Earlier this month I spent a week in north Georgia with the Johnsons, who for 15 years have provided loving care for my aging mother in their home. I had planned the trip to coincide with a publishing conference, but hospice workers urged me to come sooner. “She might not make it to her 99th birthday,” they said. “She could die at any time.”

That first day, I awoke at sunrise in their basement guest quarters. Soft morning light filtered through the trees as cheery birds announced the new day. I opened a book I had brought along for a Zoom book group: In This World of Wonders, by Nicholas Wolterstorff, a renowned Christian philosopher who had taught at Calvin College, Yale University, and the Free University of Amsterdam. After writing many acclaimed works of philosophy, a few years ago Wolterstorff published this personal memoir, which revisits a scene that haunts him still.

On a Sunday afternoon in 1983, Wolterstorff got a call from Germany, where his eldest son Eric, 25, was doing research for a doctoral dissertation on architectural history. “Mr. Wolterstorff, I must tell you, Eric is dead. Mr. Wolterstorff, are you there? You must come at once! Mr. Wolterstorff, Eric is dead.” An avid mountain climber, Eric had slipped and fallen to his death on a spring climb in Austria.

Years ago, I had read Wolterstorff’s Lament for a Son, which lays bare a father’s suffering and grief. Now, during my week in Georgia, I began each day with reflections on the mystery of suffering, penned by one of our finest philosophers. Then, as soon as I heard the footsteps of others in the household, I’d climb the steps to my mother’s room to find out if she had survived one more night.

What follows is a kind of mental dialogue between me and Nicholas Wolterstorff, with his words (italicized) taken from the memoir I was reading. “Nick,” as he asks to be called, actually joined our Zoom book club as a guest that week. At 91, he seemed as spry and intellectually alert as ever, quite a contrast to my mother upstairs, who was fading in and out of consciousness. He was reflecting on a grief wound four decades old, whereas mine was unfolding in real time.

[Wolterstorff began writing Lament for a Son in the waiting room of a Luxembourg airport on the way to claim Eric’s body.] Why did I write? Out of helplessness. I had brought along some reading material from home, but I could not read. I could only think of Eric’s death. What else was there to do but write?… I composed Lament for a Son over the course of the following year. It consists of fragments—with lots of space between the fragments. Rather early in the process of writing I tried to join the fragments into a continuous flow, but it didn’t work. My life had been fragmented, so my lament would have to be fragmented as well. …Lament for a Son is not a book about Grief—it’s a cry of grief.

There’s a huge difference between the grief from losing a 25-year-old son, so full of promise, and grief from losing a mother who has lived one year shy of a century. I well understand, though, what you mean by “What else was there to do but write?” I recently wrote a memoir, which, like yours, reflects a style different from anything else I have written. In it, I tried to piece together the fragments of my own life. Writing allows us to impose some order on what we experience in a seemingly random sequence.

Marshall Yancey Sr

I never knew my father, who died of polio at the age of 23, the month after my first birthday. With a start, I realize that he died even younger than your Eric. As I read of your grief, I put myself in my mother’s place: widowed just three years after her marriage, left with two young sons and no real training for a career. My brother and I were raised by a single mother who would have a hardscrabble life.

I waited forty years to write my own story, mainly because I knew it would spill secrets about my mother: the disjunction between her public image and the mother we knew, her strange ideas about child-rearing, the fits of depression and outbursts of anger. I now see that she never found a way to express that cry of grief. Her theology did not allow for a response of disappointment or anger with God. Yet you, a rational philosopher from a Calvinist background, had the remarkable freedom to express those emotions and more, and to leave your questions unresolved in mystery. Like the psalmists and prophets. Like Job.

[Wolterstorff reflects on a dinner he shared with a professor in the medical college of the Free University of Amsterdam.] Somehow, the conversation got around to the instructions he gave prospective nurses concerning how to engage mothers whose babies were stillborn or died shortly after birth. “I tell them,” he said, “that you need two eyes. With one eye, you have to check the IV; with the other eye, you have to cry. I tell them that one eye is not enough. You need two eyes.” I have used this moving and profound statement as the theme for some college commencement speeches I have given. You, college graduates, need two eyes, the eye of competence and the eye of empathy. One eye is not enough. You need two eyes.

Daily, nurses and caregivers stop by from the local hospice organization. Autumn checks my mother’s vital signs and monitors the proper morphine dosage to control pain. April bathes her and expertly changes the bed sheets without moving her from the bed. She keeps up a steady conversation: “I’m just going to roll you a bit to the left now, Miz Yancey. You let me know if anything hurts, OK?”

