by Charley Monaghan
Of all the pains that life can hand us, arguably the most searing is the death of a child. A parent’s world irrevocably and horrifically changes forever, no matter
what the circumstances or the age of the child. In what seems to be a manner contrary to the natural order, parents not only have a physical and emotional part of themselves ripped away, but also have the loss of all of the hopes, dreams, and aspirations they had so completely invested in their child.
With this loss, a parent’s world radically and dramatically changes forever. Most friends, relatives, and acquaintances do not know how to approach or
console for fear of offending or upsetting the parent. Many parents say they begin to feel that they are treated as if they have a contagious disease. In an attempt to seem normal, or “over it,” emotions are suppressed and the parent begins to withdraw or become distant. This reaction, however, compounds
the all-encompassing feeling of being totally alone.
Many well-intentioned attempts have been made to assist parents in recovering emotionally from their loss, including psychotherapy and various support
groups. However, in an attempt to be all inclusive and “politically correct,” the spiritual perspective of the grieving process—or even the existence of God—is
usually lacking (or actively avoided) in many of these approaches. It was the personal experience of my own family and this deep need for spirituality that led to what is now known as the Emmaus Ministry for Grieving Parents.
Thanksgiving evening of 2002, a healthy, ambitious and successful young US Air Force Captain, Paul Monaghan, took his own life, without any explanation
or warning signs. As unexpected as a lightning strike on a clear blue day, Paul’s death shattered our idyllic, comfortable family life forever.
For five years afterwards, when she wasn’t numb, my wife, Diane, frantically searched. Searched for answers from her son’s wife on what actually happened.
Searched for answers from his friends on what he was like leading up to his death. Searched for answers from Air Force investigators, who took an entire year to file their death report. Searched for answers not so much to the question of “why” as to “how.” How could her beautiful son do this to himself?
How could he do this to the family he loved so much? She frantically searched for understanding, read an entire library of books on the death of a child and suicide, went to psychiatrists, psychologists, and psychotherapists, joined support groups and journaled. Nothing helped at all. During these years, she prayed for two things: the strength to get out of bed in the morning and an understanding of how she could make some good come from such a horrific tragedy, but her prayers seemingly went unanswered. She felt God was not listening. During this time, she says, she received some strength from her faith, but not much comfort.