A Chronicle of Grief: Finding Life after Traumatic Loss by Melvin Lawrenz

Gordon H. Cook, Jr.

A Chronicle of Grief: Finding Life after Traumatic Loss, by Melvin Lawrenz. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2020, 160 pages, $15.00, paper.

Life after Grief: How to Survive Loss and Trauma, by Melvin Lawrenz and Daniel Green. Waukesha, WI: WordWay, 2015, 160 pages, $12.47, paper.

There are roads in life we do not wish to walk. They lead to or follow overwhelming loss. Even when we are aware the loss is coming and seek to prepare for it, the loss still overwhelms us. Even more traumatic is sudden loss, which takes us by surprise and instantly turns our lives upside down. Our self-confidence is shaken to it foundations, and we are cast headlong upon the mercy and kindness of our God.

The year was 2015, Dr. Lawrenz was five years retired from his position as Senior Pastor of Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin, a sizable independent evangelical church. As Minister-at-Large, Dr. Lawrenz was free to labor on developing ministerial resources and networks for church leaders through the Brook Network. That year he collaborated with Dr. Daniel Green, clinical director of New Life Resources, on a book about grief and trauma, Life After Grief. Little did Dr. Lawrenz know that just two years later he and his family would be the ones cast into the rolls of victims and survivors, facing the sudden and devastating loss of their thirty-year-old daughter, Eva.

Life After Grief is a fine overview of the issues of grief and loss, which are so commonly encountered by pastors. The book is focused on the pastoral care of those who are grieving, carefully interacting with Scripture and incorporating current theories of grief, loss, and trauma. The volume drips with grace, guiding pastors and other spiritual care providers to a compassionate ministry with those who are grieving. From a scholarly perspective, we might have expected more citations of the works and theories upon which his ideas are based; however, the gist of these theories is set forth accurately in a very readable fashion for those who lack the time to delve into more academic volumes. While this book is not as well-known as its newer sibling, it is well worth reading. Particularly helpful is Dr. Lawrenz’s appreciation of the role of trauma in grief and the insights he brings to addressing it, helping people move from being victims to becoming survivors. I would highly recommend the book, particularly for new pastors.

If Life After Grief is pastoral, A Chronicle of Grief is deeply personal. It traces the response of Dr. Lawrenz and his family to the sudden, unexpected loss of his daughter, chronicling their grief over their first year. At many points the story is raw, grabbing our hearts as well as our minds, drawing us into the deeply personal loss experienced by this family. As he notes, “this is a survival story.”

Dr. Lawrenz is very open and honest about his own experiences of grief. We meet his daughter, Eva, in a richly personal walk through the memories of Dr. Lawrenz, his wife, Ingrid, and their son, Christopher. She was a dynamic and independent young woman who loved reading and editing books and who loved the Lord and sought to walk with him. These memories will bring tears, laughter, and opportunities to reflect upon your own children or family.

Throughout the book you can see Dr. Lawrenz struggle to apply his faith and the principles so carefully set forth in his earlier work in order to cope with the overwhelming loss of his remarkable daughter. As a father it forced me to examine my own love and admiration for my daughter, Beth, and to come to grips with the realities of a life of faith in a fallen and broken world where dear ones sometimes leave us.

The book is well written, yet it is not an easy book to read. It does not hide the numbing pain and terrible grief which Dr. Lawrenz felt. It is a book which reflects personal faith, but it is anything but “preachy.” While Dr. Lawrenz has a firm faith in Christ, he does not pretend that his faith is unshakable. In this sense the book is very different from so many inspiring books which carefully conceal the harsh realities behind a mask of superficial spirituality. Still, we do not grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thess. 4:13). Both of Dr. Lawrenz’s books bring us to the underlying bedrock of God’s abiding presence and genuine hope in Christ.

Most people do not want to read a book while they are actively grieving the loss of one so close and so dear. This is a book I would share with the few who do want to read in the midst of grief and loss in order to seek hope. It is also the book you should read if you want to comfort others through grief and trauma in a compassionate way—the way of Christ. It will give you clear insight into the practical realities of grief and loss and help you appreciate some of what your grieving friend may be experiencing. The principles you learned in your academic studies of grief, well reflected in Dr. Lawrenz’s Life After Grief, are seen challengingly applied in his A Chronicle of Grief. For pastors and elders, I highly recommend using these two books as a pair for a well-founded and tested treatment of grief, loss, and trauma.

Gordon H. Cook, Jr. is the pastor of Living Hope (formerly Merrymeeting Bay) Presbyterian Church (OPC) 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. Ordained Servant Online, January 2021.

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Ordained Servant: January 2021

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