Reflections for Times of Loss

A review of The Alphabet of Grief: Words to Help in Times of Sorrow

We all yearn for comfort when someone dies,” writes Andrea Raynor. “In the immediate aftermath of death, we may find it in the company of friends and family or in the rituals of faith. But when the funeral services are over, when friends leave and the house grows quiet, many are left floundering. The unchangeable reality of loss looms like a shadow in our every days.”

The Alphabet of Grief comes alongside the griever in tender companionship, acknowledging both the predictable and unpredictable moments when sorrow makes us cry out afresh, as well as the times we discover nearness to the ones we have lost in ways we would not have imagined.

“The unchangeable reality of loss looms like a shadow in our every days.”

A graduate of Harvard Divinity School, a United Methodist minister, a hospice spiritual counselor, and a fire department chaplain who also served as a chaplain to the morgue at Ground Zero after the September 11 attacks, Raynor writes from a wealth of experience of offering healing presence to individuals facing loss because of a wide variety of circumstances. The book is not about “stages of grief” or how to “get through” a loss. Rather it is a collection of poignant reflections on the emotions and daily challenges that anyone who has experienced the loss of a loved one can identify with. Raynor weaves in her own experiences with grief as well. These reflections are organized in a simple manner around the letters of the alphabet. For instance:

  • A—Absence
  • C—Crying
  • F—Forever
  • I—Isolation
  • P—Partings
  • U—Until
  • W—Why

The chapters are brief in recognition that people experiencing grief are not always able to focus on reading at length, and they’re full of illustrative stories that create a sense that the reader is not alone but rather among others who know well the complexity of searching for the next firm place to find a foothold in bereavement.

At the close of each short chapter come a few lines of meditation that begins with “Today I will … ” to bring positive focus to one simple thought among the debris grief can bring into our lives before closing with a one-sentence affirmation that draws on a spiritual truth and encourages the reader to put it into practice in whatever manner is meaningful to that person.

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