Written with love, humility, and faith, this brief but poignant volume was first published in 1961 and concerns the death of C. S. Lewis’s wife, the American-born poet Joy Davidman. In her introduction to this new edition, Madeleine L’Engle writes: “I am grateful to Lewis for having the courage to yell, to doubt, to kick at God in angry violence. This is a part of a healthy grief which is not often encouraged. It is helpful indeed that C. S. Lewis, who has been such a successful apologist for Christianity, should have the courage to admit doubt about what he has so superbly proclaimed. It gives us permission to admit our own doubts, our own angers and anguishes, and to know that they are part of the soul’s growth.”
Written in longhand in notebooks that Lewis found in his home, A Grief Observed probes the “mad midnight moments” of Lewis’s mourning and loss, moments in which he questioned what he had previously believed about life and death, marriage, and even God. Indecision and self-pity assailed Lewis. “We are under the harrow and can’t escape,” he writes. “I know that the thing I want is exactly the thing I can never get. The old life, the jokes, the drinks, the arguments, the lovemaking, the tiny, heartbreaking commonplace.” Writing A Grief Observed as “a defense against total collapse, a safety valve,” he came to recognize that “bereavement is a universal and integral part of our experience of love.”
Lewis writes his statement of faith with precision, humor, and grace. Yet neither is Lewis reluctant to confess his continuing doubts and his awareness of his own human frailty. This is precisely the quality which suggests that A Grief Observed may become “among the great devotional books of our age.”
This is not a book I would have picked up prior to losing my mum and father-in-law over a year ago. I have read C.S Lewis’ Narnia series, however, would not have expected to read this one. ‘A Grief Observed’ follows C.S. Lewis’ heartbreak and the process of grief. It is intelligently written and the way in which he words his experiences felt like a blanket; a blanket that I could snuggle up under and feel comfort in knowing I am not alone. His experiences of grief and questions are what I have asked. He is a man of faith and although he asks questions as to why, he does not question God’s presence.
In my grief, I found God…. or God helped me to find him! My heartbreak and sorrow, along with my family and friends’ heartbreak and sorrow was overwhelming and suffocating. The feelings that C.S Lewis journals about are real and I can unfortunately relate to them. C.S Lewis states that grief ‘feels like fear’. He comments that grief ‘feels like an invisible blanket, between the world and me.’ This small book is a powerful read that is not what I expected. It is honest and is a journal of his feelings at the loss of his wife. An intelligent and spiritual man who is dealing with loss and although we expect death, we are never prepared for it to enter our world in such a way when we lose someone close to us.
C.S. Lewis’ journal travels through his thought process and feelings, questioning God, others and life itself. He comes to a realisation, that he ‘can’t see anything properly while your eyes are blurred with tears.’ He confirms the need to feel what we feel and to express it. His comment on what we miss if we grieve day and night. He discovered that ‘passionate grief does not link us with the dead, but cuts us off from them.’ He refers to the time when he has felt her presence in his happiness. ‘Tje less I mourn her the nearer I seem to her.’ I have experienced this. The times when my heart aches so much for my mum that I feel it so strongly and I have to remind myself to breathe, I don’t have those moments that make me realise my mum is closer than I realise… I have had moments that are unexplained. I have smelt her perfume at home when I was going about my day. I smelt it again when I was in church listening to a sermon that touched my heart. I have had a dream that felt so real, that I felt I was touching my mum’s hand. There are more of these moments I have not shared here…In my heart I feel that my mum is visiting from Heaven.
C.S. Lewis describes sorrow as a process. ‘It needs not a map but a history…’ ‘Grief is a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape. As I’ve already noted, not every bend does… ‘
This book is one which when I read it, I highlighted what spoke to me. My hope when I picked up this book was that it would give me a quick fix to my pain. It didn’t. Instead it has given me comfort, hope and a confirmation of what I had already known. As I re-read parts of it, I realise the power of this book. It is a poetic, tragic, emotional and hopeful journey into C.S. Lewis’ heart. Faith is his answer.
My beautiful mum