November 25, 2007

A Grief Observed

A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis
Nonfiction - Christian Inspiration
Finished 11/20/07
Rating: 2.5/5 (Fair)

Publisher's Blurb:

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.


  1. I saw Shadowlands quite a few years ago but seem to remember it being quite good. I've only ever read Lewis' Narnia books. Maybe someday I'll try one of his Christian NF ones. Hope you had a nice Thanksgiving.

  2. Shadowlands is a real tear-jerker. I saw it at the cinema and everyone was sitting there sniffing into hankies or crying at the end. Anthony Hopkins was superb.

  3. My favorite Lewis is Til We Have Faces, a retelling of the Cupid and Pysche myth. It was just lovely.

    Thanks for another great review, Les! Beautiful quotes you pulled.

  4. Those are excellent passages you quoted. I think that as with Tolkien, I like the man more than his writings. There is a great book you may recall me mentioning called The Inklings by Humphrey Carpenter all about these fellows.

  5. Anonymous7:23 PM

    Dear Lesley;

    "Shadowlands" is one of my favorite movies. Any time it comes on my movie channels I rewatch it. I loved how flustered C.S. Lewis becomes with the idea of loving a woman so late in his life. Also, how controlled he tries to be about it all. I loved Joy too for her spirit.

    Thanks for both reviews.

    I continue to love your blogging.


  6. I love CS lewis and adored Shadowlands. There is also a non fiction book about him that (I think) was written by a relative that was quite interesting- I NEVER remember the titles to things! My Bad!

  7. Anonymous12:11 PM

    Shadowlands is wonderful! But do keep some Kleenex nearby.
    I know I read this book soon after my dad passed away and I vaguely remember that I did find some comfort with it. Unfortunately a lot of that time just feels like it was a deep fog and I can't remember much from then.

  8. Nat - We had a lovely Thanksgiving. Great food, conversation and the acquisition of our new dog! Glad to hear Shadowlands is a winner.

    Booksplease - I love Anthony Hopkins and meant to see this when it first came out on DVD. Now that I've read the book, I'm even more anxious. Thanks for stopping by!

    Andi - I'll have to look for the Lewis book you mention. I've not seen it before. Glad you enjoyed the review and quotes. Sometimes I feel as if I fill this blog with too many sad quotes...

    Nan - Thank you, my dear. I should look for the Carpenter book. I know Rod would enjoy it, too.

    Gayla - OK, I'm moving the film to the top spot in my Netflix queue. Too many positive remarks about it here to let it wait any longer! Thank you, Gayla. You're so sweet.

  9. Patricia - I wonder if it's Jack's Life: The Life Story C. S. Lewis by Douglas Gresham. Looks like a good book!

  10. Iliana - I'd like to think that that fog is the brain's way of protecting us from the terrible emotional pain associated with the loss of a loved one. We need to be numb in those first few months, simply in order to function at any level. I'm so sorry about your dad.


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