Nurses, doctors, and health workers are leaving their jobs in droves, burned out by the pandemic and by the crush of modern, depersonalized medicine. Not hospice workers, though. As my wife, a former hospice chaplain, explains, “I feel we’re on sacred ground. We’re permitted to enter some of the most intimate moments of life, and such care could not be more personal.” Hospice workers bring comfort to family members at a time of fear and vulnerability. At least in the South, they greet you with a hug. Sometimes they cry. They have two eyes.

I sit by my mother’s bedside for long, mostly wordless, stretches. The first few days, she has periods of lucidity and can carry on a simple conversation. Often, in the midst of a thought she will simply turn her head on the pillow and fall asleep. “There are three things I want to say,” she pronounces at one point, and just as I lean forward, on full alert, she slips into unconsciousness. I never hear those three things. Once she rouses up and asks, “Why do I have to go through this process?” On the day she turns 99, she says simply, “I made it.”

Other times, she hallucinates, mumbling about “my little friend, with red hair and freckles who has to go first before I go.” Occasionally she calls out “Mama!” for her own mother, who died at the age of 102. As the week progresses, though, she stays mostly silent. I learn to tune in to her breathing: the sharp sounds like snoring as she struggles to pull air into her lungs, the quieter clicking sounds from the back of her throat, and the shallow breaths I can only detect by the slight movements of her chest.

Early in the week I play the piano just outside her room, and Janet and the Johnsons join in on hymns familiar to her: “It Is Well with My Soul,” “Love Lifted Me,” “Be Thou My Vision,” and—this being the region of country music—“I’ll Fly Away.” The crease lines in her forehead visibly relax, even when she shows no sign of consciousness. “Hearing is the last sense to go,” say the hospice workers. “So keep talking to her, even if she can’t let you know she hears you.”

The Johnsons’ six-year-old grandchild darts in and out of the room, and this too brings a slight smile to her face. With no comprehension of death or grief, he studies the adults for clues on how to react. Ah, those years of youth, naïve to the burdens of life.

Nicholas WolterstorffIn grief, wanting collides with knowing. I desperately wanted Eric to be alive, but I knew he was dead and could not be brought back to life. Grief is banging your head against the wall. If you are frightened, you can run away or hide; if you are angry, you can vent your rage. When you are in grief, there is nothing you can do, other than altering yourself by getting rid of the frustrated want or by repressing your awareness of it. By virtue of wanting what you know or believe to be impossible, grief is irrational: it makes no sense to want what you know cannot be. …

People often ask me how my grief has changed over the years. Usually, those who ask have just recently been cast into grief, and they are wondering whether the dark cloud will ever lift. At first, my grief was always there, if not in the forefront of my thoughts, then in the felt background. Gradually, it was no longer always there. But it’s always ready to return. Anything in my experience, no matter how innocuous—a chance remark, a piece of clothing, a work of art—bears the potential of triggering a chain of associations that culminates in renewed grief. Initially, whenever something reminded me of Eric and of his death, wanting him back surged through me. Now that happens less often. What happens now is a feeling of deep regret for all the promise that never came to be. My lament now is more sorrow over the good lost than grief over the evil of Eric’s absence. …

Again, grieving for a 25-year-old is different from grieving for a 99-year-old. Few who sit by an aged person drifting in and out of consciousness think of banging their head against the wall in protest. Hospice workers are trained to facilitate “a good death,” with as much comfort and relief of pain as possible. After several days of unresponsiveness, my mother’s nurse observes, “She’s clinging to life, even as her vital organs shut down. Is there someone she needs to hear from before she lets go—some broken relationship perhaps?”

Oh, yes. My memoir tells of a kind of righteous “curse” she put on my older brother from which he never recovered. She even walked out of my wedding reception when the photographer suggested a photo that included her and her two sons. Over the years, my mother and I made peace, something that never fully happened between her and my brother.

Where the Light FellFor decades I delayed writing my own memoir, not wanting to cause pain to those I care about. Our family secrets remained secret. But when I exposed them, a most surprising thing happened. After I turned in the book manuscript, as she entered her late nineties, my mother asked if I could arrange a three-way phone call with her and my brother. He agreed. It was the first time she had heard the voice of her firstborn son in more than fifty years.

