ALAN HARGRAVE was given books about coping with grief, after the tortuous illness and death in 2002 of his 21-year-old son, Tom. Most of them were unfit for human consumption, he says in this brutally honest account of his own struggle to live through it.
He dares to tell the truth. “What’s it doing to your faith, Alan?” a funeral director asks him, and he acknowledges that there are many days when he cannot honestly say that he believes in God at all.
The rows of council houses in his Cambridge parish, a bottomless pit of needs, “look back at the vicarage, where the vicar has nothing to offer them”. For the funeral director’s question, read, “If you go down, Alan, what will happen to the rest of us?”
This is raw grief, a soul bared. When snowdrops start pushing their way through the hard earth, something inside him wants to stamp them down and crush them, “so that I might remain here, in the cold, barren winter, frozen in time, like Miss Havisham, for ever. But it is not possible.”
An ordinand at an act of worship talks about pain and suffering and smilingly invites responses to a Bible passage that says that “everything will turn out hunky-dory in the end.” Into the overwhelming silence, he blurts out: “It’s complete bullshit.”
Yet there are moments when he does suddenly “glimpse the glory of God again”, and, in between those moments, he will “do my best to walk the walk, both when God seems close and real and especially when he doesn’t”. He and his wife, Annie, are able to go on now, even though the wounds do not go away, and they are “more fragile now, more fearful”.
The real importance of this book, a fine and fluent piece of writing, is the relief that it offers through its very measured conclusion. What does “getting over” grief mean? “It is not about not feeling the loss,” he suggests. “It is perhaps about not being paralysed, immobilised, debilitated by the grief any more. It is about being able to live again.”
One for Sorrow: A memoir of death and life
Church Times Bookshop £9