On the last day of his vacation, Rob Moll leaned in to kiss his wife, Clarissa, before heading out for a hike in Mount Rainier National Park.
“Have fun,” she whispered.
“I will,” Rob said.
He never returned. On July 19, 2019, Rob Moll fell to his death on that mountain. Clarissa was left to raise four children alone. She writes, “All of the life we loved together vanished in a moment.” In the three years since, Clarissa has walked honestly with Christ and pointed fellow sufferers to the hope that is both here and now as well as for heaven. In her book Beyond the Darkness: A Gentle Guide for Living with Grief and Thriving After Loss, Clarissa Moll offers the bereaved much-needed empathy and seeks to show them and those who would walk beside them how grieving souls can flourish after loss.
Beyond the Darkness: A Gentle Guide for Living with Grief and Thriving After Loss
Sorrow is a dark and painful road. You don’t need to walk it alone. The Bible says that “God is near to the brokenhearted,” but what does that look like when you’re lost in the darkness of agonizing grief? How do you engage with your sorrow when the world tells you to shoulder through or move on?
Award-winning writer and podcaster Clarissa Moll knows this landscape of loss all too well. Her life changed forever in 2019 when her husband, Rob, died unexpectedly while hiking―leaving her with four children to raise alone. In her debut book, Beyond the Darkness, Clarissa offers her powerful personal narrative as well as honest, practical wisdom that will gently guide you toward flourishing amidst your own loss.
Whether you’ve lost someone dear to you or you’re supporting a loved one as they mourn, you can learn to walk with grief. And as you do, you might be surprised to discover the path is wide enough for another companion, the Good Shepherd of your soul. Grief may walk with us for the rest of our lives, but Jesus will too.
Grief Is Misunderstood
Moll notes a painful reality: those who mourn will have few who’ll understand their suffering. Anyone who has grieved a significant loss will tell you that how we speak of grief is often disassociated from the lived experience. Time does not heal all wounds, and there’s no right way to grieve. And what doesn’t kill you, does it indeed make you stronger? Nope. Moll writes, “The obstacle course of sorrow can become a very human attempt to beat back the darkness instead of seek Christ in it” (42).
Time does not heal all wounds. And what doesn’t kill you, does it indeed make you stronger? Nope.
Moll invites us to see grief as a companion, not something to get over, struggle to defeat, or endure. Grief will remain with the bereaved for a lifetime, but she insists that doesn’t mean we can’t have satisfying lives after loss: “If life doesn’t shine as brightly anymore or our days feel emptier, it’s not because death has taken away our joy. It is because death has revealed a greater longing—for a joy that lasts, unbroken, abounding, forever and ever” (215).
When Helping Hurts
Beyond the Darkness is bursting with practical advice that Moll sums up in three words: nourish, rest, and move. Nourish: good nutrition can bolster a grieving person’s immune system. Rest: grief is exhausting. Move: In Moll’s case, walking provided more than daily exercise. It offered her a sense of control in out-of-control circumstances. “In a world where so little felt like it was within my control anymore,” she writes, “I discovered that I could still put one foot in front of the other” (80).
She also shares advice for helping grieving children, forged from the anguish of seeing her own children’s pain. She offers insight to would-be consolers as to why receiving help might be painful for a widow: to accept help was to acknowledge the specific places in her life where her husband’s loss was felt—from grocery shopping to finances to carpooling. “To hear someone offer help wrote that loss in cement” (100).
I felt completely seen as I read this. After my husband’s death, I experienced ambivalence, even resentment, at the avalanche of kind offers of help. It made me wonder, What’s wrong with me? These insights benefit both the sufferers and those who would seek to help them.
Naomi Is Vindicated—Finally
Moll also makes insightful observations about one of the most misunderstood women in Scripture: Naomi. Moll’s treatment of Naomi is the most empathetic and redemptive I’ve read. Other authors vilify Naomi or compare her to the “godly” daughter-in-law for the purpose of pointing out Naomi’s flaws. Many would prefer Naomi to have kept the faith as she walked back into town. Moll’s take here is utterly refreshing: “Naomi travels her grief journey with far less finesse [than Job or Hannah]. That’s precisely why I like her. When your theological arguments are exhausted and your patience turns to anxious urgency, you need a woman like Naomi to tell you like it is” (135).
Too often we pressure grieving Christians to “give a testimony” or “count it all joy,” as I was just days after I buried my husband. Moll calls this oversimplified at best and heretical at worst (137). Naomi keeps it real. Yet she never shuts God out. She brings him her anger, frustration, loss—all of it.
If we summarized the last chapter of Ruth as “they lived happily ever after,” we who have buried husbands and sons would have questions. So. Many. Questions. Moll wonders too:
I have no doubt as she held this baby in her arms Naomi thought of Mahlon and Kilion. Naomi probably glanced up and thought about what might have been. This baby she held in her arms would bear no resemblance to her son, the man who died without fathering a child. What God was giving her after loss was something entirely new. Had God proven himself faithful over time, despite her distrust, anger, and unbelief? Yes. Had he answered all her questions? We are never really told. (148)
God never answers all of Job’s whys either. He does answer Job with Who: a God big enough to manage our confusion and anger, even when it’s directed at him.
Call to the Church and to the Bereaved
What role does the body of Christ have in supporting the long-term needs of the bereaved? Moll quotes Miriam Neff: “50 percent of widows leave the church they attended as a couple and lose 75 percent of their social network after their spouse dies” (196).
I was walking into church as an amputee with a wound only the Lord could see, let alone understand. I knew I must keep coming.
The most difficult steps I have taken were walking back into church after the death of my husband. I knew my church loved me. But I was walking into church as an amputee with a wound only the Lord could see, let alone understand. For weeks, I could make it to church and sit. That’s it. I couldn’t sing. But the Hubbards could sing. And the Longs. And the Johnsons. And the Beaudreas. Then it occurred to me: that’s what the body of Christ is for. Hard as it was, I knew I must keep coming.
Moll writes, “Your church needs your wounds. Your local congregations may not have realized it yet, but it needs the wisdom birthed by all that you have endured” (197). Indeed. And even though it may be dreadfully hard to return, go back. When you feel like there’s no place for you, make one. Work with your church body to make your church a welcoming place for the heartbroken. And remember Clarissa Moll’s powerful exhortation: “God’s plan for you did not die with your loved one” (110).