What Grieving People Wish You Knew by Nancy Guthrie, Free for CAPC Members
Nancy Guthrie’s overwhelming message in What Grieving People Wish You Knew is to enter into the awkwardness and difficulty of loving grieving people.
We all know someone who is suffering from a debilitating illness—that person may even be you. Such a trial is something few of us would volunteer for. Today’s medical advances and the accessibility of information don’t make change the pain or fear of a body that won’t heal. Eventually, however, most of us will face such a trial, as our bodies will deteriorate until our final breath. Most of us avoid thinking about it, if at all possible. And few of us would consider reading about the way disease leads us toward death. Which is strange, considering the subject applies to us all.Dunlop’s book tackles a subject that few of us would care to read about in a way that encourages, informs, and relieves fear.
One disease that is becoming more prevalent is one that attacks the mind, one that is irreversible once it arrives. I am speaking of course of dementia, the most well-known form of which is Alzheimer’s. While this is not a disease anyone wants to face, John Dunlop MD has written a wonderful book to show readers there is grace even in such a disease. Despite the way we tend to avoid the subject of disease and death, Dunlop helps us face it with his book titled Finding Grace in the Face of Dementia. Thankfully, it is free for members of Christ and Pop Culture courtesy of Crossway.
Dunlop, who is a geriatrician, guides readers through all sorts of questions related to dementia. He explains his purpose is to “provide a theological lens through which we can view dementia and then give a number of practical ways in which it can be applied” (19). He uses numerous stories from his personal experience, but also weaves the story of single couple throughout the book. In doing so, he shows his ability to empathize well with both caretakers and those suffering with the disease. The latter is from his many years of experience and study, but the former is from seeing it take both of his parents.
He deals with this pain of suffering in the opening chapter, which tackles the theological questions many will ask when faced with losing a loved one to dementia. The first three chapters explain the nature of the disease, how it is diagnosed, and how it can be prevented and treated.
The middle three chapters bring readers into the experience of having dementia (as much as is possible), as well as what it’s like to care for someone who has it. I appreciated that in the midst of dealing with the nature of dementia for the person who has it, Dunlop also focuses on the needs that caregivers experience and how they can be shown grace as well.
Chapters 8–10 focus on honoring God in the midst of dementia, as well as how to show dignity to those suffering in the midst of meeting their other on-going needs. Chapter 11 turns to the role the church should play. And the final two chapters deal with growth in the midst of dementia and the bio-ethical questions that can come with end of life decisions.
All in all, Dunlop’s book tackles a subject that few of us would care to read about in a way that encourages, informs, and relieves fear.
My family doesn’t have a history of dementia, but my wife’s does. Her paternal grandparents are struggling with it currently. The disease is a possibility for both her dad and her, and since we live close to her parents, facing this with them may be closer to our 30-something horizon than we’d like to believe.
Thankfully, I’ve been able to read and reflect on Dunlop’s wisdom and insight. While it is not a subject I want to think about in detail at the moment, I realize how vital it is to think about a disease from a Christian perspective—especially one that can seem to erase a person’s humanity. I was encouraged by Dunlop’s theological approach to the disease, and his pastoral counsel for those traumatized by the experience of caring for people who have dementia. This is the best kind of practical theology, and I hope we continue to see more of it in the years to come.
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