The death of any loved one is a traumatic and complicated experience. Parents and families who have suffered the loss of a child through miscarriage or stillbirth are no exception. As parish leaders, you may have experience with couples or families asking for help with funerals, burials or spiritual and emotional support. Sometimes bereaved parents will reach out to the Church amidst their grief after having been away from the Church for a long time. If you’ve ever worked with a grieving family and then thought to yourself, “I wish there was more I could do,” you’re in the right place.
October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Month. Archbishop Vigneron tells us in Unleash the Gospel that parishes “need to do everything possible, within their limits, to ensure that struggling families are being cared for, including those affected by divorce, illness or bereavement.” (Marker 7.1) Before we get too caught up in the hustle and bustle of Advent and holiday planning, take some time this month to put one or more of these ideas into action.
- Make it a point to work with your parish staff on what to say (and what not to say) to couples or families when they call your parish office. In many cases, your parish staff may be the first people someone tells of their loss. It’s important to avoid clichés like “God only gives you what you can handle,” or assuming that having another baby will heal the wounds of pregnancy loss.
- Include grieving parents and family members in your Prayers of the Faithful at Mass. Including these intentions in our prayers at Mass offers support and remembrance to couples and families who may not feel comfortable talking about their loss or making it known publicly.
- Offer a Blessing of Parents after Miscarriage after Sunday Masses in the month of October, and year-round, upon request. Many parents experience a sense of helplessness or even inadequacy after the loss of a child. This blessing acknowledges the suffering experienced while asking for comfort, hope and peace in the lives of grieving parents.
- Celebrate a Mass, offer a prayer service or a Holy Hour to remember children lost to miscarriage or stillbirth. This shows parents and families that their children remain members of your faith community. It offers parents an opportunity to grieve their loss, to hear the names of their children spoken aloud, and to experience a community of believers gathering in prayer and support.
- Share the information on the Mass for Children Lost to Miscarriage or Stillbirth at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament on Sunday, October 24. Parents and families who have suffered the loss of a child will be invited to come forward to receive a memorial rosary and a special blessing from the Archbishop. There will be an opportunity after Mass to inscribe the names of children lost to miscarriage and stillbirth in the memorial Book of Innocents. Couples praying for the gift of children will also be invited up to receive prayers and a blessing. Immediately after Mass, the Archbishop will bless the new memorial artwork and permanent installation of the Book of Innocents at the cathedral.
- Make a plan to include the names of children lost to miscarriage and stillbirth on November 2, the Commemoration of all the Faithful Departed.
- Gather resources for couples who suffer this type of loss and make them readily available in your parish office, confessional, or church vestibule.
- Promote the Loving Through Loss Couples Grief Workshop on Saturday, November 6. Loving Through Loss is a grief workshop for couples and individuals who have experienced the loss of a child at any age or stage of life. This workshop is designed to help couples understand how the trauma of child loss affects the family dynamic and how to love each other through the complexity of loss.
- Finally, consider how your parish can continue to minister to grieving couples throughout the year. Identify a parish staff member or volunteer to train as a Flock Leader or Companion Mentor for the Archdiocese of Detroit Chapter of Red Bird Ministries, a grief ministry support program that offers accompaniment, grief workshops, support groups and other programming to couples who have suffered child loss.
If you have questions about this or other Family Support Ministries, please contact Nicole Joyce at [email protected] or 313.237.5776