My children are fortunate to have not yet lost people close to them. They have, however, witnessed my husband’s and my grief at the loss of friends and loved ones.
While the great mystery of death is beyond an adult’s understanding, my children’s innocence and natural empathy make conversations about those we have lost easier for them than for me. They understand missing someone, and they understand a loss. Their childlike faith helps me to remember that even when I cannot possibly understand why something has occurred, I can trust that our Lord loves us beyond all understanding. I can have faith in the Resurrection.
“We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4)
If you have littles, visiting a cemetery or attending a funeral with them may seem challenging, but remember: burying the dead is a corporal act of mercy.
If your child is an altar server, serving funeral Masses can be a blessing — both to the family and friends of the deceased and to your own family. When a close friend lost her father, my son was willing and able to explain the funeral rites to her sons. When our family experiences their own losses, I know my children will be able to find solace in the ritual they have seen before.
“The Church, through its funeral rites, commends the dead to God’s merciful love and pleads for the forgiveness of their sins. At the funeral rites, especially at the celebration of the eucharistic sacrifice, the Christian community affirms and expresses the union of the Church on earth with the Church in heaven in the one great communion of saints. Though separated from the living, the dead are still at one with the community of believers on earth and benefit from their prayers and intercession. At the rite of final commendation and farewell, the community acknowledges the reality of separation and commends the deceased to God. In this way, it recognizes the spiritual bond that still exists between the living and the dead and proclaims its belief that all the faithful will be raised up and reunited in the new heavens and a new earth, where death will be no more.” (General Introduction of the Order of Christian Funerals, 6)
Comforting the sorrowful and praying for the living and the dead are counted as spiritual acts of mercy — and they’re easier to weave into your day than you think.
Beyond the funeral Mass itself, we can ask our children to help us pray for those who have gone — perhaps by keeping a special collection of photos in your home or putting the Mass cards from funerals in a prayer basket. When names of newly deceased parishioners appear in the bulletin, write them down with the rest of your family’s intentions.
“From the beginning, the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God. The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead: Let us help and commemorate them. If Job’s sons were purified by their father’s sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1032)
If you aren’t able to make special devotions or trips during the week of commemoration of All Souls, having Masses offered for the dead and reminding your children to pray for the souls who are remembered in the Masses they attend is a small but consistent way to live out this call.
As Scott Hahn explains in “The Lamb’s Supper,” “Heaven is a family reunion with all God’s children; and this is true, too, of heaven on earth: the Holy Mass. Heaven touches earth in the Mass and encompasses the family of God Himself.”
Finally, when people your children know experience a loss, ask them to pray with you, and then put a calendar reminder in your phone. Anniversaries, birthdays and other big moments are hard after a loss. A card, text or video of your kids sending them love to let them know they — and their loved ones — are not forgotten and can help ease the burden.
St. Joseph, patron of a happy death, ora pro nobis.