Spiritual Direction with those who grieve

Posted on November 10th, 2021

‘I miss her every day,’ she sobbed. ‘I can’t get used to not having my mother around; I still cry a lot and feel depressed.’

My heart seemed to miss a beat. As her spiritual director, I knew I wanted to walk with Jules in and through her grief. But having recently lost my own mother in an horrendous accident when I saw her run over by an out-or-control car, I felt lost. I prayed one of those ‘arrow’ prayers asking for help, for strength – even just for composure.

As my own tears flowed, I sensed an answer to my prayer was to be with Jules in her grief and to share it, not pretend I didn’t feel anything. To live out the Biblical injunction to ‘weep with those who weep.’ * We wept together, acknowledging our individual griefs, recognising that tears are one way of coping. I prayed for us, that we’d each know God’s strength and peace, as we gave thanks for the memories of happy times with those we’d lost, of being grateful for having had them in our lives.

From my own grief and from walking alongside others who grieve, I know how difficult and complex grief can be. It follows no set pattern; it ebbs and flows. A tear can become a waterfall.

I also discovered that reading and concentrating can be become a burden, a chore, an impossibility. My directees and I needed something brief, easily digested, yet understanding of our situation, when Bible reading or prayer become difficult, onerous. The onslaught of grief can sometimes cause a trauma that renders the bereaved unable to focus.

Out of that shared trauma, ‘Scent of Water’ was born for such a time as this. I’ve received emails from people who’ve found it helpful not just for the times of grieving the death of a loved one, but also the loss of pets, and, significantly, loss of one’s dreams following terminal diagnoses. Now, Debbie Thrower has now recommended it for The Anna Chaplaincy.

During Direction, we’ve found it helpful to take a verse or a thought from the book to talk through, as a way into the grief, helping to explore where God is at work and where he is walking in and through this grief with us.

And for those for whom even a few words are too much, the beautiful photographs can be an aid to reflection through Visio Lectio.

*Romans 12:15

About the author: Penelope Swithinbank is an experienced pilgrimage/retreat leader, conference speaker and Spiritual Counsellor. She has had an international ministry, including churches in America and the UK, and her most special memory is of opening the US Senate in prayer and being guest chaplain for a day. Penelope is an avid walker and spends a lot of her time stomping in the hills and valleys near her home outside Bath.

She is the author of three books, Women by Design and Walking Back to Happiness; her third, Scent of Water, a devotional for times of spiritual bewilderment and grief, is recently published. She is a wife, mother and grandmother and says of the six grandchildren that they are so wonderful she should have had them first.

SCENT OF WATER - words of comfort in times of grief” is a gift book to give, to receive, to dip into as you appreciate the words, the pictures, the poems and the quotes. Available from all good bookshops, as an ebook, and signed copies from Penelope’s website.

Subscribe to our newsletter