Madeleine Davies

Lights for the Path

Lights for the Path: A Guide Through Grief, Pain and Loss is my first book published by SPCK in May 2020. It’s primarily for younger readers, aged 11 to 18, and explores the experience of bereavement through my own story (my Mum died of breast cancer when I was 12) and those of others who have lost a parent or sibling during adolescence. Some of my interviewees were looking back just a few short years, others were recalling a death that happened decades ago. I’m extremely grateful to all of them for being willing to talk about how they reacted, and what advice they might pass on.

Although it’s thankfully much less common that in earlier generations, the loss of a parent or sibling before adulthood isn’t as rare as you might think. According to one charity, Winston’s Wish, every day 100 children lose a parent. It’s even more – one in 29 – if you include people who have lost a sibling. One study carried out among secondary school pupils suggested that more than three-quarters of 11-16-year olds experience at least one of their close relatives or friends dying. The idea behind the book is to help those in this situation to feel less alone, and to hopefully provide some reassurance that what they are feeling is “normal”. I was very struck by the observation made by staff at St Christopher’s Hospice in south London that young people visiting the support service are often “intensely critical” of themselves. They believe that they are not doing grief “right”, worried that they are “uncaring, unloving, or pathetic”. One of the central messages of the book is that there is no one “right” way to grieve.

One of the decisions I made at the outset, when planning the book, was that I would write about my own Christian faith, and the questions that my Mum’s illness and death had prompted. This was difficult, as I’m conscious that most teenagers today do not describe themselves as Christians and there is not, today, one single shared belief in what happens when we die. But I also wanted to write honestly about my own experience, and had in mind teenagers who, like myself, were troubled by theological questions after an early loss. I remembered as a 12-year-old trying to describe the faith that me and my Dad shared about my Mum to a counsellor and being chastened by her reaction. It was a lonely time.

Finally, I wanted to write about the comfort that the Christian faith can offer, when we face death. It is a promise that has kept me going and I hope that I’ve managed to write about it in a way that conveys God’s love both for us, and the person we have lost.

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