While I was indulging in one of my favourite activities, wandering in a bookshop, my attention was caught by this book. When I realised it was written by a priest who is gay and in a love relationship, I had to read it.
Coming from a Catholic background where the traditional religion doesn’t accept homosexuality or allow priests to have partners, I was immediately intrigued by the unique perspective this book could offer.
I started to build my expectations, by assuming it would offer self-help advice on coping with grief. However, my expectations were one thing and the book was another. In fact, this book is an honest account of the author’s personal experience in trying to make sense of his husband’s death.
I expected the book to focus more on the author’s internal experience, instead I felt it was mainly about external events. The author introduced many people involved in the events, sometimes describing them by their social class. There were some random paragraphs, written in italics, that interrupted my flow. Also, at times there were some details described that I didn’t consider relevant to the book. I skipped some parts, mainly the religious ones, even if overall I appreciated that the book wasn’t heavily handed on this aspect.
All of this made it difficult for me to get immersed in the reading.
The strong hate letters the author received because of his sexuality, including from people within his own church, shocked me. It’s very sad and scary to know that there are people who feel entitled to say who should love whom. Love is never wrong. Love is love, and even religion should not oppose it.
Overall, the book was not for me as interesting as I had expected, and didn’t offer any coping advice. However, I appreciated the author’s openness in writing it, especially given his position, and I think it can be seen as a gentle reminder that, in the midst of our pain, we are not alone.
While the book focuses on the author’s personal story, it might offer and sense of connection, and therefore comfort, to people who have experienced the loss of a loved one and are struggling in their grieving process.
Title: The Madness of Grief: A Memoir of Love and Loss
Author: Richard Coles
Year First Published: 2022
Content Warnings: Death, Homophobia, Grief, Alcoholism
Whether it is pastoral care for the bereaved, discussions about the afterlife with parishioners or being called out to perform the last rites, death is part of the Reverend Richard Coles’ routine. But since his partner the Reverend David Coles died in December, much about death has taken Coles by surprise. David’s death at the age of 42 was unexpected – he never recovered from an operation for internal bleeding.
Now the man that so often assists others to examine life’s moral questions has found himself in the need of help. He is looking to others for guidance to steer him through grief. The flock is leading the shepherd. Much about grief has surprised Coles: the volume of ‘sadmin’ you have to do when someone dies, how much harder it is travelling for work alone, the pain of typing a text message to one’s partner, then realising you are alone.
The Reverend Richard Coles’ account of life after grief will resonate with the many thousands of his followers and listeners.