In a raw and inspiring reflection on grief, a mourning sister processes her personal story of loss by exploring the history of bereavement customs.
When Amanda Held Opelt suffered a season of loss—including three miscarriages and the unexpected death of her sister, New York Times bestselling writer Rachel Held Evans—she was confronted with sorrow she didn't know to how face. Opelt struggled to process her grief and accept the reality of the pain in the world. She also wrestled with some unexpectedly difficult questions: What does it mean to truly grieve and to grieve well? Why is it so hard to move on? Why didn’t my faith prepare me for this kind of pain? And what am I supposed to do now?
Her search for answers led her to discover that generations past embraced rituals that served as vessels for pain and aided in the process of grieving and healing. Today, many of these traditions have been lost as religious practice declines, cultures amalgamate, death is sanitized, and pain is averted.
In this raw and authentic memoir of bereavement, Opelt explores the history of human grief practices and how previous generations have journeyed through periods of suffering. She explores grief rituals and customs from various cultures, including:
the Irish tradition of keening, or wailing in grief, which teaches her that healing can only begin when we dive headfirst into our grief
the Victorian tradition of post-mortem photographs and how we struggle to recall a loved one as they were
the Jewish tradition of sitting shiva, which reminds her to rest in the strength of her community even when God feels absent
the tradition of mourning clothing, which set the bereaved apart in society for a time, allowing them space to honor their grief
As Opelt explores each bereavement practice, it gives her a framework for processing her own pain. She shares how, in spite of her doubt and anger, God met her in the midst of sorrow and grieved along with her, and shows that when we carefully and honestly attend to our losses, we are able to expand our capacity for love, faith, and healing.
About the Author
Amanda Held Opelt is an author, speaker, and songwriter. She writes about faith, grief, and creativity, and believes in the power of community, ritual, worship and shared stories to heal even our deepest wounds. Amanda has spent the last 15 years as a social worker and humanitarian aid worker. She lives in the mountains of Boone, North Carolina with her husband and young two daughters.
“One of the best books I've read in ages…a profound, mystical, and even haunting book that will be a faithful companion to all of us who have seen trouble.”—Sarah Bessey, New York Times bestselling author of A Rhythm of Prayer and Jesus Feminist
“A beautiful, necessary book that resounds with openhearted curiosity and gorgeous vulnerability…In exploring how others have grieved, she walks us winsomely toward honesty, healing, and, above all, hope.”—Jeff Chu, co-author, with Rachel Held Evans, of the New York Times bestseller Wholehearted Faith
“With compelling personal narrative alongside theological, historical, and cultural inquiry, Amanda Held Opelt…invites us to put our aching bodies in motion, to glimpse at the surviving we can all do. Because grief, like love, like hope, is a learning. It does not return us to the before. The learning of grief does, however, enliven the after—and I suppose we’d call that resurrection.”—Jen Pollock Michel, Author of In Good Time and A Habit Called Faith
“A Hole in the World is a wonderfully conceived and beautifully written book…It is, in part, an anthropology of grieving, a powerful memoir, and glimpses into a heartbreaking diary. In a world where rituals of grief are slowly vanishing, it reintroduces us to some of the most creative forms from Western culture. Most of the time the book is looking back on the rich history of rituals of pain, from cards to casseroles, from wearing black to sitting shivah. But it also looks forward, preparing our hearts for what will inevitably happen to us all.”—Michael Card, songwriter and author of A Sacred Sorrow
“A Hole in the World is both generous and generative, a book that tenderly guides us into the fierce landscape of our own losses, because the author has dared to walk there first. Few of us today know how to speak of our sorrows, but in this book, Held Opelt gives us language for loss that is honest, hopeful, and gorgeously human.”—K. J. Ramsey, licensed professional counselor and author of This Too Shall Last and The Lord Is My Courage
“Blending history with memoir, social worker Opelt examines death rituals and reflects on her season of grief in this devastating debut…Poignant and erudite, this is not to be missed.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)