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4.6 out of 5 stars
A Grief Observed (Faber Paperbacks)
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 13 October 2010
Someone close lost her husband to cancer last year. From the diagnosis to his death was slightly over one year. Confronting this reality, I read widely on suffering and then grief, in the hope that I would be able to walk side by side with her through this journey. Though not experiencing grief first hand, I hope I would be able to have some understanding of what she has been going through and what I can say to her or do will be informed and helpful.

Most of the books I have read on the subject of suffering and grief are highly analytical, more suitable for someone who is preparing for these life events as eventual possibilities in life rather than for those who are actually confronting and dealing with them.

A Grief Observed therefore is different in its nature. It was a journal recording Lewis's thoughts during his grieving period in his hope to make him feel better. Under normal circumstances, one would properly say that this book is not very well written because it is difficult to understand; it jumps and skips; it argues with itself. But this is not a normal circumstance, Rather it is a glimpse into a grieving widower's mind; and the confusion and muddle as conveyed by the book reflects that. Perhaps it is a world that does not make sense, hence the struggle to make sense of it. In a way, one can argue that Lewis set himself a difficult task - capturing in words what cannot be captured. How many can really speak of grief, let alone a man? Very often all that we can see of grief is tremendous sadness in silence especially after the initial shock and the initial angry outbursts.

What I like about this book in particular is the honesty in questioning God. And I find it comforting that we are allowed to wrestle with Him. Lewis said that his great fear was not to find that God did not exist but that He was not good. Doesn't it sound like all of us at some point? And Lewis's reasoning: "Your bid - for God or no God, for a good God or the Cosmic Sadist, for eternal life or nonentity - will not be serious if nothing much is staked on it. And you will never discover how serious it was until the stakes are raised horribly high...Nothing less 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 sense. Only tortures will bring out the truth. Only under torture does he discover it himself." (p.33)

Then Lewis moved on to ask if such extremities of torture should be necessary. "The more we believe that God hurts only to heal, the less we can believe that there is any use in begging for tenderness." (p.37) He drew parallels with a surgeon whose intentions were wholly good. "The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before the operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless." (p.38)

Apart from these big questions, Lewis was, I find, quite sensitive in offering how one could cope with grief. I like his way more than, say, Queen Victoria's. It is not about getting over it or preserving the past but moving forward without dishonouring your marriage so dear to you. His advice, I believe is sound: Don't seek aches for their own sake - the less of them the better, so long as the marriage is preserved. Passionate grief does not link us with the dead but cuts us off from them. (p.47) This can be achieved when we concur with Lewis's ground breaking perspective that:

"...then for both lovers, and for all pairs of lovers without exception, bereavement is a universal and integral part of our experience of love. It follows marriage as normally as marriage follows courtship or as autumn follows summer. It is not a truncation of the process but one of its phases; not the interruption of the dance, but the next figure." (p.43)

I think this is a beautiful description which holds a lot of wisdom. I do not know about you, but for me I have chosen to adopt it in preparation for that inevitable phase of my marriage one day.
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38 of 39 people found the following review helpful
"A Grief Observed" is just that, an observation by immersion, recorded in a journal by C.S. Lewis with the great courage it requires to open one's heart in complete vulnerability when in its most raw state. It begins with a listing of physical symptoms of grief - the sense of fear, or something much like fear, in the pit of the stomach, the yawning of an expanding void, the constant swallowing, as if trying to digest and wash away this immense emotion so difficult to process. From the physical, Lewis moves in closer and with more intimate observation on this thing called grief, struggling to cope and understand. Struggling to survive. Struggling to be transformed and healed.

To understand this particular struggle, one must understand the love Lewis has lost in the death of his wife. Theirs was a short but meaningful union, one begun as a friendship that only later, after the vows were taken, moved into a love known only by true partners. Rather than modern day reversals - in which lust is too often mistaken for love, and a friendship often does not enter the union at all, and so quickly crumbling without basis to build upon - this couple has the order right. Only true friends can blossom into love. Love grows from the intimacy of knowledge of another being, and this is what this couple has enjoyed, why the one left behind now knows such immense grief. Lewis's grief is deep and now resonates for the remainder of his own life as a constant companion where his wife once was.

