In a raw and inspiring reflection on grief--selected by Publishers Weekly as one of the best books of the year--a mourning sister processes her personal story of loss by exploring the history of bereavement customs.
When Amanda Held Opelt suffered a season of loss—including three miscarriages and the unexpected death of her sister, New York Times bestselling writer Rachel Held Evans—she was confronted with sorrow she didn't know to how face. Opelt struggled to process her grief and accept the reality of the pain in the world. She also wrestled with some unexpectedly difficult questions: What does it mean to truly grieve and to grieve well? Why is it so hard to move on? Why didn’t my faith prepare me for this kind of pain? And what am I supposed to do now?
Her search for answers led her to discover that generations past embraced rituals that served as vessels for pain and aided in the process of grieving and healing. Today, many of these traditions have been lost as religious practice declines, cultures amalgamate, death is sanitized, and pain is averted.
In this raw and authentic memoir of bereavement, Opelt explores the history of human grief practices and how previous generations have journeyed through periods of suffering. She explores grief rituals and customs from various cultures, including:
the Irish tradition of keening, or wailing in grief, which teaches her that healing can only begin when we dive headfirst into our grief the Victorian tradition of post-mortem photographs and how we struggle to recall a loved one as they were the Jewish tradition of sitting shiva, which reminds her to rest in the strength of her community even when God feels absent the tradition of mourning clothing, which set the bereaved apart in society for a time, allowing them space to honor their grief
As Opelt explores each bereavement practice, it gives her a framework for processing her own pain. She shares how, in spite of her doubt and anger, God met her in the midst of sorrow and grieved along with her, and shows that when we carefully and honestly attend to our losses, we are able to expand our capacity for love, faith, and healing.
Blending history with memoir, social worker Opelt examines death rituals and reflects on her season of grief in this devastating debut. To process the deaths of her grandmother and her sister Rachel Held Evans, and a series of miscarriages in the span of a few years, Opelt digs into the origins and purposes of 12 bereavement customs that range from the unusual (telling a hive of bees when a loved one dies) to the jovial (playing practical jokes at a wake). In the Middle Ages, for example, church bells would ring as a person neared death because the sound was thought to scare off demons from preying on the souls of the sick. Opelt urges Christians to heed this ritual's insight that death can imperil souls by shaking one's faith. The author also reports she "hardly recognized" herself after her sister died, and she muses that the practice of covering mirrors after a death serves the covert purpose of hiding the toll that grieving takes on the living. The fastidious research and acute analyses of grief traditions fascinate, and her insights are shattering: "Grief is like water.... It finds the lowest part of you and hollows it out even more." Poignant and erudite, this is not to be missed.