Grief in Nicholas Wolterstorff’s Book “Lament for a Son”


Lament for a Son is a book by Nicholas Wolterstorff focused on the author’s personal experiences of the death of his child, grasping his grief, and finding hope in the faith. The objective of this paper is to analyze how the author describes discovering joy after loss, to provide definition of meaning and significance of death in light of the Christian narrative, and to explain the role of the hope of the resurrection in Lament for a Son.

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Joy after loss in Wolterstorff’s Lament for a Son

Nicholas Wolterstorff’s Lament for a Son is an inspirational story of a parent dealing with the grief after he lost his young son in an accident in the mountains. The book is structured in the form of a compilation of anecdotes about the experiences that the author faced and the way he managed to reconcile his grief.

In psychology, there are five universal stages of grief. They are inherent in the psychological nature of any person and are the natural reaction to dealing with tragedy. Kübler-Ross and Kessler (2014) define them as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, although “people go through these stages in their own time and in their own way” (p. 14). The author of Lament for a Son faces the stage of denial right after the call that informed him about the death of his son Eric. The fact that it was very unexpected and sudden made it hard for him as a parent to accept the reality. The realization is also sudden for the author; he describes missing his son, saying that “his absence [is] as present as our presence, his silence as loud as our speech” (Wolterstorff, 1987, p. 14).

The stage of anger comes after the realization and is described by the author as the phase of the sharpest pain. The next stage is bargaining. It is evident how a grieving person reflects on the terms of the tragedy from the Wolterstorff’s (1987) description about missing his son: “a month, a year, five years – with that I could live, but not forever” (p. 15). However, we do not go through the stages in the linear mode, and in tragedy, the stage of bargaining is often the one people return to (Prigerson & Maciejewski, 2008).

The stage of depression is characterized by the attention to the present moment (Kübler-Ross & Kessler, 2014). The author reflects on the solitude of his suffering. His attention is not any more focused on the attempts to imagine alternative scenarios. He realizes that there is no possible way for bargaining and that he will have to live with his tragedy. However, at the stage of depression, the very thought of living with his grief is unbearable for the author. At the end of this stage, the author seeks for an explanation of why the tragedy happened. When trying to understand the religious reasons behind it, he goes to speak to the Christian priest. He comes to realize that the most important thing about suffering and death is their uniqueness. For the author, it means that the God’s glory is realized through overcoming suffering and finding the hope and patience in the world over which we do not have control.

The meaning and significance of death in light of the Christian narrative

The concept of resurrection is one of the central notions in the context of the Christian narrative. The very idea of surviving through the suffering and tragedy underlines the significance of the patience (Austin & Lennings, 1993). In Christianity, people lack the power control over what happens to their lives, whereas God is almighty. Thus, in this perspective, the best way that humans can help themselves to deal with the grief is to admit that there are the God’s reasons for everything to happen. We may not be able to comprehend those reasons, but they form the meaningful universal principles. The uniqueness of the suffering and death, in some way, is meant as an ordeal for the sufferer. In Christian narrative, no-one suffers more than he or she can bear. Thus, the idea of resurrection after the death is a reward for surviving the ordeal of suffering and living with patience. In this light, the significance of death lies in the fact that it symbolizes the end of the ordeal and the end of suffering.

The role of the hope of the resurrection in Wolterstorff’s Lament for a Son

In Wolterstorff’s Lament for a Son, the hope plays the key role in the author’s rediscovering faith for himself. He used to believe in God but only after going through the loss he claims to realize the role of the true hope in life. He describes the hope as not something that can only be accessed by those who belong to the Christian religion. However, the author himself can best to understand the meaningfulness of the world with the help of faith. The resurrection, for him, is the reward for the patience.

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In Lament for a Son, the hope is the belief that there is some meaningfulness in the universe. The author’s faith in the resurrection can be inspirational for those going through a similar tough period in their lives.


Austin, D., & Lennings, C. J. (1993). Grief and religious belief: Does belief moderate depression?. Death studies, 17(6), 487-496.

Kübler-Ross, E., & Kessler, D. (2014). On grief and grieving: Finding the meaning of grief through the five stages of loss. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.

Prigerson, H. G., & Maciejewski, P. K. (2008). Grief and acceptance as opposite sides of the same coin: setting a research agenda to study peaceful acceptance of loss. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 193(6), 435-437.

Wolterstorff, N. (1987). Lament for a Son. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing.

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