Book Review: Inside Grief

This book is rather different from many I have reviewed on this blog, and for various reasons. For one thing, it is a collection of essays, which is not a particularly common format, and for another it is on the topic of grief, which is a subject that the Christian tradition speaks into mightily, even as many modern Christians don’t engage with. “Inside Grief”, edited by Stephen Oliver, is a collection of essays and reflections on the topic of Grief, especially in the context of bereavement and pastoral care.

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams offers up the foreword, in which he makes a valuable observation of what this book is, and is not; “This is not meant to be a brisk and useful book on coping; it is a record, in various ways, of the experience of inhabiting grief. This doesn’t mean that it is a plain record of unrelieved pain, though there is plenty of that in these pages: ‘inhabiting grief is a matter of learning a landscape, recognising an environment in which you are going to live for a long time“. Whilst I would offer a note of caution about the close of that observation, the basic point is important, and Oliver and the other authors have done us a service in reminding us of the enormity of grief.

The contributors to this slim volume are from a range of backgrounds. There is a helpful smattering of clergymen, including a Rabbi, as well as a few doctors, a professor, and a nurse. The range of perspectives makes this a very helpful book, as does that variety of the stories and responses to and around the issue of Grief. This is reflected in the wide range of further reading that come at the end of each chapter.

I found particularly interesting – even as it made me grateful for my own Christian faith – Rabbi Howard Cooper’s chapter “Reflections on Jewish approaches to death, grief and mourning“, not least because he opens with a Joke, noting that “from a Jewish perspective there is not situation we face as human beings that cannot lend itself to humour“. Cooper notes that it “is very hard to generalize about ‘Jewish’ approaches“, due to the fragmented nature of (in this case) UK Judaism. I also enjoyed, if that is the right word, a fascinating account from Richard Smith, “Inside the grief of soldiers and their families: an army chaplain’s experience“. This proved a fascinating read, not least the observation that “my experience within the Army suggests that what we do in the form of ritual is as important, if not more important, than the words we use“. An interesting reflection.

All of the chapters/essays in this book bring an interesting perspective, even as I found myself occasionally disagreeing with some of what the contributors said. This is a helpful book on an often-overlooked subject, which throws open some interesting windows on a topic that the world loves to ignore, and the Christian tradition is uniquely placed to engage with.


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