No parent wants to outlive their child.
“A lot of people say it’s not meant to be that way. I’m not supposed to outlive my child. I’m supposed to go first, ”said Rhea Prasek, 40, of El Campo. “When your son or daughter leaves this land before you do, the journey is difficult. “
Strength for the Journey Grief Support Group, a ministry of the Family Evangelism Office of the Catholic Diocese of Victoria, will be hosting a weekend retreat for bereaved parents October 29-31. The peaceful setting of the Diocesan Spiritual Renewal Center at 718 Gussie Schmidt Road in Victoria will serve as the backdrop for the retreat.
Prasek, who works for her husband’s family business, Prasek’s Smokehouse in El Campo, lost her daughter Harper Prasek in 2011. She had a normal pregnancy up to nine days before her due date, at which she thought she was going to give birth to. At the hospital, the doctor could not detect the baby’s heartbeat. Prasek had to go through the normal movements of childbirth, which she knew had died in her womb. The umbilical cord was found to be wrapped around the baby’s neck.
“It’s a tough road, but by the grace of God we soon found out that we were expecting twins again,” Prasek said. “Every story has a happy ending. Good comes out of every experience, no matter how terrible it seems at the time. “
Prasek decided to become a member of the Diocese’s bereavement support team when she was approached by the team leaders, Deacon Larry and Patricia Hoelscher, of El Campo. The role involves a lot of active listening, being present, sharing stories and praying for others who have also gone through the loss of a child.
At the upcoming weekend retreat, guest speakers will make useful presentations for parents. Valeria Dubourdieu, counselor at Center Emmaüs, will discuss the stages of grief, while Gail Janecka, another counselor at the center, will explain how the loss of a child affects the family and when to seek professional help. Deacon Tran Dinh of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Victoria will share his story of surviving the loss of his wife and child. The retreat will offer parents time to share in small groups, to pray, to attend mass, to meet a spiritual director, to rest and to reflect. Most Reverend Brendan Cahill, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Victoria, will also celebrate Mass.
Partial financial assistance is available for those who need assistance.
In addition to the retreats, the group meets from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. on the second Tuesday of each month, except October due to the retreat, at the Catholic Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Ganado. A dozen team members are involved in the support group as well as three priests.
When the ministry began, the Right Reverend Kirby Hlavaty, pastor of Ganado Church at the time, offered to host the group meetings. He has since become parish priest of Notre-Dame de la Victoire Cathedral in Victoria. The Right Reverend Roger Hawes, pastor of Holy Cross Catholic Church in Yorktown, has also been heavily involved in the ministry. The Right Reverend Greg Korenek continued to support the group when he became pastor of Ganado Church.
While about eight bereaved parents join the team members at each of the monthly meetings, a total of nearly 50 parents have attended at least one of the group’s meetings since it began with a one-day retreat. in March.
Each meeting includes a prayer, a short presentation on topics ranging from how to keep a child’s memory alive to how to cope while on vacation, and a small group session where parents can share. their stories or just listen to the stories of others.
Although Prasek got involved in the group to help others, she found the meetings to be healing for her as well. During the one-day retreat in March, Prasek met a couple who had recently lost a daughter.
“Imagine a mom who just lost a child who is terrified of trying to start a family again,” Prasek said. “It was an amazing gift to sit down with this mom and dad, and tell them my story, to reassure them that they too could feel the happiness they so desperately needed.”
Each team member can tell a different story, Prasek said. Some children die by suicide, some perish in car crashes, some die of illness and some are stillborn, among other tragedies. They vary in age from infants to adult children.
“We make sure parents know it doesn’t matter how the child died,” Prasek said. “We are all in pain. This is what is beautiful about this ministry. We all deserve help, and if we can offer it, that’s what we’re trying to do.
In high school, Prasek lost his best friend, Nancy Richards, in a car accident. Nancy Richards’ mother, Susan Richards, was among the first to show up at Prasek’s door when she lost Harper.
Susan Richards, 73, a retired social worker from El Campo, is also a member of the bereavement support team. Her daughter was 16 when she died 23 years ago. Devastated, Richards began attending meetings of a local chapter of Compassionate Friends, a national bereavement support organization that existed at the time. She began participating in Bible studies and sought private counseling for her bereavement. She managed from day to day.
“It’s such a devastating thing to happen to a parent,” said Richards. “Having the opportunity to talk to other people who are going through the same thing as you is helpful and gives you hope. “
After more than two decades, Richards said she sometimes felt uncomfortable raising Nancy, but the need to talk about her daughter remains no matter how much time has passed. She said many parents fear their child will be forgotten, and the support group provides a setting where the need to talk about their child is understood. Richards said parents grieve in their own way and must move forward at their own pace.
“You have to work at it, and it takes action to heal,” Richards said. “You take it one day at a time, without looking too far into the future. Time flies and it helps. You will never get over missing the child, but you will start to have joy again. You start to reinvest in life again. You learn to live with the loss because there is no way to fix it.
Carolyn Joines, 65, an accountant for the Wharton Cattle Auction, is also a member of the Bereavement Support Team. The Wharton resident lost her 38-year-old son, Clay Joines, in 2016. He was born with a mild intellectual disability and had health issues throughout his life. Her heart breaks for those who have experienced the sudden loss of a child. Because her son was ill for years, she had time to gradually face the reality that he would not recover. Joines’ main obstacle was overcoming the bad memories of her injured and suffering son. Her faith in God, her family and her friends helped her overcome her grief.
“Time heals, but also talking about it with those who have gone through the same struggles is what helps heal,” said Joines.