Book Review: “A Kind of Solitude” by Jamie Howison

Grief is a powerful emotion. We experience it acutely when it stems from a sudden event, but also during those times when we think we are prepared for it. Perhaps it is more easily managed when a loved one dies after years of illness or peacefully in their nineties, as opposed to when a loved one dies of a heart attack in their forties, but grief is still painfully experienced in both situations.  That said, our experiences of grief and our attitudes towards grief differ greatly from one another, and what is grieved is not always death.

When Jamie Howison’s marriage broke down after eighteen years, it “came to an abrupt end, something [he] had not seen coming.” Howison fell into a deep grief that threatened to drag him down until a friend urged him to seek out spiritual direction. By providence, a letter arrived the day of that conversation from a friend of Jamie’s, Father Gary Thorne, who at the time was the Chaplain at the University of King’s College in Halifax.

A Kind of Solitude is Jamie’s telling of the five weeks he spent at King’s College five months after the end of his marriage, attempting to rediscover himself and find healing for his broken heart and soul.

During his time at King’s College, Jamie spent the majority of his time in solitude, sometimes reading and journaling, sometimes walking the streets around campus or pacing the floor of his residence room, but also praying and writing an icon under the tutelage of one of the College’s students. As well, Jamie attended the multitude of services that were available at the College Chapel, had conversations with Father Gary, embarked on a retreat, and spent time with family. The retreat was an intense and highly structured five weeks, specifically designed by Father Gary to help Jamie in the best possible way.

Many personal demons are battled throughout these chapters – anger, resentment, bitterness, hurt, fear – demons that many of us have experienced during times of deep grief. Jamie acknowledges that not everyone will have the time or opportunity that he did to address these demons, but that he is extremely grateful for this gift that he was given because by the end of it, he “began to be free.”

In the final pages, my own grief became apparent to me as I read about Jamie’s last days at King’s College. Jamie quotes Father Thorne as saying, “this is a community that always has room for the broken-hearted.” It was at this point that I felt a shift in Jamie’s soul, and I, as the reader, knew that he would come out of this experience ready to face what was next.

Jamie Howison was one of my first mentors as I journeyed the path to priesthood. I am extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to read his book, as I have experienced it as an extension of his mentorship. And, I have some of my own work to do about past events in my life that I have considered too painful to address. Jamie’s story is demonstrative for me in its vulnerability. As Jamie shares his grief with us, we are invited into a state of compassion for him but also for our own untold griefs. By example, we are given hope that our pain might one day make us stronger.

– Theo Robinson, Incumbent at St. Michael’s Anglican Church in Victoria Beach. Follow him on his blog or Facebook page 
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