Emily Parker spoke with Alain Emerson about the loss of his first wife, how to process grief, and why he wrote Luminous Dark.

Alain Emerson
Alain Emerson

Emily: Tell me about yourself.

Alain: I was born about half an hour from Belfast, in Northern Ireland and grew up in a town called Lurgan. I'm married to Rachel; we've got two little girls Annie, six and Erin, four and we're awaiting a third one any day now.

Emily: How exciting! Congratulations!

Alain: Thank you. I help lead a church in Lurgan called Emmanuel Church and I also help lead the 24/7 prayer movement here in Ireland.

Emily: Tell me how 'Luminous Dark' came about and why you decided to write this book.

Alain: It's a long story, but to try and keep it short, basically when I was 20, 21, I met a girl called Lindsay Anderson. She was 17, 18, and we started to go out and fell in love. We were very young, obviously. She was at university and I was just finishing university. We were trying to plot our lives together as we realised we wanted to spend them together.

In 2005 we got married. I was 25, she was 21. We were set, living a life of adventure. Faith was really important to us, but we didn't want some sort of normal just turning up on a Sunday church kind of faith. We wanted to live expectantly and adventurously, cos we felt that's what Jesus had showed us living for Him looked like. So we vowed we would be blown by the wind of the Spirit as it talks about in the Bible.

We started off our married life doing that: travelling a bit, getting involved in different mission, and charity organisations in different parts of the world particularly Africa. We'd both had quite a bit of our student life wrapped up in Africa. I'd lived in South Africa for a year and had also been back there and to Ghana and Uganda. Lindsay had lived in Burkina Faso for a summer and in South Africa for a summer. We were reaching a point in 2006, a year after we were married, where we really wanted to spend the summer in Africa together, which we did. We started to develop a link with a school there and came home from that with dreams of building a secondary school, because where we'd originally connected it was a primary school. So we came home with lots of dreams to do that.

After we came home though, quite quickly, literally days and weeks after we got home from that trip, in August 2006, Lindsay started to have severe headaches. When we got to the bottom of it, after about a month, it was a brain tumour. After a protracted time of sickness, brain surgery twice and then radiotherapy and chemotherapy over the course of the next seven to eight months, Lindsay got progressively worse and in April 2007 she died.

That just threw me. It was the deepest, darkest hole I could ever have imagined being in. Trying to process the grief and the pain of that is really where 'Luminous Dark' has come out of.

Emily: When you found out about Lindsay having this tumour, tell me about that day and what happened in your faith at that time.

Alain: It was obviously deeply traumatic. We'd thought that she'd just got a sore head and that tablets would hopefully sort that out, but it didn't. Then they sent us to the hospital to get a brain scan, just to check and we did that. When we were called into the room to meet one of the oncologists we were told that she had a growth and we realised that that was code for tumour.

It was all quite surreal, trying to take it in at that moment. Walking back through the hospital it felt like a whole part of our universe just opened up for me.

This was on a Monday and we were told to come straight back that evening, pack our bags and come straight back to the hospital, because there was going to be brain surgery on the Friday. I remember putting Lindsay into the car to drive her home, but not being able to get in for a moment. I phoned my father, who I have a very good relationship with, and was just weeping, as I was trying to come to terms with what was going on. In some ways I didn't have loads of time to think about my faith at that time. In some ways, you could argue, my faith strengthened at that point because I was just desperate for God to heal her. I think the real kind of challenge and deconstruction, if you like, of my faith, came when she died. During her sickness I was clinging on to God with everything that I had for her to be healed.