When parents are grieving for a child who is terminally ill, missing, or deceased, it’s hard to know the right words to say when expressing condolences. One common gesture is to offer to pray for their child. But that isn’t always the right choice.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Prayers for Parents Over the Loss of a Child
- Prayers for Parents Who Have a Missing Child
- Prayers for Parents With a Terminally Ill Child
If the parents in question are religious and you share their faith, it’s easy to extend the offer to pray. But if you aren’t religious, or if you practice a different faith, the prayer question is something of a Pandora’s Box. Will they be offended by an agnostic praying for them? If you practice different faiths, should you offer a prayer from their belief system or your own?
These are all complicated issues, and at the end of the day, you’re the only one who can make a choice. You may already know enough about the parents and their faith that you feel comfortable navigating this terrain. But if you’re still uncertain, here are some prayers to consider from a variety of faiths.
Prayers for Parents Over the Loss of a Child
If a family is deeply religious, they will likely elect to hold a memorial service, funeral, or burial at their place of worship. In that case, offering them a prayer from the faith they adhere to is likely the best practice.
Here are some prayer examples from a cross-section of religions.
1. “Prayers at the Death of a Baptized Child” from Catholicism
Now you have called him/her to yourself
We grieve over the loss of one so young
And struggle to understand your purpose
Even the most devout of believers may struggle to understand and accept God’s plan when faced with the death of a child. An agnostic who is moved to utter a Catholic prayer after the death of a child may find something to connect with these words.
2. “Kel Maleh Rachamim (Prayer of Mercy)” from Judaism
Therefore, the Master of Mercy will protect him forever, from behind the hiding of his wings, and will tie his soul with the rope of life. The Everlasting is his heritage, and he shall rest peacefully upon his lying place, and let us say: Amen
The Prayer of Mercy is an essential prayer that is used at almost all Jewish memorial services and funerals. It may also be sung or recited when people visit the graves of their loved ones, and is said on each death anniversary.
3. “Prayer for Remembrance at a Bereavement ” from Church of England
“Lord, do not abandon us in our desolation.
Keep us safe in the midst of trouble,
and complete your purpose for us
through your steadfast love and faithfulness
The Church of England (also known as the Anglican Church) is the official, established church of England. It blends Catholic and reformed Protestant faiths.
4. “A Prayer After the Loss of a Pregnancy” from Episcopal Church
O God, who gathered Rachel’s tears over her lost children, hear now my/our sorrow and distress at the death of my/our expected child; in the darkness of loss, stretch out to me/us the strength of your arm and renewed assurance of your love; through your own suffering and risen Child Jesus. Amen
Some prayers are only directed towards children who were born and baptized. But when someone loses a wanted pregnancy, they deserve to have their grief acknowledged as well.
If you're looking for more Episcopal traditions, read our guide on Episcopal funeral services.
5. “Prayer for a Dead Child” from Orthodox Christianity
Receive in peace the soul of Your little servant (child’s name), for You Yourself have said, "Let the little children come to Me, for such is the Kingdom of Heaven." Amen.
Orthodox Christianity centers around the belief that God revealed himself through Jesus Christ. As such, Christ features prominently in their prayer traditions.
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Prayers for Parents Who Have a Missing Child
When a child goes missing, it can be one of the most frightening things a parent has to experience. While the death of a child is always tragic, there is at least the possibility of closure.
The fear of the unknown in the case of a missing child is its own brand of devastating. Religious leaders and church members will often support the family during this kind of crisis, which may help guide the kind of prayer you offer.
6. “Prayers for Times of Trouble” from Catholicism
Praised be God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation,
who comforts us in all our afflictions
There are several prayers in Catholicism for parents to invoke when their children are going through times of trouble. This one in particular may help provide solace in the instance of a missing child or teenager.
7. “HaNoten Koach” from Judaism
He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength
When offering to pray for a missing child, it is important not to use a prayer that would be used at a funeral or memorial service. Instead, try this prayer that thanks God for granting us strength to make it through our trials.
8. “Prayer for Dealing with a Difficult Situation” from Church of England
the defense of those who trust in you
and the strength of those who suffer:
look with mercy on our affliction
and deliver us through our mighty Saviour Jesus Christ.
