From conception onward, each child's life has immeasurable value.
After Kelly and Ryan Breaux endured the losses of three children over their 18 years of marriage, Kelly was astonished to find a dearth of resources to support bereaved parents.
“There are a lot of resources to help children who are grieving,” she said, “but there isn’t a whole lot to help couples, or focused on the family.”
She had seen the devastating effect that the deaths of her children, in particular that of her 3 1/2-year-old daughter, Emma, had had on her marriage. “After we lost her, it nearly destroyed our marriage,” she said.
Over time, she and her husband were able to mend and restore their relationship. They found that their marriage had a ripple effect, bringing healing to their extended family. “When we were healed, the whole family was healed,” she said.
She wanted to help other couples enduring similar situations, not only by directing them to resources, but also by walking beside them and offering support. Grief is often very isolating, which compounds the pain of missing someone you love.
“We don’t want people to feel alone like we did,” she said.
She looked, but could not find a national Catholic ministry focused on grief. “That blows my mind, because we’re a pro-life church,” she said. So she decided to start one and Red Bird Ministries, a Catholic grief-support non-profit ministry, was born.
“We help families who have been given an extraordinary cross to carry, called child loss,” Breaux said.
The other side of openness to life
Child loss comes in many different forms, including miscarriage. Support after miscarriage is part of the Red Bird work, and for Breaux, this is a way of living out the calling to be open to life.
“A priest once told me that to be open to life is to be open to death,” Breaux said. It’s a stark statement, but reveals something important. Opening one’s life and heart to a new person comes with the risk of being hurt. C.S. Lewis wrote,
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal … To love is to be vulnerable.”
Miscarriage is always a tragedy, but may cut especially deeply for Catholic families who are open to life, and celebrate life from the moment of conception.
“We expect a certain thing to happen when we’re open to life,” Breaux said. “To give God our fertility and trust in His plan was the hardest part.”
Breaux and Red Bird Ministries give a powerful witness to the value of each unborn life by putting miscarriage support at the forefront of their mission. Sometimes this support includes assuring families that their loss is also real. Breaux said,
“A lot of the time, families with miscarriages exclude themselves from the child loss category, but we know that there’s a baby at conception and when we get to heaven we will have a child to welcome us into the kingdom. That’s your baby, that was your baby from conception. We know this. Those feelings of grief are valid.”
Another part of their ministry is simply giving families permission to mourn.
“Our society doesn’t know what to do with grief,” Breaux said. “If someone mourns publicly, no one knows what to do.”
Red Bird Ministries seeks to point grieving families toward Christ on the cross, reminding them that Jesus gives both an example of how to suffer and a companion to endure alongside them.
Recently, Breaux has started to take her story and message on the road. She and her husband have created a leader’s manual and a workshop manual for local groups. They have shared their mission at the Napa Institute in Napa, California, and this fall have plans to lead a workshop in New Orleans, Louisiana. They hope that their workshops can spread and become immensely valuable opportunities for bereaved families to learn more about the grief process and find solidarity with others who understand.
Perhaps the only consolation in times of unimaginable suffering is loving support from other people. Red Bird Ministries offers that support where it is much needed, filling a gap in Catholic ministry and helping to bring healing to marriages and families.