Reading my way through Popsugar’s 2016 Book Challenge.
Category: A book you can finish in a day
A Grief Observed—C.S. Lewis
Favorite Line: “Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything.”
“We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn,’ and I accept it. I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination.”
C.S. Lewis is arguably the most quotable author ever. His books are full of one-liners that pierce your heart and make you feel like he wrote it just for you. This is the same for his book A Grief Observed.
Lewis wrote A Grief Observed after the death of his wife Joy Davidman. It contains reflections of his grief and mourning in a time when he was most vulnerable. He shares his innermost thoughts and feelings in a deeply emotional internal dialogue as he tries to work his way through this tragedy.
If you are familiar with Lewis’ work you know that most of it, if not all, is deeply spiritual and theological. He is one of the most famous theologians in modern time and continues to be a staple teacher on spirituality. He was also, however, human, and while he had faith stronger than most, he reflected on how shaken his faith was when his wife passed—showing that even the strongest can, and most likely will, lose their steadfast beliefs at times. And yet, his logic proves greater than his fear and his always comes back with a faith stronger than the paragraph before.
“If my house has collapsed at one blow, that is because it was a house of cards. The faith which ‘took these things into account’ was not faith but imagination.”
Lewis brings a beautiful human aspect into the character of grief. He describes it so accurately for those of us who can’t put it into words, so that when we read it we are able to cry aloud, “yes, yes, that is it! That is what my heart has been screaming all this time.”
Typically if someone were to ask me if they should read a C.S. Lewis book, I would always say yes, anytime and at any stage of life. With this one, however, I hesitate to say yes to everyone. This is not meant to be a reflection on the author or the quality of the work, because I give both the highest ranking I can, but I fear if you read this at the wrong time of life you will not get as much as you can out of it.
I read this book 5 years (almost to the day) after my father passed away from cancer. And yes, after 5 years I am still grieving. This book spoke to my soul. Everything I read I felt like I had written it and not Lewis. It spoke to me emotionally, physically, mentally, and, most importantly, spiritually. He describes perfectly what it’s like in the lonely days following a death, to the days when you need to get back to your ordinary life, even though that ordinary life is changed forever. He spoke of the difficulty of doing normal things, like eating at a restaurant you both went to, seeing friends, and having to make dreaded small talk.
“I see people, as they approach me, trying to make up their minds whether they’ll ‘say something about it’ or not. I hate if they do, and if they don’t.”
If you have lost someone close to you, even if it’s not losing him or her to death but in another form, you should read this book. This book was written by the grieving for the grieving, and the grieving will benefit the most from it. If you are not, you will still benefit from it, I’m sure, it’s beautiful and deep and it will leave you with something, but I fear you will leave a lot in the book that should be taken with you.
It is really beautiful and reassuring to see Lewis work through this grief and work through his times of anger toward God. He doesn’t end with a solution to how to deal with grief, for a solution does not exist, nor does he resolve that one must embrace the grief and accept it as a reality.
“I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow. Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process.”
Grief is a process, and that process can only become complete when one finds peace. Peace with the tragedy, peace with humanity, peace with the process, and peace with God. Peace does not come when you find all the answers, or go through all the steps, or because memory fades with the years. No, peace comes when you accept that there are things in the world that we can never comprehend, when we accept that we are but a small piece of a glorious puzzle and we cannot yet see the final result of our labor.
“When I lay these questions before God I get no answer. But a rather special sort of ‘No answer.’ It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate, gaze. As though He shook His head not in refusal but waiving the question. Like, ‘Peace, child; you don’t understand.’”
If you have lost someone in your life, I highly encourage you to read this book. It helped bring me peace with the passing of my father, and I am assured it will help anyone else who is suffering. In less than 100 pages, Lewis reminds us that grieving is ok. He reassures us that all the guilt, anger, sadness, and fear we are feeling are all apart of the process and they are O.K. We do not need to fell ashamed of this process because it is natural and necessary, but we do need to allow the process to continue and not permit the grief to become a state of our lives.
C.S. Lewis was born in Northern Ireland in 1898. He studied at Oxford University and later became the Chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University. He wrote dozens of books and essays which have all withstood the test of time. He is known best for his 7 book series, The Chronicles of Narnia.