'Grief is a deep wound with no visible scar'
Interview with Baptist minister Richard Littledale, author of a new book for those who have been bereaved during the pandemic
Losing a loved one can be a lonely, isolating and disorientating experience. This has perhaps been felt even more keenly in the time of a global pandemic. Many have experienced the traumatic situation of losing someone with no one there to hold their hand or hear their cry. Mourning has been done quietly and unobserved. Loved ones have been laid to rest with few to witness it.
As the pandemic recedes and people talk about returning to normal life, how do you navigate your way through grief when your life will never be the same again?
Richard Littledale has written No Visible Scar, an honest and gentle book that will help you to understand your feelings and find hope in this strange land called grief.
Richard is minister of Newbury Baptist Church, an author, and a regular contributor to BBC Radio 4’s religious programmes.
Richard, why did you decide to write No Visible Scar?
As a minister and a Community Champion with my local authority, I have become aware of the impact which Covid-19 has had on people’s ability to grieve. As we come out of the pandemic, there will be thousands of people who feel that they were unable to say goodbye properly – owing to the restrictions imposed both on visiting the dying and on funeral rites.
This is an unusual title – why did you choose this?
I lost my wife, Fiona, to cancer in 2017. When I was reflecting on that experience in a lecture at the Houses of Parliament in 2019, I described grief as ‘a deep wound with no visible scar.’ As the bereaved person, you feel it acutely – but others cannot see it.
Who have you written this book for?
The book is written primarily for those who have been bereaved during the pandemic. Their loved one may not have fallen victim to Covid-19, but they will have grieved in such very different circumstances. It is also written as a resource for others to give away to those in that particular situation. This may apply to professionals, such as funeral directors and chaplains – or to friends and neighbours.
Is this book just for Christians?
Not at all. I write it as a Christian, and this means that I make reference to the Bible on occasions. However, the book is accessible to those of all faiths and none.
The book talks about the added layers of pain caused by losing someone during the Covid-19 restrictions – can you just give us an example of what you mean by that?
I see this in numerous areas. One is that many are grieving the loss of a loved one whom they were not permitted to see or touch from the moment they were taken into hospital until the moment they died.
Another area is to do with funerals under the Covid-19 restrictions. Only small numbers and restricted services have been permitted with no physical touching and many family members excluded and obliged to attend online, if at all. Many will feel an acute burden of guilt – that they did not say goodbye ‘properly’.
The country is now talking about the road map back to normality – but you talk about how painful and difficult this might be for bereaved families – can you explain this a little more?
The definition of normal tends to be ‘what we used to know’. For anyone who has been bereaved, that situation cannot and will not come again. In these particular circumstances, the drive towards a normality (where the person you have lost is absent) can feel like a drive away from a person whom you continue to love.
You cover different aspects of the bereavement journey that are particularly relevant to the lockdown restrictions – how or why did you decide to use these particular points?
Obviously, I write out of my own bereavement experience. However, I have picked up on some of those aspects of bereavement which have been exacerbated by the current circumstances. I talk about the absence of touch, the loss of your one person in a sea of statistics, life behind the mask and ‘digital ghosts’ – to name just some.
You mention in the book that God holds our tears in his bottle. Why do you think this image is so important?
In current circumstances, with a death toll in the hundreds of thousands, it is easy to think that your one loss is somehow diminished. That tender image of God collecting every single tear, says that it is not so.
What one thing would you say to anyone who finds themselves grieving the loss of a loved one during the pandemic?
I would say that the depth of your grief is a testament to the depth of your love, and that the collective emotional toll upon an entire population during the pandemic has made all of that harder to bear. To say that you are hurting is not an absence of faith but the presence of humanity – in all its fragility and wonder.
This book is also available in packs of 25 and 50 copies – why is this and how do you hope this book and the packs will be used?
The multipacks are intended for use by chaplains, funeral directors, churches, local authorities and others. The numbers of people affected by loss during the pandemic are so high that the need is great. I am hoping that many of these organisations will buy the bulk packs and then give them away to those in need.
What do you hope readers will most get out of reading this book?
I hope they will feel that someone understands their pain, and that they will find both comfort and advice within its pages.
In one sentence, how would you describe No Visible Scar?
No Visible Scar is a small book for a big need – bringing hope and help to those bereaved during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Is there anything we can pray for you?
As a grieving husband, taking about bereavement in the public space of print is never without cost. Please pray that the cost is offset by the benefit to those who read the book.
No Visible Scar by Richard Littledale is published by Authentic Media. Find out more about Richard and his writing on his blog
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