10 books to help you help people in illness and loss.

The other day, someone on Twitter wrote to tell me that he shares “This is Hard” with people and asked, “What other books for chaplains do you recommend?”

That’s a question for more that 140 characters. So I promised that I would write this post.

I’m going to establish my own parameters for the list:

  • What books are either shareable by chaplains or readable for chaplains?
  • I’ll assume that people have their own lists of books that are particularly helpful or readable and this can be mine.
  • I’ll assume that books on chaplaincy itself are found elsewhere.
  • And because I’m allergic to platitudes, these books talk about faith in the middle of hard times, not as an antidote to the pain.

For people who are trying to figure out whether the words they are saying count as prayer, as talking to God, I point to Brian Spahr’s book, Don’t You Care That We Are Drowning? (And Other Unexpected Prayers). The title comes from that moment on the sea where a couple of Jesus’ disciples woke him up during a storm that threatened to capsize their boat.

For people who have lost a spouse, I point to Clarissa Moll’s book, Beyond the Darkness: A Gentle Guide for Living with Grief and Thriving after Loss. She writes out of her own experience and conversations with others. I find her image of thinking of grief coming to live with you helpful, and her exploration of physical, practical, emotional, spiritual, and parenting dimensions of loss is helpful to both those in and alongside the loss of a spouse.

For those wanting a longer reflection on prayer, Tish Harrison Warren’s Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep gave me a prayer, and then a reflection on it, that sustained me during the middle year of the pandemic and on.

Kate Bowler researched the prosperity gospel and walked through the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. In a mix of memoir, research, and conversation, her books help with holding onto faith but acknowledging disruption of the scripts. Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved and No Cure for Being Human: (And Other Truths I Need to Hear). Both are good, I lean toward the latter.

Patrick Riecke’s first book, How To Talk With Sick, Dying, and Grieving People: When There are No Magic Words to Say offers a three-stage model of spiritual growth in walking through illness. It’s full of examples of things that are helpful and not helpful to say. It was written, Riecke says, to help a friend who wants to help people but isn’t sure where to start.

Riecke’s second book, How to Find Meaning in Your Life Before it Ends was originally called 101 ways to find meaning in suffering. It has a variety of practical things to say and do when we are the one that is in the middle of the pain.

Riecke is joined by his wife, Kristen, for No Matter How Small: Understanding Miscarriage and Stillbirth. They draw on their own experience and the work each of them has done providing support for women and men walking through infant loss.

Dr Lee Warren is a neurosurgeon and a follower of Jesus. I’ve Seen the End of You: A Neurosurgeon’s Look at Faith, Doubt, and the Things We Think We Know is a memoir examining how he wrestles with offering support to patients – and himself – in situations where the medical outcome is predictably fatal. I read a draft of this book early in my chaplaincy. It helped me understand glioblastoma, doctors, and my own navigation of conversations.

The tenth book isn’t available as a book yet. Before You Walk In is a devotional primer for chaplaincy and pastoral care in hospitals. It’s a collection of essays I’ve been writing since 2016.  Though it’s not published yet, I will post PDF revisions at www.beinghelpfulinloss.com/before.

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