Magazine Article

Love Is! A Journey of Grief, Grace, and Gratitude

Brenda Kiš
Love Is! A Journey of Grief, Grace, and Gratitude

What we know about grief will never be enough for the one who comforts, and always too much for the one who suffers. Frank Hasel, associate director of the Biblical Research Institute, has opened his heart in his latest book, Love Is! A Journey of Grief, Grace, and Gratitude. In this anguished account he takes us into his own desperate experience as a bereaved husband.

The cataclysmic event of Hasel’s life was the loss of his beloved spouse, Ulrike, to breast cancer. His numbing narrative of the diagnosis, disease, distress, and demise of his wife pulls the reader into the whirlpool of trauma that threatened to drown him. Through a deft interplay of thoughts and feelings, the reader is allowed to enter the process not only of the loss of a spouse but of all the related connections. Dreams, plans, companionship, intimacy, conversation, security, identity, and more disappear as the fabric of their marriage is ripped apart.

In the beginning we trace the Hasels’ journey with cancer as they face it together. The “we” of their relationship is prominent at every moment, every decision, every challenge. Their separate personal obligations become fused by a wrenching fact of life they cannot ignore. Their joyful togetherness turns into a battle to live. As Hasel leads us through the world of their mind and heart, we encounter their questions as if they were our own. What would we do? How would we handle this confrontation with evil? Enduring an agonizing wait for news from the medical doctors, they search for the best path to follow, the right time and way to tell the rest of their world about their struggle. Their own uncertainties, other people’s reactions, a flood of “good” advice, What if questions, and the sapping of time and energy for difficult decisions and adjusted schedules drive their days. We observe the pendulum of cancer shoving them back and forth as they attempt to remain upright, wise, kind, informed, and timely. For time is running out. It’s hard enough to face the tidal wave of life changes they must make together. But when Ulrike’s time is up, Frank’s must go on.

Now he faces a tsunami of unexpected personal consequences: loneliness, anger, envy, meaninglessness, fear, anxiety, panic, stress, confusion, mental fog, disorientation, insecurity, vulnerability, all while trying to comfort and raise their three sons as well as function as professor and dean of the Theology Department at the seminary in Bogenhofen, Austria. At the end of the day he has only memories, shared history, and the influence of his wife to cling to, plus her responsibilities in the household. Some friends fade away, augmenting the loneliness. Life has changed and can never again include that precious person, except through thought.

As he begins to work through his feelings in the presence of God, he discovers the power of music, lamenting, journaling, and the practice of gratitude and trust in the One who provides. He learns to call death by its name, to focus on what he has rather than what he has lost, to reestablish daily routines, to live in the moment, to intentionally refocus as he experiences the present. What he does for himself is powerful and important.

What others do for him is equally so. Near the end of the book Hasel shares what people said and did that helped or didn’t, contrasting wounding words with wise, sensitive ones, and deeds that ministered contrasted with those that misread his need. But assuring the reader that they should not blame themselves if they were mistaken in their outreach, he admits his own past behavior in the face of grief. Then he leads us to the realization that for someone in the deep pit of pain, certain things must not be said. That’s the basic content—the story, the reflection, the counsel. But beyond this, there is depth and beauty and poetry in the telling. We feel that we are standing on the holy ground of a profound love that produced such a profound grief. Woven throughout are words of hope and even joy. By integrating the reality of death into one’s life, the dreadful abyss becomes a cradle of new life with God, new ways to see and love others. This book is beautiful, not because of its wrenching heartbreak told in evocative words, but because out of tragedy emerges a soul tested and tried and transformed. Love Is! will be a helpful resource and encouragement for those who have experienced loss and those who serve them as pastors, chaplains, grief counselors, and laypeople.

Brenda Kiš

Frank M. Hasel, Love Is! A Journey of Grief, Grace, and Gratitude (Eugene, Oreg.: Cascade, forthcoming 2024), reviewed by Brenda Kiš, Berrien Springs, Michigan.