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When grief is raw, all-consuming, inconsolable… A Scent of Water: interview and giveaway

Penelope Swithinbank lost her mother in incredibly traumatic circumstances. Grappling with a grief so dark she couldn’t see through, and struggling to find resources to help her hold onto hope, she felt called to write a book of reflections, images and prayers, A Scent of Water, to help others going through the same journey. It is ‘For those days when finger-tip-hanging is by a single nail,’ writes Penelope. ‘When grief is all-consuming, raw, inconsolable. I offer this to you, whose heart is broken, whose heart has a hole the shape of a loved one who is no longer with you. May the Lord meet with you on and through this sob-wracked pathway, binding up the broken-hearted.’

This is a stunning book in every way. Soothing, gentle images accompany heartfelt words and poetic prayers. With months of devotionals, reflections and thoughts to dip into, and even thoughts and prayers for ‘special days’ – anniversaries, birthdays, Christmas, it will be a companion on a dark journey, a place to fall into when you are falling so hard you cannot see the bottom. It won’t make the grief stop, but it will give you a sense of recognition, of empathy, and it will remind you of hope when it seems there is no room for hope.

I’ve been through some grief of my own this year, and I’ve found the words of this book profound and gentle. It’s beautifully produced, so may make a thoughtful gift when you are struggling to know what to give. I have one signed copy to give away on the blog today – all you need to do is sign up to my mailing list here, or, if you’re already on it, leave a comment below, and you’ll be entered into a draw.

I wanted to ask Penelope a little about her experience, and more about the book…

First, tell us a little about yourself.

Thank you, Liz – I’m a Spiritual Director/Counsellor, a Chaplain at Bath Abbey, a writer; I’ve been ordained as a vicar for nearly 20 years. I’m also a wife, a mother to 3 and a grandmother to 6.

I love long-distance walking. 3 years ago, my husband and I backpacked 550 km from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic across France, rebuilding our marriage after a very difficult time. The story is told in my second book, ‘Walking Back to Happiness.’ Earlier this year, I did a solo pilgrimage – 2 weeks of The Pilgrims’ Way from Winchester Cathedral to Canterbury Cathedral. I love leading pilgrimages and retreats, helping others to enjoy walking with God.

Can you tell us a little about what led you to write A Scent of Water?

In 2010, my mother and I were involved in an accident when I saw her, aged 90 and still enjoying life and driving and living alone, swept away by an out-of-control car. As you can imagine, I was totally devastated and suffered dreadfully from PTSD. Unable to read anything, not even the Bible, I wanted a devotional daily reading based on Scripture, that spoke into my deep depression, something that was very short, approachable, and met me in my grief. My husband’s mental breakdown a couple of years later added to my depression. Out of those times of trauma and loss, I began to blog little daily devotionals for times of bereavement; people seemed to find them helpful and ‘Scent of Water’ came out of that.

Tell us more about the book and how you envisage it helping those going through a time of grief.

The book has various sections, including 26 weeks of brief verses, thoughts, prayers. They have different themes, so you can dip in and out. There are glorious photos taken by my friend Canon Debbie Dewes; meditations and poems; and a section for special days like the first Christmas, the first birthday. And it ends with one of my favourite quotes from another book about the end – you’ll have to read it to find out what that is!

People are using it in times of their own grief; but also, and perhaps mostly, giving it to friends or family who have lost a loved one. Sometimes it’s difficult to know what to say or how to help, and having a lovely gift book to give can be a way of showing sympathy or love.

Finally, do you have plans for your next book?

I’m writing my family/life story, but that’s really for the grandchildren to read one day – I think!

"I offer this to you, whose heart is broken, whose heart has a hole the shape of a loved one who is no longer with you. May the Lord meet with you on and through this sob-wracked pathway, binding up the broken-hearted."… Click To Tweet

Thank you so much for sharing, Penelope, and for writing this incredible book. I know it will be a consolation to many. Readers can buy the book here on Amazon, Eden, or Waterstones – or ask your local bookshop to order you a copy.

Penelope Swithinbank is an experienced pilgrimage/retreat leader, conference speaker and Spiritual Counsellor. She has had an international ministry, including churches in America and the UK, and her most special memory is of opening the US Senate in prayer and being guest chaplain for a day. Penelope is an avid walker and spends a lot of her time stomping in the hills and valleys near her home outside Bath. She is the author of three books, Women by Design and Walking Back to Happiness; her third, Scent of Water, a devotional for times of spiritual bewilderment and grief, has just been published. She is a wife, mother and grandmother and says of the 6 grandchildren that they are so wonderful she should have had them first.

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