No one escapes losses in life—particularly today, with a million Covid-19 deaths in the U.S. alone and an ongoing plague of gun violence. Grief can also follow the end of one’s marriage, good health, or career. Religion and spirituality publishers say they see a need for books that give faith-based support to those facing a future that’s been changed through no choice of their own.
“We want readers to neither deny their grief nor get stuck in their grief,” says IVP senior trade editor Al Hsu, “but to work through it carefully and meaningfully, understanding that God is our companion throughout the experience and does not abandon us. Though we are changed by our grief, we can find hope and resilience to carry on.” He points to a February 2023 IVP title, Recalibrate Your Life: Navigating Transitions with Purpose and Hope, coauthored by Kenneth Boa, president of Reflections Ministries and Omnibus Media Ministries, and Omnibus editor Jenny M. Abel. They write that when confronted by painful changes and losses, believers should continually reenvision God’s purpose for them and the ways God works in and through them.
Finding one’s footing after experiencing a loss takes time, but Lake Drive Books publisher David Morris says mourners don’t often understand this. “Christian grievers are pushed out of grief and rushed into rejoicing that their loved one is in heaven,” Morris says. “Alternately, Christians who allow themselves to grieve openly are shamed for doing so, often resulting in turning away from faith.” Consequently, in July Lake Drive is releasing counselor and minister Kate J. Meyer’s book Faith Doesn’t Erase Grief: Embracing the Experience and Finding Hope, which incorporates psychology, scripture, tools for coping, and self-care practices.
Moms in mourning
The challenge of living through and beyond grief can be exponentially greater in a family where a spouse has died and young children have been left behind. Three female authors offer narratives of how they made their way forward—as widows, as parents, and as believers.
Beyond the Darkness: A Gentle Guide for Living with Grief and Thriving after Loss (Tyndale Momentum, July) is by Clarissa Moll, cohost of the Christianity Today podcast Surprised by Grief. Her husband, Rob, 41, fell to his death during a hiking accident in 2019, leaving behind Moll and their children, ages 7, 10, 12, and 14. Writing about parenting through grief, Moll’s book describes how she embarked on a crash course in child development, and the impact of grief and trauma on young lives. She weaves in research (one in 14 children loses a parent during their youth), psychology (when a child might grasp the idea that the unseen, such as love, still exists), and the shifts that come with time. Moll writes: “They grieve and grow, grieve and grow,” and the parent must listen, learn, love—and let go, while reminding children of Jesus, “who delights to carry little lambs on his shoulders to rest and safety.”
Life Can Be Good Again: Putting Your World Back Together After It All Falls Apart (Bethany, out now) is by Bible teacher Lisa Appelo, a widow with seven children ages four to 19. After the death of her husband Dan at age 47, she was left with the sense that her life had been shredded. The book describes how Appelo learned to lift her fear that grief would crush her children with a lesson from 2 Corinthians 10:3–5—identify fear, call it out for a lie, and make every thought obedient to Christ. Appelo writes that “moving forward means my kids and I don’t miss Dan. God did not take this thorn from us, but he most certainly gave us his grace and provision to walk through it.”
Rebuilding Beautiful: Welcome What Is, Dare to Dream Again, and Step Bravely into What Could Be (Nelson, Sept.) is by Kayla Stoecklein, whose pastor husband, Andrew, 30, struggling with depression, died by suicide in 2018. Settling into a new home with their three preschool-age sons and creating new family traditions in the wake of the tragedy, she taped Psalm 34:18 to her fridge: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Senior acquisitions editor at Nelson Jenny Baumgartner says Stoecklein “has dug deep into faith and how it intersects with mental illness.” She adds that the book is geared toward readers “who are struggling in their faith journey to find different paths back to God, including contemplation, centering prayer, meditating on scripture, and other faith-building practices.”
Many paths to peace
Anne Wilson found consolation after the death of her 23-year-old brother Jacob by singing about the power of Jesus in the song “What a Beautiful Name” at his funeral in 2017. In her book, My Jesus: From Heartache to Hope (Nelson, Oct.), Wilson chronicles her journey into the Christian music industry. Wilson’s original song “My Jesus” went on to become Billboard’s #1 Christian song of 2021. The book is a “realistic depiction of learning to trust God through the pain of grief,” according to the publisher.
Such trust is essential during the frightening, exhausting time when a loved one is in danger of dying, says pastor and speaker Jeremy Freeman, author of #ButGod: The Power of Hope When Catastrophe Crashes In (Nelson, Oct.). When their son Caleb had a scant chance of surviving a devastating car wreck, Freeman and his wife, Emily, turned to prayer, asking friends and strangers to join in. The family credits Caleb’s healing from a traumatic brain injury to the power of prayer and God’s higher plans for his family.
In one summer, a dear friend died on author Melissa Zaldivar’s birthday, another friend got a fatal medical diagnosis, and Zaldivar lost her job. She writes in her book, What Cannot Be Lost: How Jesus Holds Us Together When Life Is Falling Apart (The Good Book Co., Oct.), that “there are not three easy ways to be #griefproof. In fact, when we look to Scripture for examples of grieving people, they abound. Barren widows and prodigal sons and abused servants all find their way to God, and it’s hardly ever clean-cut.”
Looking to Job in the Bible as an example, Brian Thomasson, v-p editorial for TGBC, says that many people experience wave after wave of loss within one season of their lives. “As those blows land, we quickly discover that there is no shelter sufficient but the Lord Jesus,” he says. “Melissa takes readers on her own journey through such a season, showing us by example how to let Him heal and rebuild hope.”
