"No parent should have to bury their own child" are words you often hear at the funerals of those who die young. The phrase survives because it is universally true and heartfelt. The loss of a child is a burden unlike any other kind of loss.
This recognition led to the establishment, 30 years ago, of the annual Service of Remembrance for Children who have died or are missing.
"It's 34 years since my son was killed on his bike, but it is just so important when you see these people come together from everywhere," says the service’s founder and organiser, Lynne Molan.
"At the service, you could hear a pin drop and then afterwards, when we have our supper there, everyone is talking to everybody. Sometimes they've never met in their lives before, but they've just got this common bond."
Mrs Molan, who was awarded an Order of Australia medal in 2017 for her work, has been the driving force behind the service since it began in St Andrew's Cathedral in 1991 – moving three years later to St Matthew's, West Pennant Hills.
This year’s service on December 7 will be both onsite and online. The timing, close to Christmas, is deliberate. "We want to provide some support and hope for people at this time,” Mrs Molan says. “It's very difficult in those earlier days when you're walking through a shopping centre [at Christmas].
“This might sound quite insignificant, but everybody is so happy. And, yes, it is a wonderful time and the carols and that's all beautiful, but it's like having a knife go round and round in your back because this child [is not with you]... My son was 15."
The children who have been lost are of any and every age. In 2020, there were three stillborn children remembered, three who would have been in their 50s and everything in between.
"A child is a child," Mrs Molan says. "We used to have the parents place a flower on the communion table in recognition of the life of the child. But of course, last year we were only allowed, I think, 80 in the church. So it went online as well. [We had] a tribute list... the names and ages of the children are read and appear on the screen and that was very effective."
Archbishop Kanishka Raffel will speak via video this year. It's a Christian service but people from all backgrounds come – and, for some, it is the only time they enter a church in a year.
Lynne Molan calls it “user-friendly”.
“People come to the service because their child has died, not necessarily because they're a Christian. The introductory prayers in the service are ‘Come, God, and meet with us here’ and the responsive prayers at the end are ‘safe now in God's hands’. My voice cracks every time I say it.”
It's hoped the move to a hybrid online service will encourage more people to share the news about the service, and more bereaved parents to attend. One family has attended every service since their child died in 1995.
The ongoing pain of losing a child
Mrs Molan shared a special insight about her reaction to her son's death. "That first night when my child was killed I remember looking at my digital radio and how the numbers used to turn over. Each minute, the number would click over. I hated it because I felt it was taking me a little bit further away from Craig.
“Now, 34 years down the track, nothing takes me away from Craig. I feel close to him all the time. But in those early days, you just feel like someone wrenched your stomach out of you.”
She explains the experiences are those that only other grieving parents will understand.
"The thing that gave me the greatest support when Craig was killed, initially, was people who knew him and loved him. They could share stories about his life with me. But as they moved on, their lives all went back to normal... But mine didn't, and what I needed then was people who understood what I was going through."
For at least one night every year, the Service of Remembrance provides that understanding. For Lynne Molan, it is as important now as ever.
"I will die always trying to do what I can for people whose child has died, because to me it has been the most devastating experience of my life and it doesn't stop."
Service of Remembrance for Children who have died or are missing, Tuesday, December 7, 7.30pm. For more information see [url=http://stmatts.org.au/events/remember]http://stmatts.org.au/events/remember[/url]. To have your family included please email the full name and age of the child/children to email@example.com, or call 9479 3700 as soon as possible.