by Frances Ferraro
As catechists, we may at times be called to walk with our students through an experience of loss and grief. We may be “first responders” to them as they struggle with honest doubt, despair, confusion, even anger.
We can help students grieve in healthy ways by offering them faith-based activities that help them draw strength and healing from their Catholic faith and the faith community.
1. Make prayers specific. Place a notebook labeled “Special Intentions” on your prayer table along with a Bible and a crucifix. Ask students to write in the notebook the names of their loved ones who have died. After opening prayer, ask students to pray for the people who are listed in the notebook. Ask them to respond: “Lord, hear our prayer.”
2. Encourage memories. Have students bring in pictures or keepsakes of their deceased loved ones and place these items on your prayer table. Then invite students to share stories about their loved ones. Initiate this process by bringing in something that’s meaningful to you.
3. Provide opportunities for different forms of expression. For example, some children are uncomfortable communicating their feelings publicly, yet they have a great need to tell their stories. To help them express their stories in more private ways, offer a guided meditation that helps them envision themselves walking with Jesus. At the end of the meditation, invite the children to write letters to Jesus. Assure them that their letters are private. Tell the children not to worry if their feelings don’t make sense; they are communicating with the One who really knows how they feel and loves them without limit.
4. Help students experience God’s presence. Encourage students to frequent the Sacraments to experience God’s love and presence. When our students receive Holy Communion, they experience Jesus’ presence in a personal and intimate way (CCC, n. 1391). Celebrating the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation helps them experience God’s mercy and peace.
5. Embrace names. Help students literally “hold” the names of their deceased loved ones in prayer by having them make tangible items on which they place the names of their deceased loved ones. Students can hold these items close to their hearts during prayer. For example, students could make wooden crosses out of craft sticks and write the names of their loved ones on the crosses. They could then hold the crosses close to their hearts during prayer.
6. Participate in the life of the parish. Remind students that they belong to a faith community of people who share their common beliefs, who turn to Jesus with all their heartaches and joys. Suggest that they share their own faith and goodness with the parish community by thinking about becoming altar servers or assistants in other parish ministries. This way they can participate more fully in the life of the Church and the parish, and offer their prayers, works, joys, and sufferings to God through Jesus.
7. Establish enduring reminders. For example, students might plant small trees in memory of their loved ones. This will help foster a tangible and continuing connection between those who grieve and those who have died. After my grandmother died, my parents planted a tree in our yard which serves as an enduring reminder of my grandmother’s love.
As catechists, we can play a key role in helping our students experience the healing and strengthening grace of God during times of grief. With the grace of God, we can help our students heal. We can ease the burden on their young shoulders by being confidently and peacefully present to them and their families as the calming embrace of Jesus.
Frances Ferraro is a volunteer catechist at Our Lady of Mercy Parish in Park Ridge, NJ. She teaches children in first grade through sixth grade. She also serves the parish faith formation programs in assisting children with “catch-up catechesis.”
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This article was written by the Catechist Staff and appeared in Catechist magazine, June 2014.
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