Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent, which begins the Catholic Season of preparing for Easter. Why do I bring this up on a blog about grieving the loss of a child? I see a shared set of ideas between things we do during Lent and things we could do to help us heal from child loss. The idea behind Lent is to examine various areas of our lives that we would like to improve and to begin practices that would help us hopefully bring about those improvements. We institute the practices over the 40 days leading up to Easter. Easter being the celebration of Jesus Resurrection from the Dead and the joy that surrounds that event. The idea being that we also take on a new more joyful Christian life through our observance of Lent. When our child dies a part of us dies as well. We are lost in a sea of misery and despair and rightly so. How can we even begin to recover from this horrifying event? It is not easy and in reality it will take more than 40 days. It will probably take months or years, but we can do it if we make the conscious choice like we do during lent to begin to work at it.
Lent has three main pillars (1) Prayer (2) Fasting and (3) Alms Giving. All of these things are designed to make us look at our lives. What are we doing right and how can we improve on it? What are we getting wrong and how can we make changes? It is thought by finding ways to implement each of these practices in our lives, we can become better people and enhance our relationship with God. How can these work to help us heal our broken hearts after the loss of a child?
Having some sort of prayer life can be beneficial for people who have endured a severe trauma. An article by Shirley Davis on The Mental Health Benefits of Prayer (https://cptsdfoundation.org/2020/01/20/the-mental-health-benefits-of-prayer/ ) found the following:
1. "Indeed, after Hurricane Katrina, 92% of survivors said they prayed and in doing so helped themselves get through their horrendous ordeal."
2. "People living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder often feel afraid, hypervigilant, numb, and alone. Prayer changes all of this by allowing the person someone or something to lay their worries and fears upon. In doing so, the person who is praying is bringing out their fears so that they can see them better and learn to cope with them instead of hiding them away from their sight."
While Fasting is often associated with giving up food, it is more about the idea of self discipline. When we lose a child our emotions and thinking is seemingly out of control. Nothing makes sense any more. All the things we thought we knew about the world or that we could control are no longer a given. We are not supposed to out live our children. It is at this point that we need to take small steps to begin to consider our new reality. I have talked before about many ways we can begin to do this, but we must find the strength and self discipline to do it. We can go to therapy, meditate, join support groups, practice yoga, exercise. These are just a few of the practices that we could implement to begin our healing process, but we must have the self discipline to follow through with them.
Alms Giving is about being kind and helping others. In the case of child loss, it is also about being kind to yourself. Allowing yourself time to cry and grieve and not looking at that as being week or a failure. Also being there for others who are going through child loss and supporting them. Finding ways to honor your child's memory by showing kindness towards others. As we help others to feel better we also begin to heal ourselves in the process.
My prayer for this Lent is that by engaging in these Lenten practices, all parents who have suffered the loss of a child may begin to heal their broken hearts.