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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

"A Necessary Grief" (Larry J. Michael)

TITLE: A Necessary Grief: Essential Tools for Leaders in Bereavement Ministry
AUTHOR: Larry J. Michael
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2015, (176 pages).

Why is grief even necessary in the first place? The answer is simple. It is part of being human. It is part of what it means to love a person. It is part of life. Often, the standard approach to grieving is to be silent, to be still, and to be walking next to the people who are mourning over the passing of a loved one. Is that the only tool available? Is there something more that we can do to comfort the ones during times of loss? How can pastors, ministers, caregivers, or people in the help ministry do when they are expected to help in times of pain and grief? This book is released to help us bring help to others, even to ourselves. Dr Larry J. Michael is Teaching Pastor for Adult Ministries at South Highland Presbyterian Church, Birmingham, AL. As a teacher, he is in the ministry of equipping Church people to do the work of God by walking with people at different stages of their lives. This collection of wisdom and tips for people in leadership is a precious resource to equip and enable people to help the bereaved during times of need. If there is anything most certain in this life, it would be the finality of death. We are mortal beings and it is only a matter of time before we all say our goodbyes. That is why talking about grief is a necessary topic. For death can hit anyone anytime, any how, and in any place. Instead of worrying about the inevitable, why not be ready for them? The key is preparation. Michael gives four broad suggestions.

Firstly, being prepared is learning to comprehend what Grief is. In a world that seems to be running away from negative press and bad news, readers are urged to take the bull of grief by the horns instead of letting the bull gore us. He shows us that not all grief is the same. The "nonfinite grief" is for those who had lost ideals of the future, like people suffering from accidents or debilitating diseases.  Grief arising from "ambiguous loss" is about people who are missing, unaccounted for, or having their physical circumstances unknown, leaving loved ones unsure of what to do or expect. This means the difficulty of reaching any forms of closure. "Anticipatory grief" is for people whose loved ones are suffering from terminal diseases. Apart from the normal grief caused by natural deaths, there are traumatic grief, complicated grief, and others. Grieving and mourning are different. Simply put, the former is inward while the latter is outward. It is because every grieving is unique in itself, Michael sets forth Alan Wolfert's ten ways to learn what is helpful or hurtful. He calls it the "Mourners's Bill of Rights." Grief is also very far-reaching and impacts the physical, the emotional, the cognitive, the social, and the spiritual.

Secondly, being prepared is also learning how to be competent in caring. It also means learning what NOT to do. Michael puts forth seven fallacies to watch against before providing readers with a "wheel of critical choices." In this wheel, there are many spokes in which grievers can commence from. The spoke of fact helps one deal with the reality of death. The spoke of faith helps one to exercise faith in the midst of loss. The spoke of feeling reaches out to our emotions. The spoke of family and support highlights the importance of loved ones coming together to heal and to mourn together. The spoke of freedom liberates one to let go of the past so as to be open to things of the future. The spoke of forward and future equips one to adjust to new circumstances and new hopes respectively.  Competency includes the use of rituals, funeral processes, and other programs to help grievers find comfort and solace. Different types of losses mean different types of grieving.

Thirdly, being prepared means training and coaching others to do the same. This calls for education of the laity, about what to say and what not to say; what to do and what not to do; etc. Chapter Seven alone is worth the price of the book as Michael sets forth many practical tips on education and equipping. There are things we are not to say as well as how to affirm people in grief. Other tips include the ministry of presence, the skills of listening with compassion, encouragement, help, and very importantly the resisting of the tendency to fix things. This is because grief cannot be easily fixed. It is a permanent scar. There are strategies to implement a grief ministry as well as things a Church can do. Above all, the Church is called to be a "harbinger of hope."

Finally, the appendices contain lots of ideas and helpful information with regards to:
  • Understanding that different ages grieve differently
  • Checklist for funeral planning
  • Biblical verses for grief
  • Inspirational quotes
So What?

This is one of the most helpful books about grieving and learning how to equip people to care for people in grief. The coverage is wide and ideas deeply accessible to the lay person. I notice that the author walks a fine balance between giving solutions (and refraining from). This is because grief is a complex issue. Plus, every individual's grieving is unique in different ways, different ages, and different circumstances. The very same person who grieves will do so differently under different circumstances and life phases. Being equipped is not about a one-time event. It is grown into. It is cultivated over time. It is applied at different periods and situations. While it is tempting to read this book through and get a certificate of completion, putting the ideas into practice is altogether a different matter. Be aware of our own emotions, mental health, and spiritual well-being even as we venture to help others. Scriptures remind us that those of us who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak. At the same time, we are warned to be careful, lest we fall.

The way forward is humility. When we help or try to help others, be humble to acknowledge that even the most competent will need permission from the ones who are grieving. Never assume they needed our help. Often, it is not about the most competent but the most connected persons to the people that matters more. It boils down to the core relationships of the person. For the rest of us, especially Christians, it comes down to the relationship with have in Christ in the first place. The beatitude in Matthew 5:4 says it best. "Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted." The lesson to take home is this. We who seek to help need to learn what it means to grieve in the first place. For the more we experience grieving ourselves, the more we are able to empathize rather instead of sympathize.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Kregel Academic in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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