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Book Review: The Madness of Grief by the Reverend Richard Coles

“An excellent book to help others and show that priests, too, are not immune from the intense anger and loss after a bereavement and yet, can also move to a point of hope.
A positive message for all of us!”

The Reverend Richard Coles’ latest book “A Memoir of Love and Loss” gives a vivid portrayal of his own experience when his partner, the Reverend David Coles, died in December 2019. As someone who has spent his life as a priest and ministering to others who have experienced loss, this book explains how he felt during his personal period of great loss and how he has managed to navigate a difficult path. It’s written in the past but interspersed with periods of present so you are constantly aware as you read, of the parallels between the journey of grief and the journey of recovery.

From the very beginning, you know this is going to be a hard, emotional read. In the first pages Richard describes his loss as an “explosion in slow motion.” Although David had a chronic medical condition, the speed with which he declined was unexpected. The difficulty of also being in the public eye is one we are less able to relate to but it was, nevertheless, shocking to read that, even at the hospital, he was being asked for selfies at the hospital Costa Coffee. Inside, his heart was breaking as David lay dying in ICU.

Having to inform friends and family of David’s “dying” was particularly poignant as he explains how the writing of that word immediately brought the reality of the situation home to roost. While being protected and “offline” by his PA, the inevitable trolling from social media did seep through, from those who deny that same-sex relationships are as equally valid as heterosexual, a view which some parts of the Church also move painfully slowly to realise. That said, Richard appears to have developed a way of dealing with these wounding messages and indeed the overwhelming support from the media and followers was positive with #ohrichard trending on social platforms.

And then there is the guilt. Should more have been done, were we angry or frustrated with our partner too often? All questions I am sure most of us have asked ourselves when it’s too late to do anything.

As a priest I could empathise with the sense of knowing the rituals of death and burial known as “sadmin” and that as Christians, we too need to be given time to grieve, it’s not business as usual!  It most certainly is not the same when it happens to you and for some can shake your faith to the very core. It’s very comforting to read Richard’s words that Christianity does bring us up close to the fact of death; it is not a palliative faith and yet he knew that “my redeemer liveth, and at the latter day I will too, but it will be a form we can only imagine.” I also know the joy and comfort that animals can bring us at times of pain, but how strange it must feel when the bed is empty and only the dogs remain!

We all experience loss and Richard Coles, provides an open account of his grief and how he travelled and is travelling through this long journey of grief. An excellent book to help others and show that priests, too, are not immune from the intense anger and loss after a bereavement and yet, can also move to a point of hope. A positive message for all of us!

The Rev’d Dr Jenny McKay

Veterinary Pathologist and Curate at St Mary and All Saints’, Great Budworth, Cheshire.

About The Author

The Reverend Richard Coles is the presenter of Saturday Live on BBC Radio 4. He is also the only vicar in Britain to have had a number-one hit single. He read Theology at King's College London, and after ordination worked as a curate in Lincolnshire and subsequently at St Paul's Church in Knightsbridge, London. 


Posted on August 10th 2021

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