In a memoir of his final months with his dying father, Magic Season (Hanover Square, May 2023) author Wade Rouse describes how, after years of emotional distance, he bonded with his father over a shared love of baseball. Senior editor at Hanover Square John Glynn says the book reveals how “they find a renewed faith in the spiritual bond of family—one that will be waiting for them in a heaven where,, ‘the beer is free. And ice cold.’ ”
Loss across the spiritual spectrum
While many titles come from Protestant presses, every faith and philosophy addresses how to face death and dying, caring and mourning, and how to move forward.
Ave Maria Press offers two titles that elaborate on the Catholic Church’s perspective. “We do not truly live if we do not remember and love the dead,” writes University of Notre Dame theology professor Leonard J. DeLorenzo in Our Faithful Departed: Where They Are and Why It Matters (Nov.). He calls on people to offer this love through devotions, prayers, and showing compassion to the grieving. And a devotional by Catholic retreat leader and writer Joyce Rupp, Jesus, Companion in My Suffering: Reflections for the Lenten Journey (Dec.), presents Jesus as “one who can walk alongside us through the storms of our lives,” according to the publisher.
The Jewish tradition calls for a son of the deceased to say a special prayer of praise to God, the Kaddish, for his loved one in the synagogue twice daily for a year. In A Daughter’s Kaddish: My Year of Grief, Devotion, and Healing (Wonderwell, Sept.), writer Sarah Birnbach tells why she chose this spiritual responsibility—rarely undertaken by women in Conservative and Orthodox branches of Judaism—after her father’s death, and how these prayers for his soul brought calm to her as well.
Poet, author, and philosopher Noah benShea coauthored The Surfer and the Sage: A Guide to Survive and Ride Life’s Waves (Familius, out now) with world surfing champion and environmentalist Shaun Tomson, whose son Matthew choked to death at age 14. With essays by Tomson and spiritual commentary by benShea, the book “addresses the 18 relentless, breaking waves of life, from loss and aging to relationships and depression, and guides readers to transformation,” according to the publisher.
Meditation teacher Kimberly Brown’s book Navigating Grief and Loss: 25 Buddhist Practices to Keep Your Heart Open to Yourself and Others (Prometheus, Nov.) addresses many reasons one might struggle with grief and loss, whether in response to the death of “an elderly parent, succumbing to a lingering illness, the shock of an accidental death, a small business shuttered, a divorce after years of conflict, or euthanasia of a beloved pet.” In each chapter, the publisher says, Brown offers tools such as meditation, exercise, or contemplation that can be employed by anyone, no matter their beliefs.
Shambhala, a press with the mission to foster values for enlightened living, is releasing the latest book from bestselling author and Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön: How We Live Is How We Die (Oct.). In her 85th year, Chödrön writes about embracing new beginnings and preparing for death with openness, not fear. “If we can learn to navigate the continual flow of transitions in our present life, we will be prepared for our death and whatever may follow, no matter what worldview we subscribe to,” she writes in the book.
Dealing with death can be transformational in unexpected ways. In his book All the Ways Our Dead Still Speak: A Funeral Director on Life, Death, and the Hereafter (Broadleaf, out now), sixth-generation funeral director Caleb Wilde shares lessons he’s learned about death and describes his move away from the evangelical faith, as well as its vision of heaven. “What I do believe is that love can create resurrection, the hope that there’s more to come, however that may look,” he tells PW.
Caregivers carve out hope
Ambassador International publisher Samuel Lowry says memoirs, particularly those written by caregivers, can root us in reality yet still point toward hope. He highlights Shelly Calcagno, an author with a background in family ministry, who describes counting on God as she deals with her mother’s decline into the fog of Alzheimer’s in her book The Longest Goodbye (Nov.). Even in the worst days, “There are always gifts to be found,” she writes.
NavPress publisher David Zimmerman says Jill Brown’s memoir, We’re Stronger Than We Look: Insights and Encouragement for the Caregiver’s Journey (NavPress, out now), acknowledges that caregiving is a rocky road, and one that is too often depressing, exhausting, and lonely. Brown, who works in pastoral care at the Christian ministry The Navigators, has been caring for her husband, David, since he broke his neck in a bicycling accident in 2009. Her book demonstrates that “what seems like an impossible task can become a special experience of faith, hope, and love,” Zimmerman says.
IVP associate academic editor Rachel Hastings says that caregivers need particular attention now that their “weariness and burnout has been exacerbated by the pandemic.” IVP is releasing two titles on the topic, both of which draw on the spiritual writings of the late Catholic priest and theologian Henry J. M. Nouwen. In Courage for Caregivers: Sustenance for the Journey in Company with Henri J. M. Nouwen (Aug.), minister, author, and retreat leader Marjorie J. Thompson shares Nouwen’s view that the “gifts of caregiving”—the awareness of God’s love—accrue to both people in the relationship. Hope for Caregivers: A 42-Day Devotional in Company with Henri J. M. Nouwen (Aug.), by author and editor Susan Martins Miller, features wisdom on “the transformation that love brings,” along with select prayers and scripture passages.
Brooke Warner, publisher of She Writes Press, says she sought to publish Joanne Tubbs Kelly’s memoir Walking Him Home: Helping My Husband Die with Dignity (Aug.) because of its nuanced look at a fraught choice. The book describes how Kelly helped her husband Alan, in pain with a rare neurodegenerative disease, obtain a legal, lethal prescription under Colorado’s End-of-Life Options Act, and recounts the support she received from family, friends, and pastors. He died on a day of his choosing, “tenderly, without pain, surrounded by people who cherished him,” Kelly writes.
The book leaves readers with an important question, Warner says: “What’s more loving—to help your spouse die when they are suffering or to do everything you can to make sure they live, especially when that includes intervention and technology?”