The Anglican Church has a variety of prayers for all kinds of personal situations. This one is suited for people going through a difficult emotional situation, like having a missing child. It’s a simple, elegant prayer asking for strength for the suffering.
9. “A Prayer to Give Us Hope” from Episcopal Church
When evil darkens our world, give us light. When despair numbs our souls, give us hope. When we stumble and fall, lift us up. When doubts assail us, give us faith. When nothing seems sure, give us trust. When ideals fade, give us vision. When we lose our way, be our guide! That we may find serenity in Your presence, and purpose in doing Your will.
This prayer, found in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, can be used for people of several different denominations. Its goal is to help parents find hope and light, even in the darkest and most frightening times.
10. “Prayer in Times of Trouble” from Orthodox Christianity
Lord of the Powers be with us, for in times of distress we have no other help but You.
Lord of the Powers, have mercy on us
While many Orthodox prayers are quite lengthy, this one is a perfect example of how brevity can still be all-encompassing.
Prayers for Parents With a Terminally Ill Child
When a child is terminally ill, many people offer prayers. But be thoughtful about the kind of prayers you offer. Instead of praying for a miracle or recovery, offer prayers of peace, comfort, and strength.
11. “Prayer of Commendation” from Catholicism
May you live in peace this day
When a terminally ill child comes closer to leaving Earth, close family members may take turns reading short texts and scripture. Even if you aren’t with the family, you can offer to say a Prayer of Commendation when you know death is imminent.
12. “Mi Sheberach” from Judaism
May the One who blessed our ancestors —
Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,
Matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah —
bless and heal the one who is ill
The Mi Sheberach is the primary Jewish prayer given for people who are sick or injured. The prayer asks for physical healing, but it also asks for compassion, strength, restoration, and spiritual healing.
The prayer asks for these things not just for the subject of the prayer, but for everyone in the community afflicted with illness. The versatility and inclusivity of this prayer make it appropriate even in cases of terminal illness.
While the "Mi Sheberach" has traditionally been said in synagogues during the reading of the Torah, it has moved out of the synagogue, too. Patients, family members, and medical professionals may say this prayer before and after medical treatments.
13. “Prayer for those in Pain” from Church of England
Lord God, whose Son, Jesus Christ,
understood people's fear and pain
before they spoke of them,
we pray for those in hospital;
surround the frightened with your tenderness;
give strength to those in pain;
hold the weak in your arms of love,
and give hope and patience
to those who are recovering;
we ask this through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Anglican prayers are reassuringly straightforward. This plainspoken prayer can be delivered in church, at home, or in a hospital. The language is simple enough that an ill child can even receive and understand it.
14. “A Prayer for Those Who Are Sick and Those Who Minister to Them” from Episcopal Church
Gracious God, source of life and health: Jesus came to our disordered world to make your people whole. Send your Spirit on those who are sick and all who minister to them; that when the sick enter your peace, they may offer thanks to your Great Name; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen
This prayer is intended to help people who are ill, as well as their caretakers.
15. “Prayer for the Terminally Ill” from Orthodox Christianity
We submit to Your will and into Your hands we commend our souls and bodies
One of the tenets of Orthodoxy is that Jesus died for our sins. This is heavily referenced in most of the prayers that have to do with death and dying.
Etiquette for Praying for Grieving Parents
Obviously, when you offer to pray for someone, you want to help them feel some semblance of peace. The last thing you want to do is make them feel uncomfortable. You know your friends best, so let your conscience guide you when you make the choice to pray for them or not.
Hopefully, the resources here will help guide you as you make that decision. There are more religions than could ever be touched on in one piece, so continue to research as needed.
- “Family Prayers from Birth to Death.” Usccb.org, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 22 December 2017, www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/prayers-and-devotions/prayers/family-prayers-from-birth-to-death.cfm.
- Weintraub, Rabbi Simkah Y. “Jewish Prayer for the Sick: Mi Sheberach.” Myjewishlearning.com, My Jewish Learning, 5 March 2019, www.myjewishlearning.com/article/mi-sheberakh-may-the-one-who-blessed/.
- “Prayers for Difficult Times.” Gracecathedral.org, Grace Cathedral, 9 March 2016, gracecathedral.org/prayers-difficult-times/.
- “Other Orthodox Prayers.” Orthodoxprayer.com, Orthodox Prayer, 2019, www.orthodoxprayer.org/OtherPrayers.html.