By Theresa Thomas
What I expected from Jeannie Ewing’s new book, “From Grief to Grace,” was either a simple accounting of her personal suffering or a “how to” handbook on dealing with grief. Instead I found an expertly woven substantive offering that was simultaneously thought-provoking and helpful, even to a casual reader. I started reading “From Grief to Grace” on a plane ride and found I couldn’t put it down. Before I knew it, the plane had landed and I was feeling edified and inspired from having spent my time in the pages of this book. Let me share with you a little about what I found.
Jeannie Ewing’s family struggled with bipolar disorder and depression. But it was when her daughter Sarah was born with a rare genetic disorder that caused her bones to fuse together prematurely that Ewing was thrust into the deepest throes of grief and sorrow. She struggled to accept the reality that her child could die at any moment, or live with great struggles and suffering herself. This caused Ewing to question herself, her life, and God.
The result of Ewing’s struggle is a beautiful and honest look at the meaning of deep sorrow and how it can lead to grace. Early on in the book, Ewing explains to her readers the five stages of grief, then shares how these stages did not appear in an orderly way when she was faced with the biggest grief of her life. Ewing’s transformation after grappling with her greatest grief is inspiring, and will undoubtedly help those who seek to find meaning in life’s tragedies and sorrows.
After a foreword by Rev. Stephen A. Thompson, Ewing offers a brief prologue introducing herself and explaining her own background, then dives right in with five meaty chapters: The Complexity of Human Suffering, Examples of Life Events That Can Trigger Grief, The Grace of Redemptive Suffering, The Message of Divine Mercy, and Courage and Conviction: Finding Meaning in Our Losses.
She offers three appendices for the reader to explore the topic of grief from different angles: a man’s perspective (her husband’s), meditations on some sorrowful devotions and teachings of our Catholic faith, and a commentary on issues pertaining to the end of life and the will to live.
This book is comprehensive, and honest, in some places downright raw. “…Shame became an uninvited guest, as I was faced with the reality that I wanted to hide Sarah from the world so that people would not whisper and stare at us…” that is refreshing for a serious reader hoping to find frankness in truth. In other places the book is sublime and inspiring, such as when Ewing offers quotes from the saints about suffering, or when she explains how holy indifference is a way in which we can learn how to surrender each moment of anxiety or a prolonged instance of suffering.
Probably some of the best parts about “From Grief to Grace” are the little insights Ewing sprinkles about the chapters. For example, she writes:
“…Do we ponder our life’s end? At times, during prayer, this thought can put into perspective the ways in which we utilize the brevity of time we have been allotted, how we have prioritized our relationships and whether we are truly living what we claim to believe as Catholics. This is not a morose preoccupation with death, but is a point for personal reflection, and often, growth…”
My favorite chapter was “The Grace of Redemptive Suffering.” In it, Ewing offers six spiritual principles that will aid the reader in navigating grief: humility, abandonment to divine providence, holy indifference, (understanding) the dark night, (having) confidence in God’s timing, and (comprehending) the wound of the heart. These principles are explained in detail and with examples to which the reader can easily relate.
In all, “From Grief to Grace” is a book that will cause readers to think deeply and challenge themselves to surrender to God’s will even in the worst of suffering. As Ewing writes, “Grief is the catalyst that ignites the spark of zeal in our hearts and sets ablaze the yearning, that pining to love God…” This book is a treasure for those who grapple with grief. They will find renewed hope and inspiration waiting for them in its pages.
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