Coping with the death of a loved one and facing one’s own mortality are evergreen topics for religion and spirituality publishers. But this year, titles in the death and dying category also address society’s most current and painful issues, including mass shootings, the coronavirus pandemic, veteran suicide, and more.
“Authors in this category have shown great vulnerability in talking about their losses, and they are also now more honest about mental health realities like trauma and depression as part of the grief journey,” Al Hsu, senior editor at IVP, tells PW.
From IVP, When Thoughts and Prayers Aren't Enough: A Shooting Survivor's Journey into the Realities of Gun Violence by Taylor S. Schumann (July) reveals what her life is like since sustaining a gunshot wound in 2013 at New River Community College in Christianburg, Va. Long after news outlets stopped covering the shooting, Schumann underwent surgeries, rehabilitation, and counseling, and she writes: “I spent a lot of days feeling forgotten. In the weeks and months after the shooting, most of my friends and people in my life were able to move on with their lives. Things went back to normal for them, but I was drowning, trying to figure out what my life was supposed to look like.”
In addition to sharing her story, Schumann examines gun ownership and Second Amendment rights before calling on Christians to join the effort to reduce gun violence and protect lives.
“Much of the current discussion about guns in America is framed from the perspective of the rights of gun owners and manufacturers,” IVP’s Hsu tells PW. “Taylor's story gives us a real-life window into how gun violence is experienced by the victims, the pain of trauma and recovery, and the cost that is borne by the survivors and all of society.”
Shifting to another urgent crisis, books on Covid-19 are beginning to examine the life-changing ramifications of the coronavirus—not least, the deaths of millions of people. After a lengthy and public battle against severe Covid-19 complications, Broadway actor Nick Cordero died in July 2020. Now, his widow, Amanda Kloots, is reflecting on the 95 days Cordero spent in the intensive care unit, their relationship, and how she learned that “sometimes, celebrating life today is the only path through tomorrow’s darkness,” she writes in Live Your Life: My Story of Loving and Losing Nick Cordero (Harper, out now). Kloots wrote the book alongside her sister Anna, and both authors hope it serves as “a tribute to [Nick’s] legacy and many other things we value: the goodness of humanity, the importance of family, the power of faith, the joys of motherhood, and the unbreakable bond of sisterhood,” they write.
War takes an immeasurable toll on everyone it touches, resulting in grief that reaches well beyond the battlefield. In his memoir, A Bridge in Babylon: Stories of a Military Chaplain in Iraq (Chalice, out now), Owen R. Chandler shares details about the realities of war and his struggle to maintain a sense of hope and faith. Drawing attention to the high rates of suicide and substance abuse among veterans, especially Army National Reserve soldiers, Chandler also urges readers to create meaningful connections with those who have served.
Confronting the widespread feeling of anguish present today, Finding Refuge: Heart Work for Healing Collective Grief by Michelle Cassandra Johnson (Shambhala, July) features personal stories of overcoming desperation, powerlessness, and confusion related to cultural and racial biases. It is written for those who are grieving due to cultural oppression, those who are blind to cultural privilege, and “anyone interested in discovering what is present in their heart,” according to the publisher.
Executive editor at Shambhala Beth Frankl calls the book “medicine,” telling PW: “Fully experiencing our grief with presence and awareness leads to power and strength that can fuel real change. Learning to work with those difficult emotions, rather than being consumed by them, is a brave, hopeful choice each of us makes.”
Johnson, a social worker and yoga teacher, includes meditation and journaling practices at the end of each chapter with the goal of inspiring readers to “take intentional action and shift what is unsettled and unjust in the world.”
Geared toward women, Living Brave: Lessons from Hurt, Lighting the Way to Hope (HarperOne, out now) is intended to help readers discover “hope in a hopeless world and bravery in an age that seems to lack it,” Shannon Dingle writes. Drawing on her past, including childhood sexual abuse and the sudden death of her husband Lee, hit by a freak wave during a family vacation, Dingle makes a case for how faith and courage gave her the strength to make it through the darkest days.
Grief is all around us, Merissa Nathan Gerson writes in Forget Prayers, Bring Cake: A Single Woman's Guide to Grieving (Mandala, Aug.). Rooted in the author’s Jewish faith and drawn from her personal experiences with loss, the book lays out ways to practice self-care, foster self-worth, define one’s needs, and more in these troubled times. It is for readers “of all ages and orientations dealing with grief of any sort—professional, personal, romantic, familial, or even the sadness of the modern day,” according to the publisher.
In Either Way, We’ll Be All Right: An Honest Exploration of God in Our Grief (NavPress, out now), Presbyterian pastor Eric Tonjes explains what his wife Elizabeth’s terminal illness taught him about the nature of God. Caitlyn Carlson, acquisitions editor at NavPress, describes Either Way, We’ll Be All Right as “a raw, unflinching, profound statement on how God meets us in our most painful moments.” Carlson adds: “Eric wrote this book in the middle of his own devastating grief—the final days of his wife’s battle with cancer. There is no saccharine religiosity here; only honest, transcendent truth to carry us through the storm of grief.”
For example, Tonjes details what he calls “cancer’s agony and wrongness,” and builds a case for how “God has shown up for us, not in some sanctimonious way, but for real. I have yelled at him and wrestled with him and found his arms around me still, hugging me until the turmoil subsides.”
Finally, two books draw on religious and spiritual teachings in order to prepare readers for the inevitable last act. Tim Perry, adjunct professor of theology at Saint Paul University in Ottawa, Ontario, writes specifically to pastors about how to help congregants face death in Funerals: For the Care of Souls (Lexham, Aug.). In it, Perry argues that a more secularized society has caused death as well as funerals to be viewed as distant and strange. He aims to shed new light on traditional Christian rituals and beliefs surrounding death, including communion with saints, peace in forgiveness, hope in the resurrection, and joy in eternal life in heaven.
"You are going to die,” Sister Theresa Aletheia Noble, FSP wrote in 2019’s Remember Your Death: Memento Mori Lenten Devotional (Pauline). “The moment you are born you begin dying. You may die in ten years, fifty years, perhaps tomorrow—or even today. But whenever it happens, death awaits every person, whether rich or poor, young or old, believer or nonbeliever.”
In a follow up book publishing in October, Memento Mori: An Advent Companion on the Last Things (Pauline), Sister Theresa provides meditations on death and the afterlife, often known as “the Four Last Things” in the Christian tradition—death, judgment, heaven, and hell. The meditation practices are designed to coincide with the lead up to Christmas. “Just as no days exist in which a human does not die, there are no liturgical breaks from remembrance of death,” she writes. “Advent is both a time of joyful anticipation and sober preparation. The powerful, paradoxical truth of the Catholic faith demands that we keep these truths in tension."