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Lights for the Path: A guide through grief, pain and loss, by Madeleine Davies

by
10 July 2020

Tess Kuin Lawton reads advice from someone who went through it

IN THE pages of this very personal book, the reader is accompanied by the complex knot of grief which the author has borne for 20 years. If one were to ask, “Who is this book for?” the most obvious answer is that it is for Madeleine Davies herself (Features, 21 May). Indeed, she is at her best when using her own voice to gloss the wide collection of information.

With students or pupils at school in mind, the inclusion of large chunks of biblical passages was often off-putting, until her voice re-framed it. So, after a difficult passage from Hebrews, it is a relief to hear, “it’s how I felt during the years when my mum was ill. . . I was afraid. This isn’t the life that God wants for us.”

Dishing out Bible passages to unchurched readers, or those on the fringes of the Church, makes them feel even more isolated and marginalised; and it does not do justice to the many excellent references to “being angry with God”, which speak to the real complexities faced by bereaved teenagers. I would also have liked to see Bible passages re-told as story and simplified to Daniel, Lazarus, and Thessalonians only.

This is a small book with a vast amount of information. If it can be reviewed annually, it offers a genuinely useful compendium of resources. For teenagers who love to read, the number of references to novels will introduce to them to new and non-judgmental friends. The personal stories that are at the heart of the book could have been used to greater effect. They underline the core truth, which is that there is no right way to grieve: an absolutely vital message to get across to young people, who are constantly trying to work out how they “should” behave.

The best sections are those where we hear “Molly” or “Grace” or “Andrew” at length in their own words. Equally, where we hear large sections of Malcolm Guite’s wisdom. I would have liked more of Joanna Collicutt’s own words or the inestimable Paul Fiddes on the death of his son. Chapter 4 (What is Death?) is the weakest, not least because the best bits of it are already in Chapter 6 (Funerals) and Chapter 8 (How could God let this happen?).

Scattered throughout the book are superb practical points that could be summarised at the end of each chapter and collated into a final single list: “It’s OK to want someone who is suffering to die,” “Nothing you have thought or done has caused this death,” “You will be happy again.” In the end, there are edits that could be made for this book to be fully accessible for young people, but I would recommend it strongly for ordinands and chaplains.

The Revd Dr Tess Kuin Lawton is Chaplain of Worcester College, Oxford.

 

Lights for the Path: A guide through grief, pain and loss
Madeleine Davies
SPCK £9.99
(978-0-281-08356-5)
Church Times Bookshop £9

Listen to Madeleine Davies talk about the book on the Church Times Podcast

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