November 25, 2007
A Grief Observed
A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis
Nonfiction - Christian Inspiration
Rating: 2.5/5 (Fair)
In April 1956, C.S. Lewis, a confirmed bachelor, married Joy Davidman, an American poet with two small children. After four brief, intensely happy years, Lewis found himself alone again, and inconsolable. To defend himself against the loss of belief in God, Lewis wrote this journal, an eloquent statement of rediscovered faith. In it he freely confesses his doubts, his rage, and his awareness of human frailty. In it he finds again the way back to life.
I've only read one work by C. S. Lewis (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) and that was many, many years ago. As previously mentioned, I bought this book for my daughter, but decided against sending it to her and wound up reading it myself. One could easily read this slim book in one sitting, but I took my time, reading it in bits and pieces over the course of an entire month. I have a dozen pages marked with sticky notes, yet looking back on the book as a whole, I really didn't care too much for Lewis' impenetrably obtuse ramblings. I found myself re-reading paragraphs, shaking my head in confusion, trying to decipher the meaning behind his words. Having said that, there are several passages about grief that resonated with me.
No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.
At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.
An odd byproduct of my loss is that I'm aware of being an embarrassment to everyone I meet. At work, at the club, in the street, I see people, as they approach me, trying to make up their minds whether they'll 'say something about it' or not. I hate it if they do, and if they don't.
And grief still feels like fear. Perhaps, more strictly, like suspense. Or like waiting; just hanging about waiting for something to happen. It gives life a permanently provisional feeling.
Getting over it so soon? But the words are ambiguous. To say the patient is getting over it after an operation for appendicitis is one thing; after he's had his leg off it is quite another. After that operation either the wounded stump heals or the man dies. If it heals, the fierce, continuous pain will stop. Presently he'll get back his strength and be able to stump about on his wooden leg. He has 'got over it.' But he will probably have recurrent pains in the stump all his life, and perhaps pretty bad ones; and he will always be a one-legged man. There will be hardly any moment when he forgets it. Bathing, dressing, sitting down and getting up again, even lying in bed, will all be different. His whole way life will be changed. All sorts of pleasures and activities that he once took for granted will have to be simply written off. Duties too. At present I am learning to get about on crutches. Perhaps I shall presently be given a wooden leg. But I shall never be a biped again.
Still, there's no denying that in some sense I 'feel better,' and with that comes at once a sort of shame, and a feeling that one is under a sort of obligation to cherish and foment and prolong one's unhappiness.
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 like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape. As I've already noted, not every bend does. Sometimes the surprise is the opposite one; you are presented with exactly the same sort of country you thought you had left behind miles ago. That is when you wonder whether the valley isn't a circular trench. But it isn't. There are partial recurrences, but the sequence doesn't repeat.
It's quite obvious why this little book is so popular with those experiencing the loss of a loved one. Many of these quotes remind me of my own feelings during my initial months of grief. Maybe I would've have given the book a higher rating had I read it, say two years ago, rather than almost two-and-half years after my own loss. In any event, I'm glad to have finally read something else by C. S. Lewis and am now interested in renting Shadowlands (starring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger), the dramatized account of the Lewis and Gresham [nee Davidman] romance.