A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis
Harper, 112 pages
Written after his wife’s tragic death as a way of surviving the “mad midnight moment,” A Grief Observed is C.S. Lewis’s honest reflection on the fundamental issues of life, death, and faith in the midst of loss. This work contains his concise, genuine reflections on that period: “Nothing will shake a man — or at any rate a man like me — out of his merely verbal thinking and his merely notional beliefs. He has to be knocked silly before he comes to his senses. Only torture will bring out the truth. Only under torture does he discover it himself.” This is a beautiful and unflinchingly homest record of how even a stalwart believer can lose all sense of meaning in the universe, and how he can gradually regain his bearings.
Just yesterday, I was chatting with one of my best friends who is also my old household head in Youth for Christ (YFC). She was telling me about her latest Kindle purchase (if you’re curious, it’s Cassandra Clare’s Clockwork Angel). I told her about how I was reading A Grief Observed in my Kindle, and added that I wanted to buy other C.S. Lewis books there, too, because I realized that his books are a bit too expensive if I buy it here in full price, and I don’t really have the patience to dig for them in bargain bookstores. My friend laughed (as much as you can online, anyway) and she said she’s not ready for C.S. Lewis, at least not yet now. This is coming from my friend who would spend her spare time watching Hillsong United worship videos, mind you.
Today I realized that I’ve read so many Christian books but I’ve never really read any of C.S. Lewis. It’s not that I don’t have his books, too. I have Mere Christianity and the boxed set of The Chronicles of Narnia but I haven’t finished any of them. Strange? In a way, yes. But thinking about that and my conversation with my friend yesterday, I think it may not be that strange, because I realize that I may have not been ready to read C.S. Lewis’ books back when I first got them.
Truth be told, I wouldn’t have gotten A Grief Observed if it wasn’t one of the books for discussion in our Goodreads group. It’s been a long time since I actually cracked open a non-fiction book, and whenever I do, I never finish them. Another reason why I would not have gotten this by myself is because I can’t relate to grief, at least, not yet.
I am a stranger to grief. Sure, I know some people who have passed away and I have shed tears for them, but I have never really felt the same kind of grief that I know other people have felt. The last closest relative I know who passed away was my maternal grandmother, and that’s ten years ago, and all the other deaths I’ve heard about is not close enough to me for me to actually grieve the way other people do.
But I’m not taking this one lightly. I still feel afraid, because I know that as I grow older, the closer I am and everyone I know and love and care for is to death. It’s a fact of life. And then I remember: it’s not a matter of growing older. Everyone is close to death, myself included. No one can escape it, and the only question we can ask (and will probably never get the answer until we are right there at that moment) is When?
A Grief Observed doesn’t have an answer to any of what I said, unfortunately. I knew C.S. Lewis was a great writer, but this book is not like any book I’ve read before. I can’t empathize because like I said, I haven’t lost anyone very close to me to death just yet (and I’m very grateful for that of course), so I read this as if I was a spectator. It almost feels like I was intruding into something very private, as if I wasn’t supposed to be reading them. These are the thoughts of a man who has lost the love of his life to something he can’t fight. These are the ramblings of a man who has a solid foundation for his faith yet he couldn’t find foothold now that he experienced this big blow. This is a man who is grieving, period.
I don’t think anyone can ever explain how it is to grieve. I believe, like falling in love (yes, I have to connect it to that), everyone has their own process of grieving. Crying, writing, hiding yourself — what works for you. Like death, no one is exempt from grief, but I think we do have a choice on what to believe while we grieve. Do we believe that the other person is already in a better place? Do we believe that he/she is at peace? Do we believe that God has them? Do we believe that death actually exists? What would you believe in?
I’ve written so much, but I think this is one of the hardest reviews I’ve ever written. There’s so much in A Grief Observed that can be said, that can be quoted, that can be criticized, even, but not so much words to write on what it is really about. It’s unlike any other non-fiction book I read, and maybe this is because it’s raw, and it really comes from the author’s heart. This is probably the first book that I couldn’t really relate to, yet I also could at the same time. Perhaps C.S. Lewis wasn’t just grieving about his wife, but maybe he is also grieving about his faith, and his primitive notions of how he sees God and His love? I’m just speculating. But if that is right, then I also grieve with him for the same reasons.
Kuya Doni is right: this book is heartwrenching. I’m glad I read it.
2010 Challenge Status:
* Book # 77 out of 100 for 2010
My copy: Kindle version from Amazon Kindle store
Cover & Blurb: Goodreads