The gift of my Church: coping with grief through faith
The Gift of My Church (#TGOMC) is a series featuring how Catholics from different walks of life have been touched by God through their service or participation in the life of the Archdiocese of Singapore. In this issue, writer Daphne Rodrigues learns how the members of Pieta, a new peer ministry for bereaved parents, help one another through their grief by clinging onto faith.
Members of Pieta pose in front of the statue that inspired the group’s name at the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd. Photo: Pieta.
Greg and Elizabeth Krygsman lost their 24-year-old son suddenly two years ago. They were blessed to have family and friends come together to help with the arrangements for sending Andrew off. Yet, despite the support the couple received, they realised that they needed a deeper level of accompaniment as they grappled with questions about their loss.
They also received help through counselling, individually and as a couple. But they sensed that, in the mystery of death, faith was essential to their healing. No one could answer that burning question – why?
“In a crisis like this, you blame God,” said Greg. “The path splits into two, and you can either move closer to Him or away from Him. I had to make a conscious decision to not give up.”
The Krygsmans found themselves on a new path soon after meeting two other couples who had had similar experiences. Valerie Lim and her husband had lost their 16-month-old daughter, Ning, in 1999. Audrey Kuang and her husband had lost three children: Carys lived for just one day; another child was lost in a miscarriage; and 10-month-old Davey died after heart surgery.
“In our search, the Holy Spirit led us to find Valerie and Audrey, who provided the community support and shared experience that we needed in our grief journey,” said Elizabeth.
In December 2016, Greg, Elizabeth, Valerie and Audrey started a support group, Pieta, named after the famous sculpture of Mother Mary cradling her dead son in her arms in sorrow and surrender. They reach out to other bereaved parents with the aim of seeking God’s wisdom and comfort together, patiently through prayer. Good Shepherd Sister Elizabeth Lim is the group’s spiritual director.
“At the time of loss, we can’t see the value of submission or put our trust in God,” said Valerie. “But, somehow, it finds its way into our hearts as we wait in faith.”
The group meets at the Agape Village every fourth Tuesday of the month. At each session, those present read and reflect on a chosen scripture passage. They then share their thoughts, if they choose to. This gives them time and space to express their sorrow and talk about their faith with others who have also suffered the loss of a child. Every session is closed with a prayer.
There is no obligation to speak during these walk-in sessions, or even to attend them regularly. Any bereaved parent is welcome, no matter how long ago it happened, no matter how old the child was, and no matter what the circumstances were. Pieta also welcomes non-Catholics, as long as they are open to the group’s faith expressions. “Just come” is the team’s personal invitation.
Outside of the meetings, the team also helps parents cope with the loss of a child by offering a listening ear and sharing their own coping strategies.
Being part of the church’s care for families
As Pieta embarks on their journey as the newest family ministry in the local archdiocese, a special blessing was arranged for them during a Mass for the Family at the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd on 27 February this year.
“I was very moved by the blessing Pieta received during the commissioning,” said Valerie. “I recalled my despair after losing Ning, but as I stood before the altar in the cathedral, I felt whole again.”
The blessing was arranged by the Archdiocesan Commission for the Family (ACF), which aims to lead, support and synergise the efforts of the various family groups and ministries in the archdiocese.
Msgr Francis Lau blesses the members of Pieta during a Mass for the Family at the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd. Photo: ACF.
Pieta’s founders hope that more people will become aware of the support group’s existence. Remaining connected to God, they believe, even if at first it was in anger, was what really helped them, and they are keen to share their experience to help others.
It is a delicate mission: the healing process is slow and difficult, and every parent’s experience is different. The founders themselves do not pretend to have it all figured out.
“I feel inadequate when I meet another grieving couple,” said Greg.
“We’re all still healing; we’re not there yet,” said Audrey. “I’d stopped talking to God. I was just physically in church. But God has been slowly reeling me back in.”
As a community, perhaps we can also offer some help: by spreading the word about these courageous people and by praying for them and their mission.
When: Every fourth Tuesday of the month, 7.30pm.
Where: Agape Village, 7A Lorong 8 Toa Payoh, S319264.
What: Prayer, scripture reading, reflection and sharing.
The Archdiocesan Commission for the Family (ACF) is one of several organisations in the archdiocese supported by the Catholic Foundation. It was established in 2014 to lead, support and synergise the outreach efforts of its 13 family partners. It promotes their many programmes provided to address the pastoral needs of families in different situations in life, including those grieving the loss of a child. A regular financial pledge to the Catholic Foundation will enable ACF to continue expanding its efforts, so that new ministries such as Pieta may be continually encouraged and supported for years to come.