Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

The loss of a child

By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OCSO, Commentary | Published June 23, 2016

Elijah said to her, “See! Your son is alive.”
The woman replied to Elijah,
“Now indeed I know that you are a man of God.
The word of the LORD comes truly from your mouth.”

1 Kings 17: 24

The dead man sat up and began to speak,
and Jesus gave him to his mother.

Luke 7: 15

Not long ago there was a photograph that appeared on the front pages of newspapers and websites all over the world. It was a picture of the lifeless body of a little boy, the child of Syrian refugees. He drowned when the boat in which he was riding capsized off the coast of Greece. His body washed up on the shore, and a photographer took a picture of it. The death of a child—any child—can and does move human hearts to a deep and lingering sorrow—and anger. A child’s death is a glaring reproof to our assumptions as to how good life is, how good God is.

We all know parents who have grieved over the loss of a son or daughter, a loss that should not have happened so soon and so cruelly. There are a lot of places on this earth where one may feel an acute sense of loneliness. So we can choose to move on, pick up the phone and call a friend, catch the next flight home. But the loneliness that grips the heart of a parent who has lost a child is quite different. There is no place to go. There is no comfort to be found, save the slow passing of time—and waiting for a God who seems so silent and far.

The above scriptural accounts offer us scenes of young people being raised from the dead and brought back into life. The prophets and saviors who possessed such power are long gone. As we stare at a photograph of a dead little boy, we wonder what remains in our midst. We are not unlike the early disciples who, after the death of Jesus, wondered from their aching emptiness what, if anything, was left.

They were soon to find out, slowly but surely, that the power that is God was within them. They struggled with that realization. And so do we.

We bear within us the power to comfort, to be with, to console and to share the sorrow of one who has lost a life too young or too old.

Death unleashes in the human heart a need to heal, more than it does a need to understand, to fix or to lessen grief. In our deepest hearts, we know that there are no answers to why some lives are lost tragically young. But we do know that when such loss tears at a life, we will go far out of our way to offer comfort. And it is a near miracle that human loss will make us forego any previous walls of race, color, religion or culture that we so readily build to keep out whoever is foreign or strange to us. Or perhaps it is a miracle. Out of death there is truly born life, a new beginning, a new hope.

God will eventually come in fullness and wipe every tear away. But till that time comes, we must learn to trust his presence within us and comfort the brokenhearted in our midst.

Trappist Father James Stephen Behrens is a monk at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in His books are available at the monastery web store at