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Accompanying, and then letting go  

17 February 2017

Jenny Francis reads about bereavement

A Long Letting Go: Meditations on losing someone you love
Marilyn Chandler McEntyre
Eerdmans £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.70


Shadowlands and Songs of Light: An epic journey into joy and healing
Kevin Ott
Authentic £9.99
Church Times Bookshop £9



THESE two books are for those experiencing the depth of grief which follows great personal loss. Both authors are in California, but there the similarities end. Kevin Ott is a lover of theology, music and literature while Marilyn McEntyre is an experienced academic and hospice volunteer.

Ott, as a dedicated student of C. S. Lewis, was starting to read Michael Ward’s Planet Narnia when he was completely thrown by his 62-year-old mother’s sudden death. On picking up the work sometime later, he discovered an “Abyss” separated the pages already read from the rest, a chasm so painful he could not continue.

This grief and bitterness were profound, based on his anger and frustration with God for not intervening miraculously to help him. “Why?” became the crucial question, as it had done for C. S. Lewis himself, as well as for Bono, the lead singer and lyricist of the group U2, Ott’s other great passion. Even Ott’s deep love of music gave way to the fearsome hopelessness that comes when the sting of death proves disablingly severe.

This small hardback, beautifully printed on glossy paper and thoughtfully designed and illustrated, contains the story of the author’s journey back to wholeness through his exploration of 18 of C. S. Lewis’s works and 13 U2 albums.

The idea for this combined analysis came on 9 September 2014 when he first heard U2’s album Songs of Innocence, released on iTunes. Something responded deep within, and his editor invited him to consider the links between Lewis’s writings and U2’s harmonies, as they each address the remarkable way in which grief can expose joy as a deep longing. This was Ott’s first vital step towards healing.

The book is divided into four sections, each of three chapters, and ending with a playlist of U2 tracks, scriptural references, “notes for the Quest”, and a prayer for the journey. Ott is far more knowledgeable than I about Lewis’s works, despite my regular re-reading of them over the years. His passionate adherence to Bono and U2 are beyond me, I must confess; for my musical tastes lie elsewhere. Consequently, there were times I found this book strange, hard going even, though doubtless fans of the genre might regard me as a Philistine. Yet there is wisdom and insight to be found in these pages, brought out by Ott’s creative and intelligent approach to two such different artists.

On the other hand, I delighted in McEntyre’s slim volume of meditations, which is designed for friends and family who are accompanying someone they love on the final stretch of their lifetime’s journey. It provides a sensitive and prayerful resource, which offers hope and comfort at the most difficult of times. With an uncluttered and simple layout, it is easy to use, and demonstrates the experience and generous wisdom that come from years as a hospice visitor.

The longest sections, “Accompanying” and “Mourning”, contain brief (at maximum three sides) relevant reflections, which all begin with a quotation and end with an appropriate prayer. The part called “Witnessing” gives several poignant accounts of the experiences of those sitting beside a loved one at the point of death. The book ends with “Words for keeping Watch”. These are short paragraphs or even sentences of prayer for those moments when we can — so easily — become tongue-tied.

This slim book is much more my style, I admit, and is possibly of wider use than Ott’s. I commend it unhesitatingly.


The Revd Jenny Francis is a retired psychotherapist and a priest in the diocese of Exeter.

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