Ultimately I arranged four separate phone calls. Each one proved slightly less tense than the previous one, although none of them led to a reconciliation. She couldn’t refrain from preaching sermons, and he gave mostly one-word responses. And then, out of nowhere, she received a card from my brother that contained only three words, written in his stroke-afflicted scrawl: “I forgive you.” A Catholic priest and a Buddhist friend had convinced him that only through forgiveness could he remove the chain of resentment that hung around his neck.

Philip and his brother Marshall

During my week in Georgia, many people post tributes to my mother on social media. A studious, hard-working Bible teacher, she has influenced many children and college students who now write notes of affection and gratitude. In the process of writing my memoir, I have gained deep respect for her remarkable journey: a bereft young widow who had experienced little love herself became a mentor of young people with their own griefs and family dysfunctions. That journey took its toll, a toll mainly inflicted on our little family of three.

And so, following the nurse’s advice, I get my brother on the phone for one last communication. I hold the speaker to her ear to hear Marshall say, “Mother, I just want to tell you goodbye.” She never regains consciousness, and two days later, at one o’clock in the morning, she passes from earthly life.

Things have gone awry in God’s world. I do not understand why, nor do I understand why God puts up with it for so long.…God has not told us why there is natural and moral evil in the world, has not explained to us why we do not all flourish until full of years. I live with that. What we are told is that God is engaged in a battle with evil and will eventually win the battle.

No one escapes this life unmarked by suffering. We broken people live on a broken planet, and grief is part of the price we pay. I look back on my mother’s life with great gratitude. Like Nick Wolterstorff, I have more sorrow over the good lost—the promise that never came to be—than grief over the evil of death. And I too trust in a future when “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”




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81 responses to “A Cry of Grief”

  1. Tamyra Carter says:

    Hi Philip, I met you and Janet a long time ago at LOMCC. I felt blessed b/c I had no idea who you were when we met. So, our conversation was very cool. My friends informed me later who you were. I would say sorry, but I’m glad that I met you w/o an previous known of your “celebrity”. Anyway, after LOMCC, I floundered and then, when my mom died I isolated like crazy. Lately, I have visited The Bridge at Bear Creek and I love it. It was one church I listened to online during covid. Anyway, I hope you and Janet are doing well. I’m sorry to be so long wind ended. But, I wanted to let you know that I have continued to be encouraged by you and Janet. God bless!

  2. Thomas Holton says:

    Your appearance on the ‘Chosen Docuseries’ brought me here. Reading the book ‘Ordinary Heroes’ about 9/11 and the FDNY has dropped me into an unanticipated depression, after being able to withstand and suppress those feeling for 20+ years. Not willing to ‘let God be in charge’ has had a negative profound affect for a number of years. I’m grateful for discovering this docuseries, for looking you up even though I’ve read a couple of your books, and for ‘Ordinary Heroes’ for helping me get some of this weight off my brain after so many years. Glad to have discovered this blog.

  3. Hala Brake says:

    What you wrote is absolutely very true. I am grieving the sudden loss of my 19 yr old daughter (car accident). I am really sad about all the beautiful things that she was ready to achieve. She was one month away from graduating from college to become a PA. So ambitious, so beautiful, and so loving. I am angry, absent, and find it unfair. Like Eric he had a full life ahead of him. She is always on my mind and thoughts.
    Literally I knocked my head against the walls when the police came to tell me. Your words are helping me through my grief journey. Thank you.

    • Philip Yancey says:

      Oh my, this is so sad. Your grief is so deep because your love for her is so deep. I am so sorry for your loss.

  4. Lynne McCleery says:

    🥀 Philip, may you and your brother continue to find forgiveness and peace at the death of your mother.

  5. Michael says:

    One of the hardest things is to keep believing in God. I’ve been going through a crisis of faith for a couple of years now. If there is no God, it basically means that everything is meaningless. We live, we suffer, we die and this is it. It is very depressing. If there is God, we have at least some hope of afterlife. We suffer but after death we can go to Heaven. So basically speaking, I want to go to Heaven (who does not?) but the a disproportionate amount of suffering in this life can prevent one from keeping the faith in God.

    • Philip Yancey says:

      Yes, and I have written several books about this very issue, recording my own struggles. I believe Where Is God When It Hurts and Disappointment with God are still available in Russian, if you’re interested.

  6. Ann-Elise Madeira Grosser says:

    Thank you, Philip, for sharing your poignant lament with us. What a testimony to God’s grace that He held you through the difficult years of your childhood and gave you a loving and appreciative heart for your mother. She was obviously a complex woman who loved Jesus deeply, and it was good to read her obituary and to learn that her work for the Kingdom was honored by Immanuel College.

