised I would remain with Kayleigh while she was gone.

As I walked with the mother and child to the doors of the ward, Justine looked up at me and said ‘ Kayleigh said she is going to send each of us a card.’ She said it with that beautiful conviction that only children can show, as if they were speaking of Father Christmas arriving the following morning. ‘That’s wonderful Justine,’ I said. ‘I’ll look forward to hearing from her.’

I said goodbye at the hallway and watched the pitiful figure of the mother move down the hallway, with Justine half-skipping, half-running beside her. I could hear Justine cheerfully chatting away about something as I turned back into the hospital ward.

When I returned to Kayleigh’s room, she was still. Her eyes were open and in any other setting, saving the pale grey appearance of her skin, you might have thought she was just gazing at the ceiling. It had only been a matter of minutes from when we had walked out the door to my return and Kayleigh’s body had taken its last breath.

I felt the tears welling up in my eyes, but I also felt myself smiling. She was at peace. But there was something much more powerful in the moments that had passed. Kayleigh had fought hard to remain there for her mother and sister – to impart that powerful message to Justine – that she’s only going on a journey, not that she simply wouldn’t exist anymore.

And for both her mother and sister, Kayleigh’s passing occurred at a moment when little Justine would not have been subjected to a repeat of her mother’s frantic and poignant fight to try to protect her daughter from a disease that had ravaged the child’s body.

One of the nurses named Betty, came into the room and saw me standing at the end of the bed. It only took seconds for her to realise that Kayleigh had passed. I was deeply touched because without any words she put her arms around me and hugged me. Betty removed the IV line whilst I closed Kayleigh’s eyes and together we straightened the bed and turned down the lights. I didn’t really think about it, but I took a floppy eared sock rabbit that Justine had brought her sister from the nightstand and tucked it in beside Kayleigh.

I asked Betty if she would like to stay with me as I offered prayers for Kayleigh. She held up her finger to indicate ‘just a moment,’ and she left the room. Seconds later she returned with another nurse and one of the ward assistants. We gathered around Kayleigh’s bed and prayed:

Christ Jesus, most merciful Saviour,

Hear our prayers as we gather in Your name

We commend this child into Your arms of mercy. Kayleigh has been a blessing to all who knew her.

She brought laughter, warmth, and comfort to many And in the moments when her mother and others showed despairKayleigh provided a noble message of hope and promise,in her unfailing conviction that her life here may be limited

but is by no means final.

Grant comfort and strength to those who gather here now, dedicating their lives to the care of others,who often must face life as it moves to shadows.Embrace them with Your eternal love

through everything they do.

Thank you for the love we would never have known,
but for Kayleigh’s brief days with us.

May the angels surround Kayleigh

and the saints welcome her with joy.

Lord God, we commend this child to Your everlasting care.

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

One of the staff very sweetly offered to remain with Kayleigh as I walked to the entrance of the hospital to await the return of her mother..

Now Lord, You let Your servant go in peace. Your word has been fulfilled. Support us O Lord all the day long of this troublous life. Until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes. The busy world is hushed, The fever of life is over and our work is done. Then Lord, in Your mercy, grant us a safe lodging, A Holy rest, and peace at last. Through Christ our Lord. Amen



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