Pat and Ron Graham are pictured at a March retreat at St. Patrick Parish in Elkhorn for parents suffering from the death of a child. A similar retreat for mourning parents, called “He Wept,” will be held at the parish Nov. 20. The Grahams helped bring about the retreats after their son, Mike, died and they were looking for spiritual support. COURTESY PHOTO

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‘He Wept’ retreat to be offered for parents mourning the death of a child

Four years ago, police officers showed up in the middle of the night at the home of Pat and Ron Graham.

They were told that their son, Mike, 41, was found dead at his home. He had committed suicide.

“I was in total, total shock,” Pat Graham said. There had been no red flags, no indications that Mike might take his life.

The news was so much of a shock that she began having chest pains and had to go to the hospital. A heart attack was ruled out during her overnight stay. Instead the mother was diagnosed with broken heart syndrome.

Family, friends and their pastor, Father Tom Fangman of St. Patrick Parish in Elkhorn, helped and guided the Grahams through the following days.

But after the funeral that support seemed to wane.

Quickly, they found out, “you’re on your own,” Graham said.

Their situation was not uncommon, they learned.

Many mourners are left feeling alone, she said, but especially parents who’ve lost a child, and especially when that child dies of suicide or a drug overdose.

“They have a lot of stigma put on them, and that makes it even worse,” she said.

 Pat looked for help and found a Catholic retreat for parents who’ve suffered the death of a child. It was based in Boston and held online because of COVID-19 concerns.

“I thought, oh my gosh, this is just wonderful,” Graham said. “I talked to the couple who created this and said, ‘How can we make this happen in Omaha?’”

Now St. Patrick, with archdiocesan support, is offering its second retreat this year for parents who’ve had children of all ages die, including those who died of a miscarriage and those who died years ago. 

The retreat is a reworked version of the one the Grahams first participated in. It’s been renamed “He Wept,” based on the Gospel account of Jesus outside the tomb of Lazarus.

The Nov. 20 retreat at St. Patrick is open to mourning parents throughout the archdiocese. It will begin with a 9:30 a.m. check-in and end after a 6:30 p.m. Mass.

Grieving the loss of a child can be particularly difficult, said Deacon Jim Tardy, outreach manager at Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of Omaha, who will serve as a chaplain for the retreat. “It’s a different kind of grief. … We have in our minds that we shouldn’t be burying our children, so I think the emotions sometimes can be just a little more raw.

“So we’ll walk through those emotions with them and hopefully be a resource to them as they continue to seek and find what God is asking of them for the rest of their lives, that God has a plan to love them.”

The death of a child brings on a lot of stress, including stress on a marriage, Graham said, and people need the spiritual support the Catholic faith offers.

“We invite everyone to come,” she said, “and spread the word because there’s a lot of people out there who need this. They really do.”

A free-will offering will be collected to cover costs.

For more information, contact Erin Keller, the parish’s faith formation director, at ekeller@stpatselkhorn.org or 402-289-4289. Registration is at tinyurl.com/HeWept21.