    You and your family are in our prayers as you mourn your loss and as you face your battle with devastating disease.

  7. Triska says:

    Hi Mr. Philip, Triska is here, from Indonesia. I have read your books that has been translated in Indonesia language. I’m so blessed and growt by the bless reflections in your books.

    I also read Lament For A Son in 2019, that teach me about the grief of the loss of my father in 2012, when i was a teenager.

    God bless us

  8. Susan says:

    I have read Lament For A Son, many times in the last twenty one years after the sudden, unexpected and unexplained death of my 14 year old son, Edward. He is the youngest of three. Despite the years separating these deaths, the different circumstances, the age difference and him being a Dad and me a Mom, I constantly marvel, “He knows how I feel!” Truly, Lament For A Son, is the book I most recommend to bereaved parents.
    Thank you Philip for your writings. They have helped me grow in my relationship with God so very much!

  9. Bill Volpe says:

    I’m sorry for the loss of your mother. I am on page 240 of your memoir this morning … you are falling in love right now as I read! This post answers some questions I was waiting for at the conclusion of your story. When my own world was burning down back in 2004 I somehow reached out to you. You responded by gifting me with 2 of your books, which you signed, “For Bill, Philip Yancey.” I still treasure those books because of the grace I felt from you. I look at your personal note and think, “Wow!” Thank you.

  10. Cindy G says:

    Mr. Yancey, I just today finished listening to you tell your story — and Marshall’s, and your mother’s — in “Where the Light Fell” on Audible and finding this post tonight seems like the inevitable epilogue. My condolences for your loss, and also, well done, sir. Your family saw God’s grace through you and your love even if they did not fully grasp it. I am very curious about one thing as I don’t recall it in your book: do you not see that you yourself have indeed lived the life your mother dedicated to God, multitudes more powerfully than anything she had in mind, through your writing? Two writers have helped me most with my own life and faith: CS Lewis and Phillip Yancey. Thank you for your missionary life! Even more powerful in its authenticity. I am so grateful for you! Please keep sharing.

  11. Sara Sprecher says:

    Thank you for putting words to the feelings in my heart, allowing my mind to know. This piece was a Godsend from a precious friend and I am grateful.

  12. Berwyn says:

    This post reads likes another chapter of your memoir. I know your childhood was difficult, but you write about your mother with great tenderness, love, and grace. Your posts and your many books are vital to my faith and keep me grounded in an ever-confusing world. Thank you.

    Keeping you and your family in my prayers as you grieve.

  13. Steve NICOLA says:

    Phillip, your candor, vulnerability, and honesty about your mother’s death is a relief to so many of us. We grieve our losses in the kind of relationship we had with the one who died.

    The death of my three and half year old son to Leukemia affected my grief much differently than my 80 year old father with dementia.
    My heart goes out to you and resonates with the many unanswered questions that are filterd through the compassionate life of Jesus. I can wait with you for big answers to big questions.
    Thank you for unzipping your heart and letting us take a peek.

  14. Pat Schrader says:

    Philip: So sorry for your loss, but thank you for the hope you offer.
    Prayers for your peace and may you remember the good things.

  15. Julanda Meyer says:

    Thank you, Philip for your reflections and for sharing this part of your life. May you and your family be comforted during this difficult year for you. You have verbalised and worked through many of the “what if” questions we all have to face. You have been an inspiring fellow pilgrim on life’s journey and your books continue to be insightful and helpful. Most of us have childhood and family baggage and trauma which we have had to handle over the years. It helps so much when someone like you can honestly and clearly tell their story, to make us aware again that others share the pain and questions of life and family relationships, which is seldom resolved completely. And as one who was born in the same year as you, I am also now having to face the physical and psychical limitations of our lives, the realization that not that many years may be left, and the feeling that somehow I had expected my spiritual growth to be … more advanced (?) at this stage of life. Thank you for once again reminding us how important forgiveness and love are. You have been there for your mother and your brother when they needed you. Bless you.

  16. jonathan pierce says:

    I am very sorry for your loss Philip and thankyou for sharing these powerful and beautiful words with us.

  17. kam congleton says:

    Like reader Chuck Roberts says–Thank you, Philip, for writing in such a way that we feel we share our griefs with you and process them with a fellow traveler…trusting in God’s grace and ultimate deliverance. Meanwhile lamenting the sorrows, but hearing the birds each morning–Hope truly does live. God bless you, Philip.

