Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Senior Side: On the passing of a child

By BILL CLARKE | Published March 29, 2024

“The loss of a child is a pain that no words or actions can heal. Their light will continue to shine in our memories.” –Author Unknown 

I’ve been away from the office on bereavement leave as our family grieved the loss of our first-born son Christopher. He was a special needs child, and the doctors told us that his condition would probably shorten his life expectancy to six or less years. Apparently, nobody shared this prediction with Christopher because he led a full and robust life for more than 50 years. He never went through puberty, so he had the appearance of a 10-year-old boy. 

Christopher was special in many ways to his family and everyone he touched. He didn’t allow his physical and mental challenges prevent him from enjoying life to the fullest.  

There is something that every parent experiences that can never be taken away. It is the bond formed between parent and child that begins in the womb. For nine months, a parent has an intimate relationship with their child, a closeness like no other in life. 

There is nothing more painful than the passing of a child. Whether early in life or later, the bond between a parent and child is special and unique. A mother carries her child’s joys and sorrows under her heart. A pain experienced by a child is felt simultaneously by both parents. A parent takes great pride in the accomplishments of their child and is always there to wipe a tear, bandage a hurt or lessen pain as the child experiences the challenges of life. 

When we were children, we were raised on a reward/punishment philosophy. If we were “good,” we were rewarded and if we misbehaved, we were punished. We quickly learned a cause-and-effect relationship.  

Consequently, we carried these principles with us when we became adults. When we have bad things happen to us in the normal course of life, we tend to think that we must have done something wrong. We may ask, “What have we done to deserve this?”  

Life doesn’t always go as we had hoped, even when we try hard to walk in God’s way. Sometimes a good, faithful Catholic finds their life in shambles when a tragedy occurs and we feel rage, hurt and anguish as though all our sacrifices were in vain. Like Jeremiah the prophet, we rage at God and ask why?  

We all experience pain in life with the loss of loved ones. The loss of a child causes us to remember both the great joys and sorrows that we have experienced. We pray that God will be merciful and watch over every child in the family, until one day when we too will pass through the veil to eternity, welcomed by all those who have gone before us. 

Our only choice is to keep believing and following Christ through the darkness, though you can’t see him or know where he is leading us. Just follow, through happiness and sorrow, just follow. We may have to experience more pain and suffering along the way, but if we remain faithful, our personal salvation will become our ultimate gift from God.  

One of the great joys of our Catholic faith is our belief in eternal life. Our family was blessed at Christopher’s funeral Mass when Bishops Ned Shlesinger and John Tran concelebrated and our pastor, Father Paul Flood, gave a beautiful homily that touched the hearts of those present.  

As parents of a special needs son, we wept tears of joy that Christopher was welcomed to eternal life and is now resting comfortably with the generations of our family and fellow Catholics who have gone before us. God has created a very special place in Heaven for his special needs children. 

Although there is nothing more painful than the loss of a child, we can pause and reflect on the joy that Christopher brought to the many people he touched, causing them to reflect on the gifts of mind and body. 

Christopher spent his last days in hospice while battling pneumonia. As he was nearing death, he sent us a beautiful message that we will always remember—he gave us a big smile as if to say, “I’m OK, Mom and Dad, I’m home now,” and breathed his last breath.  

May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. 

Bill Clarke, former business executive and teacher emerged from a third retirement to serve as associate director of professional development for the archdiocesan Office of Evangelization and Discipleship. To send thoughts to Bill, email