Stephen Oliver, editor
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MORE than 50 years after C. S. Lewis's A Grief
Observed was published, we have a new book, Inside
Grief, of equal depth, honesty, and significance. This
collection of essays, edited by Stephen Oliver, is one that will
stand the test of time, and will be a tremendous help to those who
grieve, and those who support them in their grief.
Rowan Williams, in his foreword, writes: "The key word in this
book's short title is 'inside'. This is not meant to be a brisk and
useful book on coping; it is a record in various ways of inhabiting
Oliver explains that "Inhabiting grief is a matter of learning a
landscape, recognising an environment in which you are going to
live for a very long time - probably a lifetime." He continues: "It
is our hope that in this book those in the grip of primary grief
will recognise some familiar features in the landscape and that
those around them will gain some small access to what it feels like
to be inside grief."
The first three contributors write about their own experience of
grief: Oliver's own contribution has a raw honesty as he writes
about the discovery of his wife's cancer, the rest of their life
together, her death, and how he responds to it. This chapter is a
superb and haunting record and reflection. When I had finished it,
I thought that I would buy the book for this chapter alone.
The following two chapters are both equally personal: the first
is about the sudden death of a father, and the second, written by a
widow whose husband had died young, is about the death of a deeply
loved adult son in a car accident. They are remarkable, too, for
their honesty and wisdom. The openness with which each of these
three have written adds to the quality of thinking which
characterises their contributions.
The book continues with an essay on how the culture of grieving
changed in Britain between 1850 and 1970; a chapter in which a
psychologist and a medical consultant reflect from a profesional
perspective; and an essay on Jewish approaches to death.
Then, in a magisterial contribution, a senior hospital chaplain
reflects on "the spiritual and cultural care resources available to
those who grieve and those who support them", and sets this in the
context of the rapid changes brought about in an increasingly
He has also written insightfully about how to respond to the
death of a baby, and the question of organ donation. Then, from a
military chaplain, there is a chapter on death in the field, and
how soldiers respond to that.
Barbara Pymm's book is equally impressive, if in a different
genre and from a different spiritual tradition. It is a personal
story, and one in which her "journey through grief was intertwined
with a journey to faith". She is clear that her relationship with
God grew significantly though her experiences of bereavement.
Pymm writes movingly and honestly about the deaths of each of
her parents, an aunt to whom she was particularly close, an infant
son, and a contemporary of her teenage son. There are no clichés,
and she is absolutely honest about the times when her faith in
Jesus Christ was weak, and yet that same faith sustained and
restored her. I was particularly struck by the three chapters, at
different points in the book, in which she writes about her grief
for her mother and the impact that this loss had on her at
different times in her life.
Each chapter ends with three lists showing what helped, what
didn't help, and what could have helped in each of the bereavements
that she suffered.
This is a book that will, no doubt, help people, whether or not
they are Christians, by its transparent honesty and the deep
reflection that has been part of Pymm's responseto bereavement, and
which comes out in the book. I am very gladthat I have read it, and
will always have a copy at hand to give away.
Prebendary Jeremy Crossley is the Rector of St Margaret
Lothburyand St Stephen Coleman Street, London.