  18. Dear Mr. Yancey,
    Thank you for this window into the realities of dying and death and grief. In over three decades of practicing medicine in hospitals in the U.S. and in villages in Rwanda, I have had the privilege to enter into the lives of families seeking a compass to navigate through the dying process.
    It seems you were guided well and in the mystery of the waiting time, I always inquire about the lives of others who may need to intersect with the life of the patient so that a final purpose can be accomplished. I believe as long as one has breath, they have purpose. This God ordained purpose is to bring Glory through healed relationships, sharing the Gospel with young clinicians brimming with the hubris of knowledge, or hearing the hymns of yesteryear as they journey home.
    As for the young philosopher, Wolterstorff, if I could speak to him, I would say this: Grief is not something you get over. We grieve because we have loved. To no longer grieve is to no longer love and the resulting numbness results in the death of the one who remains.
    Thank you for this moving blog.

  19. Philip Buck says:

    My parents and your mother were friends. I went to Faith Baptist in 1963-1964 and was part of Jr. Church when the fire created excitement that morning. I used to have letters exchanged between your mother and mine. I have read many of your books and could picture some of the same experiences. My sister, Joy, struggled most of her short life before taking her life at age 35. I have pondered my growing up years and some similar experiences as yours with less introspection than you for good or bad. It is hard for me and even for my children to sort out the good from the wrong of my fundamentalist racist years. I am sure there is more pain than I admit or understand.
    Hebrews 11 and 12:1,2 help me continue on. All the best. I could not quite finish your biography. Too depressing! So sorry! Maybe I will try again?

    • Philip Yancey says:

      What a sad story about your sister. And, by the way, the memoir takes a positive turn–I hope your life has too.

  20. Pam says:

    Beautifully written and expresses so well what so many of us have gone through. I sat with my Mom 11 days as I watched the life that she treasured slowly slip away. She was almost 93 years old. I understand the grief and pain. Thank you for sharing with such a vulnerability. So many are with you through this journey.

  21. Erik A Post says:

    Philip: peace to you. Just today my 98 year old Father-in-law died, and our family’s last weeks with him were similar to what you experienced and wrote about. This is also Memorial Day, and I was 13 and remember a lot about when my brother was killed in action in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive in 1968. He was 21 years old. My Father-in-law’s experience as a WW2 veteran mirrored much of what people saw in “Band of Brothers.” Big time emotional sensory overload, for sure. We live where faith and life connect, and that’s how it should be. BTW: I am a Lutheran pastor who has accompanied many–well, hundreds, frankly — of individuals and their families through their losses and grief, since 1986. I have had the honor of also announcing the hope of the resurrection, appropriately, I pray. Accept such hope for yourself as God and your own spirit allows that to happen. This reflection of yours is honest and profound. Thanks for having us see it.

  22. Thank you for writing this. I recently lost my brother—only 64—and I notice many other commenters here mentioning their own recent losses. Your writing, as always, is a gift that helps all of us process our own grief and our lives.

  23. Sally Adler says:

    You continue to touch my heart with your honesty and vulnerability. I too was blessed to be with my 98 year old mother as she passed . 5 years later, I still long to share my life’s joys and struggles with her. Thank you for sharing the importance of forgiveness. Your books are my treasures!

  24. Linda Sledge Page says:

    Thank you for this post, Philip.
    It comes three days after I sat for a few hours with a high school friend and her family on the day she died. In the days since I’ve been sad, but grateful for the opportunity to read Scripture to her, to talk to her about God’s promises as family came in and out.
    Remembering Janet’s hospice ministry, reading your blog, your post and the comments from others I feel less alone.
    Thank you, Jesus, for your victory over death.

  25. K Craddock says:

    May God comfort each of you.

  26. Pat W. Major says:

    Only recently have I read your writing Phil, though it’s a shame — since we knew each other in 67-68 at CBC. I noticed just above that you crossed paths with Steve and Judy Douglas, my SS class teacher in Yucaipa while Cru was still headquartered in Calif.
    As we age we mellow…I guess. That “closed door” from ‘69 is cracking a little with God’s… Love, Acceptance and Forgiveness. I only knew Marshall a little back then, and am glad to hear he “forgave”… and, got to tell his mom “goodbye.” My mom lived with us during her last yrs until my wife could not care for her any longer. She entered glory in 2004. But this brief glimpse into your journey helped me. Thanks Phil.

  27. Ray Morris says:

    Thank you again Philip for your gentle and beautiful post, and also including snippets of Nick’s writing. Thank you too for showing such love to your mum which must be the work of grace, having just read your memoir.

