Dying to Live: A theological and practical workbook
on death, dying and bereavement
SCM Press £27.99
Church Times Bookshop special price £22.50
Letting Go of Ian: A faith journey through
Church Times Bookshop £7.20
Tips from Widows
Church Times Bookshop £8.10
AS A recently ordained cleric, I suspect I am not alone in
feeling an ongoing degree of trepidation about bereavement
ministry: conducting funerals, pastoral visits before and after,
what to say to whom and when. If we do not reflect upon our
assumptions about what constitute appropriate responses, we could
be tempted just to "do what comes naturally" - and that path could
prove full of pitfalls.
Marian Carter's Dying to Live is a comprehensive
resource that demonstrates the importance of our pastoral practice
arising from judicious reflection on experience, taking into
account cultural context, scripture, and faith traditions
(including insights from other faiths). Following the model of the
pastoral circle (helpfully reproduced as a diagram at the start of
each chapter), the book systematically explores death, dying, and
bereavement ministry, starting with care of the dying and their
carers, and covering post-funeral support.
Understanding why we do pastoral ministry is shown to be
essential in shaping exactly how we go about doing it. The author
draws on her work as a teacher of pastoral theology, as well as
hospital and hospice chaplaincy, but also shares moving insights
from her own sister's untimely death from a brain tumour.
The book offers a breadth of information - the bereavement
rituals of other faiths, the history of funeral liturgies in
various denominations, recent developments in society's rituals of
grieving - as well as succinct definitions as a starting-point for
further thought. I noted: "A funeral is a rite of passage in which
emotions are expressed - sorrow, relief, anger - depending on the
nature of the death. A ritual is a deliberate repeated pattern of
activity of symbolic meaning, which may help the need of bereaved
people, psychological, social, spiritual and practical."
The questions provided for reflection and response are
stimulating, and at times challenging: "Are churches wise to take
on the responsibility of a funeral of non-church people? Can this
There are also invaluable reminders of the importance of
self-care for the pastoral carer, in terms of body, mind, and
spiritual life. I found particularly helpful the acknowledgement
that leading funerals is emotionally demanding - and the suggestion
that time to "potter" afterwards is a good way of restoring
depleted personal reserves.
This is a book that I will certainly have to hand and refer to
frequently. My one quibble is the price: £27.99 seems excessive for
a book that the introduction describes as "intended for . . .
ordinary church members", besides those joining a pastoral-visiting
team, trainee Readers, lay preachers, worship leaders, ordinands,
and clergy wanting to brush up their reflective skills.
Bereavement is characterised by a recognised succession of
intense emotions, but is also deeply individual and dependent on
personal circumstances. Letting Go of Ian is the story of
Bishop Ian Cundy's death from cancer, written by his widow, Jo, and
her account spans two distinct narratives.
First, and more universally, she describes how it feels to lose
a beloved husband, just at the outset of the Third Age of
retirement, grandchildren, and opportunities to enjoy pastimes
previously squeezed into the "spare-time" slot. Second, she tells
her story of living through terminal illness and death in the
public eye, as Bishop Cundy was the first bishop to die in office
in more than 25 years.
Given that the end of the story is already known, the author
chooses not to follow a strictly chronological path, but takes a
more thematic approach, providing a kaleidoscope of emotions,
thoughts, and reflections. The book is based around three defining
moments: Bishop Cundy's diagnosis, his death, and his widow's own
subsequent near-death experience in the 2011 New Zealand
earthquake. A key phrase is "extraordinary journey" - cancer and
death was not at all what the Cundys had expected, but, as they
begin to live through the weeks of treatment, they discover God's
grace and care to be sufficient, not least through the loving
support of the diocese, cathedral, and senior staff.
Even so, the shock of coping with life afterwards is profound.
Jo Cundy speaks of "total dislocation and total disruption" as she
faces the "impossible hassle" of moving from the episcopal house
and beginning a new life alone: "I am a relational person, but I
had no person to relate to, deeply, intimately, unreservedly; no
person with whom to share the journey as a trusted, constant, daily
travelling companion; no alter ego." Her honest sharing of the pain
of loss makes more meaningful her rediscovery over the following
months that God is indeed faithful.
In her foreword to Tips from Widows, Joanna Lumley
describes it as a "crib sheet of how to cope". This gentle and
practical little book is clear about its intended readership,
offering advice from "widows of a certain age" (over 50 and without
dependent children) for those in "broadly similar situations".
Beginning with "Before he dies", advice progresses from "The months
after he dies" to "The years after he dies", dealing with finance,
funeral practicalities, household responsibilities, dealing with
other people's unhelpful reactions, and, above all, the grieving
The turbulence and disorientation of grief are acknowledged, and
suggestions are offered for working through it - but by the time we
reach the final section, there is a reassuring list of
"Consolations", things you are free to do, since you no longer have
to consider the needs of a spouse: "You can eat anything, or
nothing, any time you wish to. You can go to bed at any time, or
stay in bed as long as you want."
The onward journey involves recalibrating one's perspective on
life, realising that it is not only possible but permissible for
the heart to mend, given enough time.
The Revd Naomi Starkey is a commissioning editor for BRF and
also serves as an NSM in the Church in Wales.