Being a parent who has a lost a child “definitely challenges your faith,” said Linda Capobianco, recalling the unexpected death of her 50-year-old daughter, Valerie, in February of 2020.

Since then, “I’ve wondered about my journey and what the Lord has in store,” she said, reflecting on how Valerie was a vibrant, healthy young woman with a family. Yet, in the midst of her questioning, Capobianco said it is in her deep faith that she has found her greatest consolation.

“I know Valerie is now with the Lord,” she said. “That’s what keeps me going.”

Capobianco shared her sentiments following the annual Mother’s Memorial Mass held May 10 in the chapel of St. Dominic Parish, Brick. The Mass is meant to provide some measure of consolation to families who have suffered the loss of a child or children for any reason – miscarriage, stillbirth, illness or injuries, acts of violence or abuse, suicide.

Celebrated close to Mother’s Day, the Mass has been the focus of a 17-year collaboration between the Elizabeth Ministries in St. Dominic Parish and St. Denis Parish, Manasquan.

“We realized that there is a common bond among all parents who have suffered the death of a child, regardless of the age of the child or the circumstances around his or her passing,” said Rachel Hendricks, diocesan respect life ministry coordinator, who is involved with the Elizabeth Ministry in St. Denis Parish.

“We wanted all women and families with this common bond to feel an invitation to join us in this special celebration of the Eucharist,” Hendricks said.

Father Brian Woodrow, pastor and Mass celebrant, observed, “For a mother and father to lose a child … only God can fathom it.”

In his homily, Father Woodrow recalled visiting St. Peter Basilica at the Vatican and seeing a woman staring intently at the Pieta, the life-sized image of a sorrowful Blessed Virgin Mary holding the battered body of her crucified son, Jesus.

“She didn’t move,” Father Woodrow said of the woman. Moving closer, he noticed she was crying and heard her say, “That’s my son.”

Father Woodrow encouraged the families in attendance to not only look to the Blessed Mother as being an example of a mother who lost a child but as one they can turn to in prayer for solace and comfort. “Mary stands with you,” he said.

Throughout the Mass, 140 deceased children were remembered when their names were read aloud, and in a display of lit votive candles set on a table in front of the sanctuary. Following the Mass, the families were invited to a reception where they could share memories and camaraderie.

“This Mass is wonderful,” said Capobianco, a member of St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish, Toms River. “Here we are surrounded by people who support one another, and it helps me to be able to talk about my daughter. It is such a comfort.”

Hendricks said the first Mother’s Memorial Mass was celebrated in 2005 on the Tuesday evening after Mother’s Day and has been offered every year since, except for 2020 because of the Covid-19 shutdown.

In 2005, Sally Beucker, who was involved with the newly formed Elizabeth Ministry in St. Dominic Parish “reached out to us to see if we would collaborate with them to offer something for moms and families who have suffered the loss of a child,” Hendricks said, noting that Beucker and her husband, Deacon Ed Beucker lost their teenaged son, Bobby, to cancer in 1998.

There were other Elizabeth Ministry women from both parishes who had lost children, she said, and “we recognized the need for the Church to reach out to these moms and families in their grief and in their desire to have their children remembered and honored in some way by the Church.”

Over the years that the two parishes have worked together organizing the Mass, attendance has grown considerably, Hendricks said. “We have been blessed to be witness to families responding to this invitation to join us at Mass even when their grief was very recent and raw, and after many years since their loss,” she said.

Hendricks noted the need for such a Mass was recognized by the Hispanic community and the first Spanish Mother’s Memorial Mass was celebrated in May 2021 by Father Rene Pulgarin, pastor of Our Lady of Fatima Parish, Keyport.