Ordained Servant Online
Books on Grieving: A Bibliographical Essay
Gordon H. Cook, Jr. and Gregory E. Reynolds
There are several good books on the subject of grief and many more that are disastrous. Here we discuss the strengths of the good books and their intended audiences.
Helpful are two booklets which we would feel comfortable giving to someone who is newly bereaved: Elizabeth Elliot's Facing the Death of Someone You Love (Westchester, IL: Good News, 1982, 14 page pamphlet); and Donald Howard's Christians Grieve Too (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1979, 29 page booklet). The latter is especially good for a husband losing his wife, particularly if she is young and leaves children. But it is applicable to all Christians facing grief.
If the person is ready to examine their grief (often a year or more later), the pastor may help them by reading Wayne Oates's Your Particular Grief (Philadelphia: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1981, 116 pages) as a nice antidote to the one-size-fits-all self-help books on the subject.
Two longer popular books that are often helpful to grieving people, especially those who have lost a spouse, are written by J. I. Packer and C. S. Lewis. Packer's A Grief Sanctified: Passing through Grief to Peace and Joy (Ann Arbor, MI: Servant, 1997, 208 pages), presents Puritan Richard Baxter's memoir of his wife's life and death with extensive commentary. Another Puritan, John Flavel, wrote a classic (1674) tract on grief, A Token for Mourners. This may be found in the fifth volume of his Works or in a new Puritan Paperback by the Banner of Truth Trust. A contemporary rendition of Flavel's work similar to (and taking its title from) Baxter's is C. S. Lewis's A Grief Observed (London: Faber, 1961; first published under the pseudonym "N. W. Clerk," 151 pages).
David Biebel is an Evangelical Free pastor and Gordon Conwell seminary graduate. His book If God Is So Good, Why Do I Hurt So Bad? (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1989, 175 pages) shares his personal experience with the death of his oldest son and the serious illness of a second. He writes with a tested Christian maturity which still struggles with the issues. At points his broad Evangelicalism comes out, but this is a book which is well worth reading.
The classic text which every pastor should have in his library is J. W. Worden's Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy (New York: Springer, 1991, 183 pages). This book helps a pastor identify when grief has crossed the line into complicated grief, grief that is not likely to resolve with time, and which probably requires pastoral or other counseling. This book has a good bibliography and index.
Another favorite for pastors is a book by a Jewish rabbi, J. Shep Jeffreys, Helping Grieving People, When Tears Are Not Enough (New York: Brunner-Routledge, 2005, 347 pages). This book has all the current theories about grief and how it resolves, plus hundreds of practical tips on how to approach grief among various groups. Jeffreys taught this material at Johns Hopkins and it shows. This book has an extensive bibliography and thorough index. If you only get one book on the subject, make it this one. These last two volumes are not inexpensive, but they are each worth the price.
Gordon H. Cook, Jr. is the pastor of Merrymeeting Bay Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Brunswick, Maine. He coordinates a Pastoral Care (Chaplain) program for Mid Coast Hospital and its affiliated extended care facility and has an extensive ministry as a hospice chaplain with CHANS Home Health in Brunswick.
Gregory E. Reynolds serves as the pastor of Amoskeag Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Manchester, New Hampshire, and is the editor of Ordained Servant. Ordained Servant Online, June-July 2010.