  28. Roxy Wiley says:

    The stories of our own grief bind us together on screens. Thank you once again for letting us into your world as your mama died. It brings me peace and hope.

  29. Santosh Ninan says:

    Once again you pen beautiful words that enter into quiet places of our souls. Thank you for sharing this intimate sacred moment with us.
    Life is such a mystery.

  30. Gene says:

    As a young man I always saw death as lifes finito, that’s it no do overs. Now at 62, orphaned for several years and coming upon your communique of lament, I’m inclined to believe that death is quite possibly Gods gift of a Selah to our suffering at the ushering in of our eternal joy. At least I desire it to be.
    Thank you for kindly sharing your interjectional grief, it means more than mere words can express nor groans convey.

  31. Wawie Castillo says:

    I have been grieving the loss of my Mother and my dog recently. It’s true the pain never goes away and there are good days and bad days. But I keep holding on to that assurance that in heaven, they have glorified bodies and no longer in pain.

  32. Judy says:

    I lament my big brother who passed away this morning. A grief shared..thank you Philip

  33. Diann Siler says:

    I’m sorry for your (and your family’s) loss.

  34. Jan Clark says:

    Thank you for your words. They never fail to both bring comfort and a challenge to me. Blessings to you and your family.

  35. John Benson says:

    Philip! I read Lament for a Son when our Son in Law died and found it so helpful. As a family we keep on reading all of your books and pray that you and Janet will continue to find grace and peace. I hope to pass along this to our own family as we gather this summer to grieve the death of my oldest brother. Thanks again for it all!

  36. Diane Hebert says:

    I too have to wonder why God lets the suffering go on for so long. He could end it so mercilessly. Is it because we all were born in sin and this is the consequence? If we have accepted Him as our personal Savior I find it hard to believe that is the reason. There are no answers in this life that I have found except in this life everything is broken. I look forward to our heavenly life where everything will be made whole. Thank you for all of your books. They have helped so much. You and Janet are in my prayers every day.

  37. Robert Killian-Dawson says:

    Thank you Philip.

  38. Allan and Juliet says:

    Our condolences to your family.

  39. PSH says:

    I met my mother for the first time on her 99th birthday. I was surrendered for adoption as an infant. Under a set of what I can only call God directed circumstances, I found my genetic family. My mother was not open to meeting me since she had promised never to make contact. I was introduced to her as a family friend. If she realized who I was, she didn’t say. I had sent her my photo. Yet for me it was a wonderful gift to see her, hear her voice, feel her touch, and hug her. I do not know what more may come, for now this was enough.

  40. Vicky Hoffmann says:

    What is there to say but a heartfelt thank you, and to pray to be able to live with two eyes.

  41. Phil Hannum says:

    Dear Mr. Yancey,

    My sister’s MIL expired earlier this month at close to 99. She was renown as a leading interior designer & was very independent. Today’s post, I am hoping, may touch at least 1 of the 20+ people to which I forwarded this? I Hope it blesses my brother-in-law and sister. Thank you, again.

    Philip Hannum

  42. Carol says:

    Thank you for the gift you continue to be in expressing the reality of pain held with this very real hope. I was caregiver and executor for each of my immediate family and with each in their final moments here. I marvel at this paradox of our faith that holds sorrow and joy together like railroad tracks that merge in the distant horizon where the only remaining track is the joy of heaven. The image was shared with me by Rick Warren and told in Kay Warren’s book Choose Hope. A gifted artist painted the image for me and today it is placed in my home to remind me of the hope we hold. Your books have a home in my bookcases, and I’m now rereading your What’s So Amazing About Grace that I read first in 1998. Truth is timeless and worth revisiting. Bless you.

  43. MJ says:

    Thank you for this sadly beautiful piece. So much of it resonates deeply with me, having come from a very broken family with a mother often paralyzed by her choices and their punishing consequences, and without knowing who my father was. The abuses inflicted, physically and emotionally, by those who should have loved leave wounds both visible and invisible. Like you, I have hesitated to share my story with many, but there is inside one’s soul that lament that must be given a voice. Thank you for sharing yours. May I have, by God’s grace, the courage to share mine one day and may our suffering and overcoming it be a beacon of hope to others. Thank you.

  44. Deb Van Slyke says:

    My mother and I also had a fraught relationship. Years after her death I realized that her anger was because she was never loved the way she wanted to be loved. How many bear this curse. It is lifted when we realize how loved we truly are by our dear Father in Heaven.

    How much time we waste wanting life to be our way.

