My Mum was recommended A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis when my Grandad passed away seven years ago, but never got around to buying a copy. She remembered the recommendation after our recent loss of a good friend, and so bought the book. Hoping it might help, I borrowed it, and it's a great little book.
After the death of his wife, Joy Davidson, C.S. Lewis wrote a journal of his thoughts and feelings; his sadness, his love for his wife, his issues with God during that period, and how he slowly finds his way through the agony and despair of bereavement.
As I said, I originally picked up A Grief Observed hoping it would help me with my own grief, and in a small way it did, in that I identified with some of what thought and felt. But what I didn't expect was just how much I was bowled over by Lewis' love for his wife, rather than his grief over her passing; through his grief, his love for his wife is so evident, it's startlingly beautiful despite the sadness. I would strongly recommend people pick A Grief Observed up if only for this alone - I love a good epic love story in my fiction, but nothing really comes close to how amazing it is to read a person's true, real feelings written down so honestly. It's raw, and it's real, and it's wonderful.
You can tell as you're reading that this wasn't written with the intention for it to be published. Whatever he thought about getting the book published after he was finished with it and past his grief, it doesn't say, but as he was writing, it was very much just for him, and feels so personal. There would be moments were he is talking about a particular idea, a notion of God as the "Cosmic Sadist", and the very next paragraph he'll say he wrote the previous the night before when he was in a rage, and he didn't actually mean it. Because of this, you're very much aware that he's writing as a release; a way to express everything he's thinking and feeling and just get it all out. Unlike a memoir, where the author talks about the past from the present, A Grief Observed is very much in the moment of Lewis' grief. So personal. I felt like I was intruding, yet at the same time so privileged to be getting such an insight into the mind of someone so great in a very private and personal time.
Lewis was devoutly religious, and so his views of God and his faith in the wake of his wife's death are greatly discussed. As an atheist, this wasn't very helpful for me personally, but I found it reassuring on behalf of my Mum, who is religious. Lewis talks about how he doesn't doubt that God exists because his wife has died, but rages about how he feels like he's been deserted by God when he needs him most:
"Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be - or so it feels - welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence." (p7)He has all these questions about God and his faith as he grieves, questions I can imagine my Mum asking herself, and what is so wonderful is that as Lewis slowly makes his way through, he discovers reasons that make perfect sense as to why God wasn't there. He comes through, his doubts disappear, and his faith and love for God is as strong as ever. I believe this being immensely comforting to the religious when they feel their belief wavering in times of grief, so they feel less lost, less deserted, and that they'll find God's presence again once they work their way through the sharpest pain of grief. To know that this book could possibly help my Mum feel less lost makes me so very grateful.
I was also amazed at the sheer clarity Lewis has despite being so hung up on his grief. He used the most brilliant metaphors to describe his pain, or his thoughts about God and his faith. I especially liked the one where he describes grief being like a person losing a leg; the amputee will heal, but he will still have lost a leg, and will have to learn a new way of living without his leg, learn to use a wooden leg, and may still feel aches and pains in his stump. Or the one about believing his faith is like the sturdiest of buildings, but not realising until his faith is tested that it's actually just a house of cards that is easily knocked down. A Grief Observed is full of clever metaphors such as these to get across exactly what he is thinking and feeling, and it's amazing that he is about to put such thoughts and feelings into these ideas when his heart is so heavy.
In all, a fantastic little book, one I would highly recommend as an powerful, personal insight into one of our great authors, but also to help those who are religious through the doubts that come with grief.
Published: 19th July 1966
Publisher: Faber and Faber
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C.S. Lewis' Website