Religious traditions have long provided solace to believers in times of loss and mourning, but readers today may be in greater need than ever of spiritual guidance to process their grief, according to religion and spirituality publishers. As Red Wheel Weiser’s associate publisher Peter Turner points out, the Covid-19 pandemic has generated widespread feelings of sadness as news of deaths, economic crisis, and isolation dominates headlines. “Perhaps no time in our lives have we had to deal with such strong feelings of loss, fear, anxiety, and disorientation,” he says. “But—whether it’s the loss of a loved one, the grief brought on by feeling the suffering of those around us, or even just the lost sense of normalcy—grieving is a natural part of life.”
In November, RWW is publishing Opening to Grief: Finding Your Way from Loss to Peace by Claire B. Willis and Marnie Crawford Samuelson, who draw on 40 collective years of counseling the bereaved. The book aims to dismantle the idea that grief happens in predictable stages, instead showing readers how to grieve in their own ways. “There is no end run, or end point to grieving,” they write.
“When we first made plans to publish Opening to Grief, we had no idea how profoundly our lives would be changed by Covid-19,” Turner says, noting that a key message the book offers is “even in the midst of profound grief, there is hope.”
Grief and tragedy are universal, making books on how to cope indispensable, according to IVP senior editor Al Hsu. “All of us will experience tragedy at some point, just because we’re human,” he says. “So it’s important for publishers to provide resources to help readers grapple with realities like bereavement or chronic illness. Such books help readers work through pain, avoid denial, and experience healing and comfort.”
In July IVP is publishing A Chronicle of Grief: Finding Life After Traumatic Loss, in which author and pastor Mel Lawrenz describes the sudden death of his 30-year-old daughter. In addition to exploring the pain and uncertainty he and his family experienced after the tragedy, the book demonstrates how to prioritize love and life, according to the publisher. Lawrenz is also the author of Leadership Today and Life After Grief.
In another account of the loss of a child, baseball Hall of Famer Rod Carew draws on the death of his 17-year-old daughter Michelle from cancer in One Tough Out: Fighting Off Life’s Curveballs (Triumph, out now), written with Jaime Aron. “Michelle’s death transformed me, but not in the ways people would expect,” Carew notes in the book. “I didn’t question my faith. I reaffirmed it. Instead of shutting out the world, I opened myself to it.”
Explaining why she acquired One Tough Out, Michelle Bruton, editor at Triumph, says, “What makes Rod Carew’s story so compelling is that, more than recounting the glory days of his 3,000th hit or American League MVP Award, he wanted to share the struggles of his personal life unknown to many fans.”
Also addressing life’s unexpected challenges, pastor Jennie Lusko shares the story of her daughter Lenya’s passing in The Fight to Flourish: Engaging in the Struggle to Cultivate the Life You Were Born to Live (W, out now). Lusko explains how her daughter’s death drew her closer to God and encourages women to embrace the good and bad in life, or what she calls “the sacred space of pain and promise.”
She writes in the first chapter, “Maybe you didn’t plan to be here in this place, in this pain, predicament, or even this platform, but it’s not an accident. God has called you uniquely for this situation, right here, right now. Whatever you are facing as you read these words, my hope is for you to be confident that you were born for this very fight. And you were born to flourish in it.”
A new way to grieve
Jessica Miller Kelley, senior acquisitions editor for Westminster John Knox, believes the need for resources during times of crisis and loss is perennial but notes, “Some books have the power to transform not only our grief but our way of thinking about God and the human experience overall.” One such book, she says, is Beautiful and Terrible Things: A Christian Struggle with Suffering, Grief, and Hope by Christian M. M. Brady (WJK, Sept.), an ancient Hebrew and Jewish literature scholar . In it, Brady recounts the death of his eight-year-old son and explores the expression of despair through prayer. Inspiration for the book came from his rejection of typical platitudes about accepting God’s will, which led to a faithful pursuit of other ways to grieve.
“It is a holy and healthy part of grief (that we seem to have forgotten) to express to God our sadness, our anger, and our bitterness,” Brady writes in the book. “When we are in the midst of our anguish, there is no greater statement of faith than to express that despair honestly: ‘My God, why have you forsaken me?’ Yet far too often we are told that it is never right to be angry at God.”
Though Beautiful and Terrible Things centers on the death of a child, it’s geared toward those grieving losses and setbacks of all kinds, and Kelley hopes the book will “help readers face a world that promises both pain and indescribable grace.”
Dorothy P. Holinger, a psychologist, incorporates brain science, literature, music, poetry, history, memoirs, and personal and clinical experience to explore what happens to the mind, body, and spirit during bereavement in The Anatomy of Grief (Yale Univ., Sept.). She cites examples of grief from the lives and works of both religious and nonreligious people of all backgrounds, in an effort to show the bereaved ways to move through the grieving process toward a place of joy.
And taking a supernatural approach to death, Marilyn Kapp, a medium, delves into her understanding of the afterlife to offer messages of comfort to the bereaved in Love Is Greater Than Pain (Harmony, June). The book, which draws on mindfulness practices and meditation, also makes a case for everyone’s ability to communicate with those who have passed. “You were born with the ability,” she writes. “Acknowledge the part of your physical life and potential that has altered because someone you love has gone to a different vibrational plane. Carry on and grieve because you live in a physical reality and we should never deny that. Feel it, cry for it, and then, as you continue to do that, look up and say ‘Hello!’ and realize that they are already reaching out and trying to help.”
Also among the new books on grief are two directly addressing the pain of losing a loved one to suicide—the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Coming from Ave Maria in December, When a Loved One Dies by Suicide: Comfort, Hope, and Healing for Grieving Catholics collects personal stories of Catholics who have experienced emotional upheaval and spiritual turmoil after losing someone to suicide. The contributors also offer prayers geared toward comfort and encouragement, as well as information on how to find a network of support. The book was written by the Association of Catholic Mental Health Ministers and edited by Ed Shoener and John P. Dolan.
“Let’s talk about it; let’s change the definition,” Vonnie Woodrick writes in I Understand: Pain, Love, and Healing after Suicide (Eerdmans, Sept.). “Let’s take this dark subject and bring light with understanding. We can remove the stigma attached to the word suicide and save lives.”
In addition to sharing a personal account of loss, grief, and recovery, the book “invites the reader to join a movement of people committed to changing how we think and talk about mental health, depression, and suicide,” says Eerdmans acquisition editor Trevor Thompson. “Vonnie believes that simple things—talking, listening, and encouraging—can change the direction of people’s lives.”