  45. Resonated: “. . . I have more sorrow over the good lost—the promise that never came to be—than grief over the evil of death. And I too trust in a future when ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’”

  46. Sally says:

    Thank you for your words. Although my life story is way different from yours I have long found your writing both comforting and challenging; always thoughtful, full of grace and truth. Finding it so today as I reflect on my own family griefs.

  47. Ralph E. says:

    Love and sympathy to you, Philip. I’m glad your brother was able to tell her goodbye.

  48. Lisa says:

    I’m so sorry for the loss of your mother. I also have had a complicated relationship with a parent. They have professed faith in a gracious, loving God but their life shows little evidence of that faith. I have no idea what I would say at their funeral as their life is full of anxiety and anger. I don’t want to lose them but I do rejoice that some day, they will know exactly how much God loves them and feel it to their core. After reading your memoir, I am glad your mother is now experiencing a full knowledge of God’s love. for her.

  49. Myrtle Orr says:

    Yes that sacred space. Over Covid working in the family violence sector, I came to see time with families, inside their innermost lives, as sacred, a privilege with one eye on the work to be done and the other eye fully in the moment. Phillip thanks for keeping one eye us, the wounded. It’s only now, this seventh year since my Christian minister son walked away without explanation from us as a family, that I am
    Fully turning back to Christ. Oh the grief that has lessened it’s tight grip just abit these past months!
    I’m grateful for His patience as I found my way back home! And I’m grateful to you Phillip, for all
    Of your honest writings over the years.

  50. Barbara Marvin says:

    Thank you for your insightful and beautiful writing. I remember you from LaSalle Street Church and have recently read your memoir. I have been contemplating a memoir about my mother who died when I was 15 but I can’t seem to get started. Your thoughts about grief perhaps give me some understanding of why.
    My sincere sympathy to you and your brother.

  51. Celeste Sanchez McFarland says:

    Thank you, Philip. Here’s to the past that always was and continues to be leading to the glorious future. Soli Deo Gloria.

  52. DeLora Fennig says:

    Thanks for sharing. Good memories in YFC. Your book was very honest and I shared it.

  53. Thank you for always giving solid hope in the midst of death and suffering and unanswered questions. Yes, some day there will be no more tears. Until then, thank you for sharing your family’s story and your own tears.

  54. Bob Doty says:

    Philip, thank you for sharing your thoughts on grief and the passing of your Mother. Your ability to discuss Life’s unfairness and yet instill hope is a real gift. Revaluation 21: 1-4 is our final hope, indeed.

  55. Phil, thanks once again. We met in 1969070 at EPA and have touched base several times since. I have read many of your books, including your memoir–they have touched me often. This post, has been so helpful. My wonderful husband of 47 years, Steve Douglass, former pres of Cru, died 7 months from cancer complications. It has been a hard and beautiful time of grieving so far. And this post has been helpful.
    Thank you.

    • Philip Yancey says:

      I read about his death, Judy, and hoped to see you when I went to headquarters for a podcast. You too are great partners in kingdom work.

  56. JEFF MC GINNES says:

    Thank you Philip for your writing Dissapointment with god. God helped me let go of guilt that I carried for 45 years blaming myself for a loved one who killed herself. Thank you god for setting me free .

  57. David W Musick says:

    Thank you for a wonderful blog post. I write this as my 42 year old son is battling cancer, a fight that began when he was 20 years old. It has been a long difficult journey for him and his family, which includes a loving wife and a beautiful 7 year old daughter who thinks her daddy “hung the moon.” I hope I never experience the grief of losing him; I pray daily for his healing. The words you have written provide some comfort, and I thank you for it.

  58. Beverly H Rouse says:

    My deepest Sympathy. I pray God’s blessings on you and your family. Having grown up in similar circumstances, I literally try to visualize the wheat and the chaff. There was much good amongst all the bad. You have taught me to cling to the good and let the hurt blow away in the wind. . .

  59. Holly C Freeman says:

    Thank you for this moving and deeply personal writing, expressing so articulately what many of us have experienced. It gives perspective and encourages me to rest in the peace & comfort God gives when our loved ones transition over and we miss them so much.
    May God truly comfort you and your brother.
    Your writing brings hope and healing and I am grateful. My parents and brother all went to heaven within a short time, and though it’s been almost two years now, I miss them daily.

