I read many books about how to raise and care for my little boy. I had anticipated his arrival with joy and hope. But I was completely unprepared for his death. There was no book telling me how to take leave of him.
From Chapter Ten: A Bed for My Boy, Grief: A Mama’s Unwanted Journey by Shelley Ramsey. WestBowPress.
Shelley Ramsey writes about a mother’s nightmare: the loss of a child. She tells her experiences of her years-long recovery from the traumatic death of her 17-year-old in a car accident. Her words are real, raw, and honest. She expresses the grim reality of coming through grief to a place of wholeness and healing, recognizing that the loss of a close relationship is not something that “goes away” and does not have a timeline.
Those of us on the mourning bench must let ourselves be broken and allow ourselves to hurt…
We cannot walk out of the cemetery and back into life as we knew it. We must take time to grieve.
(from Chapter 24: Grief Doesn’t Come With Instructions)
Ramsey describes her struggle with anger, depression and emotional exhaustion. She doesn’t sugarcoat her own journey back to wellness; she also notes where and how she made progress through her own pain.
The story Shelley shares is at times difficult to read. There are places where the reader will identify with the heart-rending tasks of grief: informing family and friends, picking a casket, composing the gravestone, walking by the empty bedroom. These are raw, painful moments that are common to all who grieve.
The author not only helps to normalize the struggles of grieving individuals (being forgetful, feeling exhausted, stressed by social events) but offers some practical tips. She gives some great examples of what NOT to say in Chapter 28: No Consoling Words. She also shares her personal self-care steps to recovery that she tried to do on a daily basis:
I was in such bad shape that I had to begin with the most basic. I made a short to-do list for myself every day: (1) Get up and dress for work. (2) Make a plan for dinner. (3) Throw in a load of laundry. (4) Touch base with someone today. (5) Jot down one thing I am thankful for.
(from Chapter 31: Trust God in the Dark)
I particularly appreciated the quotes that Ramsey included from authors who understand the pain of the journey through grief. Writers like C.S. Lewis, Augustine, Ann Voscamp, Rick Warren, Teresa of Avila and Anne Lamott augment the personal stories from the author’s grief work. Combined with her thoughtful reflections, they are consoling words indeed.
Ramsey’s book is written from a Christian perspective. She holds firmly to the promises of God and the resurrection of Jesus. Those who are from other faiths may not find the latter chapters in particular as helpful, as they focus more on her own faith. However, it does not diminish the power of her experiences and the gentle, caring way she shares how she personally overcame depression and despair after the death of her son. Those who are newly bereaved may find her book a little too raw to read; I encourage them to set it aside and pick it up in a few months because they will find it a loving companion on the road from grief to life.
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