Few can express in words so well what, in some variation, all of us feel. Lewis is a master with words. His bring healing - to himself, and to those of us who many years later are still graced with his words in our own struggles of loss.

"The act of living is different all through. Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything. But no, that is not quite accurate. There is one place where her absence comes locally home to me, and it is a place I can't avoid. I mean my own body. It had such a different importance while it was the body of H's lover. Now it's like an empty house."

Lewis talks of favorite places, visiting them again, but now without her, and finds his ache does not increase or diminish with place; he aches everywhere. His wife was like a lens through which all places, and all life, was processed for him. He talks of his loneliness, and yet simultaneously, his inability and often lack of desire, to communicate with others about his grief. And still, he says, he longs for the company and comfort of others. If only, he writes, they would go on about their own business and their own conversations around him without directly including him. Just be near him.

A large part of Lewis's struggle, as a man with a deep Christian faith, is his need to understand death and God's role in it. Indeed, much of this slim journal is about a man nearly losing his faith, or walking away from it, and then not only returning to it, but returning to a faith strengthened by its testing.

"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 seems - welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you feel? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside...

"Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him..."

Who of us have not asked such questions in times of suffering? Lewis articulates all our doubts, surely. During any kind of pain or loss, and not just in terms of death, it is human nature to cry out to God and shake a fist at the heavens, daring, wondering, questioning, demanding, even threatening, crying out for answers and response, often feeling like we get none. Lewis describes what answers he does find, what responses he eventually feels, once he is ready for it, over the coming days of his observed and processed grief.

Yet one can never return to what was. Rant and carry on as one must, but there is no return. The dead remain dead, the living, still living. "Did you ever know, dear, how much you took away with you when you left? You have stripped me even of my past, even of the things we never shared. I was wrong to say the stump was recovering from the pain of amputation. I was deceived because it has so many ways to hurt me that I discover them only one by one. Still, there are the two enormous gains... turned to God, my mind no longer meets that locked door; turned to H., it no longer meets that vacuum..."