  60. Chris Crauthers says:

    Thankful for you and your work. I lost my father recently at 91. There’s a history of abandonment followed by a connecting with years of trying to understand. On my part, at least. Three years ago, dad lost his wife and came to live with me. At 88, he was in poor health but mentally sound. These three years, God allowed me to truly learn to love my father by taking care of him. It was difficult at times, but I’m grateful that it happened. Had God not saw fit to allow this, I believe there would be in me a deep sense of regret. I was with him the moment he passed. God is good.

  61. Ross Campbell says:

    Thank you for your honest revelation of your loss.

  62. Michele Breen says:

    Thank you for your raw but helpful words. As always they speak. ❤️‍🔥

  63. Linda L Hoenigsberg says:

    Philip…I loved your book, “Where the Light Fell,” and I loved this post. (I’ve actually loved all your books. I know those stages of grief all too well, and also the changes over the years of my feelings surrounding my long gone parents. I also, although had a fractured and dysfunctional relationship with my mother while she was alive, now “feel a deep respect for her remarkable journey.” Thanks for your words, Philip.

  64. Julie Walton says:

    Dear Philip,
    I send deepest condolences to you and Janet. I know this has been a remarkably difficult journey. But the sorrow interwoven with the hurt makes the fabric of your life what it is. I recall you wondering aloud if it would be the right thing to do to publish your memoir while your mother was still alive. And now you know the answer fully. The book brought about a healing that waiting might have prevented. Thanks for including Nick W’s words here. It is a lovely way to describe what happens when we lose someone we love, even when it is a human, flawed love. I will pray for you and Janet going forward, as you can finally take the deep breaths that letting go allows. In the midst of it all (the last years with your mother I mean), it feels like being underwater and needing air. Popping up through the water’s surface and taking that first deep breath after they are gone is so life-giving despite the sorrow. I know b/c this is how I spent 2017-2019 with my own mother as she died at the end of the towpath of PD after 15 years of courage in which she both resolutely pushed ahead and graciously allowed herself to be pulled onward. And now, may God bless you in your own path ahead through the grip of PD. It CAN be filled with joy, and my prayer is that you find the victory in that. Grace and peace be yours.
    Julie Walton (Harvester 2017) (Calvin University)

  65. James Morris says:

    A masterful melding of two well-stated stories – two griefs – two deeply felt descriptions of death. Forgiveness is critically important and especially before one passes into their forever life. I debated and almost left out the chapter of my mother’s last two days of life in my memoir – thinking no one really wants to read something so personal. Numerous folks have told how they connected to that chapter and some even cried. Death is always a mystery regardless of what brings the final breath. Thank you for sharing this heart touching story of two passings. Loved your memoir and now your readers have an “afterword.”

  66. Randall Caton says:

    I relished every page of Where the Light Fell. This blog is akin to a short Appendix to that courageous book! Thank you!

  67. Cynthia Ann Storrs says:

    So wonderful. Thank you for speaking so honestly. It encourages me to deal with the wounds and bitterness in my own soul.

  68. Cindy says:

    And yet again your writing leaves me feeling a little nearer to that ‘thin place’ between heaven and earth. I am sorry for your loss as you travel this road of grief. I pray for you often as you navigate your Parkinson’s diagnosis. Please know that I return to your written words frequently to face life’s disappointments and unanswerable questions. Blessings!

  69. Laura Duckett says:

    Thank you Philip for your words of wisdom. They have encouraged me for years and I share them with who ever I can.
    I am very familiar with grief. I too lost a beloved son 6 years ago, seems like yesterday. Laments of others help me see myself not as a lifeless living person feeling her way through the rest of my life, but of one who wants to be a light in the darkness of others still fresh in their grief. It seems more and more people are joining my horrible club of child loss.
    Again thank you for your gift of words that point to Christ and show more clearly the real, only hope we have.
    Laura Duckett

  70. Donna Younglove says:

    Marvelous sharing on a level of humanity rarely spoken of – thank you

  71. Bolanle Akinfolarin says:

    Thank you Mr. Yancey for being a blessing over the years. You inspire me. I pray the Lord comforts you, your brother and other family members at this time.

  72. Bob Arnold says:

    ThNks for honest reflections!

  73. Ardyth says:

    My father died of a heart attack while we laid in our beds across the hall. Yes, we heard his last breath and still remember the sound of it.

  74. Ardyth says:

    Oh, the hurt of it all. My Dad too left us while we were young. I was only seven. My mother preferred my sister who was cute and and so it was.
    In the end it was I who took care of her, much to my mother’s dismay. I have worked hard to forgive and I believe I have, but some if the hurt, well it remains.
    I continue to pray my way through…God will make a way.

  75. Judy Hales says:


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