cover image A Hole in the World: Finding Hope in Rituals of Grief and Healing

A Hole in the World: Finding Hope in Rituals of Grief and Healing

Amanda Held Opelt. Worthy, $27 (256p) ISBN 978-1-5460-0189-8

Blending history with memoir, social worker Opelt examines death rituals and reflects on her season of grief in this devastating debut. To process the deaths of her grandmother and her sister Rachel Held Evans, and a series of miscarriages in the span of a few years, Opelt digs into the origins and purposes of 12 bereavement customs that range from the unusual (telling a hive of bees when a loved one dies) to the jovial (playing practical jokes at a wake). In the Middle Ages, for example, church bells would ring as a person neared death because the sound was thought to scare off demons from preying on the souls of the sick. Opelt urges Christians to heed this ritual’s insight that death can imperil souls by shaking one’s faith. The author also reports she “hardly recognized” herself after her sister died, and she muses that the practice of covering mirrors after a death serves the covert purpose of hiding the toll that grieving takes on the living. The fastidious research and acute analyses of grief traditions fascinate, and her insights are shattering: “Grief is like water.... It finds the lowest part of you and hollows it out even more.” Poignant and erudite, this is not to be missed. (July)