Living with Grief
By Bairbre Cahill, Redemptorist, £7.95
A lump appeared in my throat and tears in my eyes as I read the first chapter of Bairbre Cahill’s latest book, Living with Grief: Walking the Spiral. It was not so much because she had lost her mother and brother as the fact that, having lost my own father and brother, I could empathise with her sense of loneliness, longing and wanting to make sense of their deaths.
The death of someone who is dearly loved creates a pain which never entirely disappears, which changes, for ever, the lives of those who are left behind. There will always be those moments filled with yearning to see, hear and touch – even if only for one fleeting minute – the one who is now living beyond pain and anxiety with the God whose love is infinitely beyond anything which we can ever imagine. Coming to terms with grief and bereavement is a uniquely personal journey, one which takes time and can never be rushed.
There are also many different types of bereavement. Not only is the loss of my father very different from the passing of Cahill’s mother, but there is also a massive contrast between, say, the deaths of an elderly person who is treasured by their family, a suicide, a miscarriage and a child. The uniqueness of each death means that there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach in dealing with loss and bereavement. Just as each person is a “one-off” event in the entire history of the human race, so is the process of coming to terms with the expected or unexpected death of someone who was irreplaceable in the eyes and heart of their loved ones.
That is why Living with Grief offers, not prescriptions, but personal stories from people who discovered that, on some days, it felt as though they were taking one step forward and two steps backwards. On other occasions, they gradually realised that the heart-stopping pain was fitting into a perspective which allowed some form of normality to reassert itself. In using real stories from real people, the book offers the reader the opportunity to realise that their unique sense of loss is shared by others: they are not alone and that there is light at the end of the dark tunnel of grief.
Bereavement is a time when everyone asks questions of God, themselves and of life in general. It is a process, not the end of the world. Living with Grief attempts to show that, because grieving is a universal experience, there are some things which are more helpful than others in facing up to death. It is perfectly acceptable to feel angry, resentful, questioning and resigned after the death of a loved one: it is all part of a perfectly normal process.
Faith makes a difference. Having a sense that death is a journey towards Someone who is Somewhere helps in dealing with the many aspects of bereavement. Death is not the end, but a beginning. So it is that, in the grieving process, it is easier if there is also the sense of God’s presence. Living with Grief ends each of its 12 short chapters with a quotation from a psalm and a couple of reflective questions which just seem to “touch the spot”.
The book is undoubtedly well researched but also intensely personal and conversational in style. Throughout Cahill is talking to and accompanying the reader along a path which she herself has walked. Perhaps the best explanation for its publication comes from Cahill herself: “I believe that God understands our pain from the inside and stands with us in our grief. I have used the psalms as a means of prayer and reflection throughout the book because in the psalms we find such a rawness and honesty of human emotion. And ultimately I have written this book because I believe that life and love are stronger than death and that, because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, nothing can separate us from the love of God – and each other.”