When Bob Terry’s wife, Eleanor, died in 1998 following a car accident in South Africa, he began a journey with grief he never expected and certainly never wanted.
His new book, “Struggling Toward Hope: Life After the Death of a Spouse,” shares not only the personal lessons he learned along that journey, but also practical tips for survivors as they learn to live after a loved one dies.
“When the funeral is over, you go home, and people surround you with love and care for a month or so,” said Terry, editor emeritus of The Alabama Baptist. “But that begins to ebb as normalcy returns to their lives. Other crises arise within the community, the church.
“But what about all the practical changes the surviving loved one faces? I didn’t find a book that helped with that, and I hope my book stands in that gap.”
“Struggling Toward Hope” tells Terry’s story and provides meaningful help to grieving spouses and others who desire to encourage someone after the death of a loved one.
Coping with traumatic grief
He also examines practical changes that happen following a death, including situations those on the outside probably never think about — questions about how and when to clean out your loved one’s closet, whether it’s OK to redecorate or when to explore new relationships.
“I wanted to point out the learning events in my story,” Terry explained. “I wanted readers to know there are some issues you’re going to face at home and here are some ways to address them.”
Lisa Harrison, administrative director for Birmingham’s Community Grief Support, a nonprofit providing free counseling, support groups and community education for those grieving loved ones, called the book “an invaluable resource for anyone who is grieving after the loss of a spouse.”
“This book is truly a guidebook on how to cope with traumatic grief,” Harrison said. “Bob shares the most intimate details of his loss experience, but he also goes on to address the tools any grieving widow can use to get through the journey moving forward without a spouse.”
At the time of Eleanor’s death, Terry had been the editor of The Alabama Baptist for a little more than two years. As he opened up about his struggles, he and the paper’s readers forged a bond.
The prayers and financial gifts of Alabama Baptists at the time of Eleanor’s death and later the reactions to his editorials and articles encouraged Terry to put his experiences together in a book.
“The fact that there is a book is a direct result of Alabama Baptists because they had made themselves part of my story,” he said. “For the rest of my time as editor, there were very few churches I went into or associational meetings where I spoke that someone did not tell me they prayed for me or referenced reading the things I wrote.
“They gave me the confidence to deal with the issues and to share them with readers of the paper.”
A book for ‘every pastor’s library’
Terry hopes his book helps readers learn more about God through his story and the questions with which he grappled along the way.
“It is important for people to realize that faith questions surface in grief,” Terry said. “God is not put off by our wrestling with those issues or asking those questions. When we do that, it makes our faith more personal. We end up with a much deeper commitment to our conclusions about God.”
Eventually Terry remarried, and “Struggling Toward Hope” ends with how even that was an important part of the grief journey.
Though the book is for those grieving the death of a spouse, readers who want to minister well to the grieving also will benefit.
Gary Fenton, retired pastor of Dawson Memorial Baptist Church in Birmingham, said the book belongs in every pastor’s library.
“Often those who are ministering to the grieving are in a hurry to get people through the process, and their impatience often shows,” Fenton said. “Having read this book will help me to be a better listener, to ask fewer but more helpful questions, and to be a source of authentic hope to people who are grieving.”
Terry hopes readers will better understand the grief journey is not a straight path. “Sometimes you walk in a circle, sometimes you take a wrong direction, and sometimes you fall,” he acknowledged. “I want people to know that, and if they end up at a dead end, it’s OK to start again.
“Hold on to God in the midst of the struggles. If you can’t feel His presence, trust His heart. Hold on until you sense His presence again.”
“Struggling Toward Hope: Life After the Death of a Spouse” is published by Soncoast Publishing and is available in ebook and print from most major booksellers.