Monday, May 25, 2015

"A Necessary Grief" by Larry Michael: A Review

Grief over the loss of a loved one can produce a tough emotional situation for an extended period of time. Who will stand in the gap and provide services and support during those crucial days when a person or family is reeling from loss? There s no better group to provide loving ministry than a congregational family. The way that a church reaches out to a family when a loved one dies makes a great impact on the survivors for the rest of their lives. (129)

I am a seminary trained pastor - a fact I am proud of. Yet if I were to identify one weakness of most seminaries it would be its failure to adequately train ministers in grief counseling. At a person and families worst moments is when a pastor is needed the most. I confess that in spite of years of experience ministering to members and non-members alike in moments of crisis and death, I still feel untrained and unprepared. My goal is to communicate the gospel in all situations but in moments of suffering it is difficult where and when to speak.

That is why I recently picked up Dr. Larry J. Michael's helpful book A Necessary Grief: Essential Tools for Leadership in Bereavement Ministry. The author provides the reader with a wonderful introduction to the ministry of grief counseling walking the reader through various kinds of grief, how people mourn, and what the role of the leader should be.

Michael writes from the perspective of a pastor, which I particularly appreciated, sensitive to the needs of the suffering and those called to come alongside them and shepherd them through the valleys. He is sensitive to how grief affects the whole person - physically, emotionally, cognitively, socially, and spiritually.

Perhaps the most beneficial chapter regards his discussion on various myths of grieving. I offer them below with little discussion:
  • You have to stay busy
  • Grief is a Five-Step program
  • Grief is something we need to get over
  • Faith makes grieving easy
  • Those who grieve have a weak faith.
  • Time heals all wounds (we've all heard this one)
  • The goal is to let go and move on
  • Etc.
I have no doubt the reader of this review sees this myths and are interested in knowing more. They are myths and yet they continue to be gospel to many people. One myth worth exploring briefly regard the five-step program. Though many follow a similar pattern (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) it is not universally true. 

The book provides endless practical insight. For example, highlighting how those who had a "unique relationship" with the deceased, he writes:
And then, there are those who had a difficult relationship with the deceased. They grieve not only what the relationship was, but what it might have been. One man told me he grieved more over his mother, with whom his relationship was strained, than over his father with whom he had been very close throughout his lifetime. He was more settled and at peace with his father's passing, but still felt great angst over unresolved issues with his mother. (26)
Different situation require different needs and the author provides a helpful guide in how to meet the needs of those we are called to serve.

My one criticism regards a footnote in which the author reference Harold Krishner's best-selling book Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People. The book is theologically dangerous in which it presents a weak God who would like to prevent suffering but can't.

Overall, however, I highly recommend this book. It is an excellent tool for pastor's who need better training in grieving ministry. I confess my inadequacies and am grateful that books like this exist for pastors like myself.

This book was given to me courtesy of Kregel Publications for the purpose of this review
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