Change is gradual, Lewis writes, and subtle in its progression and healing. One day, you notice you are coping better. Not quite sure when the transition happened, but it has. He is connected with both love and God in a new and changed way, faith restored, and he makes it clear that he will from now on be a man "with an amputated limb" where his wife once was, forever crippled by her loss, yet he has (re)new(ed) reason to live. In terms of his faith, he has come to realize that one cannot be a Christian in order to be reunited with one's loved ones after death, for faith does not work that way. Faith is about union with God, first and foremost. Have an ulterior motive of reunion with family, and the connection with God instantly crumbles. Yet through his grief, Lewis acknowledges another life lesson learned, and thus a new intimacy with God. And it is in reaching this new place of peace that he realizes, remembers, the peace he witnessed in his loved wife's eyes in dying. It is, in the end, his greatest act of love, then, to let her go, and to go on.
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187 of 195 people found the following review helpful
C.S. Lewis is perhaps best known for children's stories that also delight adults; however, during his lifetime he was best known as an inspirational speaker, not quite in the same line as modern televangelists, but nonetheless a crowd-pleaser who had subtle but strong theology to share.
C.S. Lewis was a confirmed bachelor (not that he was a 'confirmed bachelor', mind you, just that he had become set enough in his ways over time that he no longer held out the prospect of marriage or relationships). Then, into his comfortable existence, a special woman, Joy Davidson, arrived. They fell in love quickly, and had a brief marriage of only a few years, when Joy died of cancer.
This left Lewis inconsolable.
For his mother had also died of cancer, when he was very young.
Cancer, cancer, cancer!
Lewis goes through a dramatic period of grief, from which he never truly recovers (according to the essayist Chad Walsh, who writes a postscript to Lewis' book). He died a few years later, the same day as the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
However, Lewis takes the wonderful and dramatic step of writing down his grief to share with others. The fits and starts, the anger, the reconciliation, the pain--all is laid bare for the reader to experience. So high a cost for insight is what true spirituality requires. An awful, awe-ful cost and experience.
'Did you know, dear, how much you took away with you when you left? You have stripped me even of my past...'
All that was good paled in comparison to the loss. How can anything be good again? This is such an honest human feeling, that even the past is no longer what is was in relation to the new reality of being alone again.
In the end, Lewis reaches a bit of a reconciliation with his feelings, and with God.
'How wicked it would be, if we could, to call the dead back. She said not to me, but to the chaplain, "I am at peace with God." '
Lewis had a comfortable, routine life that was jolted by love, and then devasted by loss. Through all of this, he took pains to recount what he was going through, that it might not be lost, that it might benefit others, that there might be some small part of his love for Joy that would last forever.
I hope it shall.
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90 of 94 people found the following review helpful
When I brought this home, my mum took it to read first, intrigued and eager to know Lewis' insights. Not only is it something we (as grievers at any stage) can all read and say, 'Yes I know that feeling', but it can be passed around family members and become something to bond over. That sounds incredibly vague and sentimental, but it really does seem to have had that effect on my family, recently bereaved.
I don't think it should be reserved only for grieving people, however, just that the writings have more significance if you are in a similar mindset. The discussions about God and Heaven should not put you off because it is just those things which are debated and puzzled over. Lewis is in no way at all preaching personal or wider Christian beliefs.
The writing is honest - frequently he reflects on what he has just put down and disagrees with it, or rethinks it. Overall it is an affecting and very humane essay (I would call it that, not novel or anything). It is a slim volume and a quick read, but one to keep on the shelf always.
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87 of 91 people found the following review helpful
on 26 January 2001
Lewis orginally published "A Grief Observed" using a pseudonym because as the world's foremost Christian author, he feared his readers would label him a heretic. Quite the opposite!! Lewis comes across as a human being in this work-- not the master defender of the faith, and perhaps that in and of itself is a great defence of the faith. "A Grief Observed" is simply an honest man's struggle with his own faith. He shouts at God in the beginning stages of his grief but comes back to God in the end with a heart full of thanksgiving for the precious treasure he called his wife. Read this book, and you will cry. Read this book, and your faith will be strengthened. I give it my highest recommendation. Also recommended: "Castle of Wisdom," a Christian book by an obscure author called Rhett Ellis-- his writing is not as polished as Lewis's, but his book is utterly entertaining.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 17 July 2012
Having recently lost my lover I was recommended this book early on but my grief was still too raw for me to contemplate reading about someone else's loss. Several months on now I have bought and read the book and have re-read it three times back to back and am keeping it by my bed probably for weeks to come. It's honesty is powerful and brave. It is a real comfort to me to see my own pain described and my own consolations played back to me. This loss is the first real loss I have suffered of someone to whom I was very close and the path of grief was an unknown way. Reading this book has brought me the relief of recognising that my experience is shared by others, that the repetitive cycles while trying are perfectly normal, that sorrow is a process not a state, that it's OK to continue to love him and celebrate what we had, and that I am recovering. It is a book for people with faith. I recommend it highly and hope others will find it as helpful as I have.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
C.S. Lewis is perhaps best known for children's stories that also delight adults; however, during his lifetime he was best known as an inspirational speaker, not quite in the same line as modern televangelists, but nonetheless a crowd-pleaser who had subtle but strong theology to share.
C.S. Lewis was a confirmed bachelor (not that he was a 'confirmed bachelor', mind you, just that he had become set enough in his ways over time that he no longer held out the prospect of marriage or relationships). Then, into his comfortable existence, a special woman, Joy Davidson, arrived. They fell in love quickly, and had a brief marriage of only a few years, when Joy died of cancer.
This left Lewis inconsolable.
For his mother had also died of cancer, when he was very young.
Cancer, cancer, cancer!
Lewis goes through a dramatic period of grief, from which he never truly recovers (according to the essayist Chad Walsh, who writes a postscript to Lewis' book). He died a few years later, the same day as the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
However, Lewis takes the wonderful and dramatic step of writing down his grief to share with others. The fits and starts, the anger, the reconciliation, the pain--all is laid bare for the reader to experience. So high a cost for insight is what true spirituality requires. An awful, awe-ful cost and experience.
'Did you know, dear, how much you took away with you when you left? You have stripped me even of my past...'
All that was good paled in comparison to the loss. How can anything be good again? This is such an honest human feeling, that even the past is no longer what is was in relation to the new reality of being alone again.
In the end, Lewis reaches a bit of a reconciliation with his feelings, and with God.
'How wicked it would be, if we could, to call the dead back. She said not to me, but to the chaplain, "I am at peace with God." '
Lewis had a comfortable, routine life that was jolted by love, and then devasted by loss. Through all of this, he took pains to recount what he was going through, that it might not be lost, that it might benefit others, that there might be some small part of his love for Joy that would last forever.
I hope it shall.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
This is another amazing book by Lewis, and another that I have read multiple times. I have had to read it for at least three university courses over the last 18 years. This book is unlike anything else that Lewis ever wrote. It is raw, visceral and at times disturbing, unlike most of his other work that is very precise, specific, well argued and clearly laid out.

