Grieving parents find comfort in special Mass

COLUMBIA — Luanne Malkasian lost her 19-year-old daughter Anne to leukemia more than 20 years ago.
On Oct. 4, the Columbia resident said she felt a renewed connection with her daughter after attending a special Mass held at St. Peter Church.
The first “Remembering Our Children” Mass drew more than 50 people who were honoring the memory of children lost to miscarriage, illness, accidents and other causes.
The Mass was sponsored by the Diocese of Charles ton’s Family Life Office.
“As you move away from the immediate time of a loved one’s death, you think no one is going to remember them,” Malkasian said. “This brought back all my memories of Anne. I felt I could see her face smiling at me. It took me a long time after her death to come back and not be angry at God, but now I know in my heart she’s in a better place.”
Msgr. Leigh A. Lehocky, pastor of St. Peter, celebrated the Mass and spoke at its beginning about the difficulty parents face when they lose a son or daughter.
“It is said there is no greater pain than losing a child — whether it is one who has only lived a few  days or one that has had the blessing of many years,” he said. “Today, we lay the names of our children on the altar before God.”
Deacon Charles Easterling gave the homily. He told a story about bereaved parents who began a journey together and met Jesus Christ along the way. The parents asked Jesus why they had to lose their children.
“Jesus gave them no answer but began to cry… he said ‘I am bearing the burden … my dominion is the dominion of the heart. I cannot prevent pain … I can only heal it.”
Deacon Easterling said the story offered a perspective on how parents can deal with grief and confusion after a child’s death.
“Mary mourns for her son during the crucifixion … the sword pierces her heart,” he said. “I have to think she asked why. I suspect some of us are still asking why. … Jesus, through his resurrection, has prepared a special place for our loved ones and for us. Let us remember the happiness our loved ones brought to our lives.”
He suggested that people transform their grief by showing compassion for others.
“We need to forgive our loved ones for things they might have done while they were alive, and forgive ourselves for things we might have left unsaid or undone,” Deacon Easterling said. “Let’s make a firm commitment to change our lives, to care for others more, to draw closer together as family and closer to Jesus Christ. When we do this, their lives will not have been in vain.”
The Mass featured solemn hymns, moving responses and meditation pieces, including “Pie Jesu” from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Requiem.”
Rachel Cross, a member of St. Peter, was one of the organizers of the Mass. Her son Daniel was stillborn in November 2007, and she felt other parents might like some way to acknowledge their children and express their grief.
“There are others out there like me, and I thought this would be a good opportunity for us to meet and network a little bit,” Cross said. “This was helpful for me. I’d like to see it done on an annual basis.”
Cross said her mother attended the Mass with her, and it gave her the first chance to acknowledge the death of a child she lost more than 40 years ago.
Alan Kasper, who moved to Columbia last month, said he heard about the Mass from a friend. He attended to pay tribute to his daughter Michelle, who was 6 years old when she died from a brain tumor in 1982.
“This kind of brought her back for me, and forced me to remember a lot of things about her,” he said. “It was a good thing. Even with the tears, it was good to remember her.”