A Grief Observed (1961) by CS Lewis: An honest meditation on mourning

The Belfast-born writer is bravely open about being overwhelmed by his wife’s death

CS Lewis

CS Lewis

 

CS Lewis was an academic, writer and Christian apologist, best known now for his children’s book series The Chronicles of Narnia. The film Shadowlands (1993), about his relationship with the American poet Joy Davidman Gresham, whom he lost to cancer after four years of an intensely happy marriage, led me to A Grief Observed, his searingly honest, searching meditation on the anguish caused by that loss.

Comprising four chapters, the book recounts Lewis’s progression through the stages of grief as he struggles to come to terms with his wife’s death. Each chapter explores a new phase of mourning as he openly and honestly sets out his deeply personal feelings that involve shock, anger, despair and ultimately acceptance.

Initially, he is shocked at how much his grief overwhelms him, forming an “invisible blanket between the world and me”, and he is remarkably forthcoming about how isolated he feels and how difficult he finds it to talk about his loss with family, friends and acquaintances.

One aspect I found very striking was how his hitherto strong faith was tested. At first he felt as if a door had been slammed in his face, when he turned to God. This leads him to ponder deeply on the nature of faith. “You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it?”

Ultimately, though, his faith does not desert him. “Bereavement is not the truncation of married love but one of its regular phases – like the honeymoon. What we want is to live our marriage well and faithfully through that phase too.”

He closes his journal of grief with an affirmation of love for his wife, and hers for him, and places that love in the context of God’s love.

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