- 08 Aug 2022
Book Review of I Didn’t Know How Difficult It Would Be! Personal Thoughts of a Grieving Husband and Father
Review of I Didn’t Know How Difficult It Would Be! Personal Thoughts of a Grieving Husband and Father, Arnoud T. Vergunst. Grandville, MI: Reformed Fellowship, Inc., 2022. 96 pages. Paperback. $11.99.
Reviewed by Mrs. Vanessa Le
In this short book, Rev. Vergunst shares pastoral thoughts and advice from his own experience dealing with grief. His wife died from a brain tumor at the age of twenty-nine, leaving him behind with five small children. The book is readable and practical, dealing with grief from a personal point of view.
Thoughts about Grief
In chapter 1, Vergunst talks about different aspects of grief. He defines grief and the common reactions to it, and gives us ways to deal with grief. Throughout the book, Vergunst is careful to avoid a one-size-fits-all approach to grief. He mentions that the reactions to grief will vary from person to person depending on their personality and other factors. In seeking to help us understand what grief is like, his illustrations are extremely helpful: “Compare it with a kitchen that endured the shaking of a heavy earthquake. Everything that had its normal place within the cupboards has now fallen every which way on the floor among the chairs and the table. It takes time before everything is given a place in your life again, and that journey will also be accompanied with various emotions.” Some of the emotions are resistance, numbness, confusion, anger, anxiety or fear, guilt feelings, and depression. In dealing with grief, Vergunst speaks to the mourner and gives practical advice: “Give yourself permission to mourn . . . In eastern cultures, as we can read in the Bible, people cry out loud. We, as westerners, may find that to be a little exaggerated. I used to think that but have changed my opinion about it. It would have been so much better if I could have let my tears flow and if I could have burst out in sobs when the casket with the body of my dear Melanie was lowered into the grave!”
Assistance for Those Who Grieve
In chapter 2, Vergunst gives practical help to those who seek to walk alongside a mourner. We should ask about the loss, take time to listen, ask for a photo, and share memories about the person who has died. He says, “Just listen, without judging, without all kinds of answers and great [biblical] truths, without arguments or advice . . . ‘Just listen’ is an enormous task. For to really listen is to empathize, to relate, or still better, to feel and imagine. That demands a ton of mental energy.” In listening, we should be prepared for chaos, realize that being silent is extremely hard, and ask questions. Vergunst shares that even asking questions can be difficult: “In the period of intense grief, I was quite impatient and easily hurt. It was even worse when I personally wrestled with anger against people and even against God. If in those struggles someone would have asked me, ‘Are you angry at the Lord?’ I might have reacted irritably and might have ended that conversation quickly.” He adds, “Therefore, before a visit to a mourner, think ahead about how you will ask a question and what you want to ask because one question can either open the door or slam it shut.”
Lessons from Psalm 77
Vergunst closes his book with a helpful meditation on Psalm 77. Here are four lessons we can learn from Psalm 77:
- The upright believer will have trouble and grief in this life.
- In grief and loss it is often difficult to think positively.
- Often, we use the wrong punctuation marks in our thoughts.
- We must keep in mind that God is faithful and trustworthy.
Although the subject matter of this book is difficult, I enjoyed reading it. It is an accessible, pastoral, and practical book on grief that will be helpful to both the mourner and the person comforting the mourner. The many subtitles enabled me to read the book in small doses, which is also helpful when tackling the issue of grief. I would have appreciated a list of recommended resources for grieving, as several times the author mentions that we should read more about a certain topic. However, even by itself, this book will be a blessing to many, for we all must mourn at times, and help mourners at times.
Mrs. Vanessa Le is a wife and mom to four kids age six and under. She enjoys reading, playing the piano, studying theology, and generally being Mommy. She is a member of Orlando Reformed Presbyterian Church in Orlando, FL.