Recently I heard this story: `Douglas Gresham, C.S. Lewis's stepson recently released a book about Lewis called Jack's Life. It includes a DVD interview, where Gresham states that Lewis did not intend to publish A Grief Observed; it was a personal notebook. When it was published it was under the pseudonym NW Clark and by a publisher Lewis had never published with. Gresham also said that Lewis received numerous copies of the book as gifts from friends who thought it would help.' That speaks to the power in Lewis's writing; even his friends thought the book would be helpful for him as he journeyed through his grief.

Lewis states in his book The Four Loves: "We shall draw nearer to God, not by trying to avoid the sufferings inherent in all loves, but by accepting them and offering them to Him, throwing away all defensive armour. If our hearts need to be broken, and if He chooses this as the way in which they should break, so be it." That view is drastically changed when he writes Grief. In A Grief Observed we have a very different approach. Lewis presents a very visceral response to the loss of his wife. An example of this is that Lewis states at the beginning of the book: "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." This book shows us more of Lewis's own heart and life than almost anything else he wrote.

It is a great book for those dealing with loss - either for yourself or for someone you know and love. It is often used in grief counseling, and one of the courses I read it for was on the spirituality of death and dying. This book is a gem in the cannon of Lewis literature. It will not disappoint.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on 4 December 2000
The best book I have read (and that's from a voracious reader). It's a real-life diary of C S Lewis' feelings on the death of his wife, and as the book progresses you watch his opinions and emotions alter, and his pain gently alleviate. It's a side of Lewis that people who just read 'Narnia' will never know existed. Also shows his opinions on God and religion - he was strongly religious, but the book never forces it on you (I'm not religious). Fascinating for anyone interested in how people cope with extreme emotions (or just interested in people), and an amazing book altogether.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 26 March 2014
I was first signposted to this book nearly 18 years ago by a bereavement counsellor Maxine - who helped more than she knew or I ever told her!

At the time I really couldn't see my way out of almost stifling grief - but she gave me a copy of this book and suggested I read it - and pop a yellow sticky in the pages that most resonated with me.

A month or so on she suggested I re-read it and do the yellow sticky thing again - and already I could see I was moving on - if only through the stages of grief at that time. I hadn't believed it possible.

Several readings later - loads more yellow stickies - and months passed - and I finally understood what she'd been hoping for.

As hard as it seems - and as hard as it is to see - we do all move from where we started.

I found some of the book - especially the more religious bits hard going - and skipped over them - whilst appreciating even at the time that they might bring some comfort to others.

CS Lewis - wrote this book after the death of his love - portrayed in the film 'Shadowlands' - and despite being a rather restrained individual and theology boffin - went on to care for her son and from there we get the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe series - which made many kids like me really enjoy books.

I still have that original copy with all of the yellow stickies - and treasure it always as it tells my journey back to the land of the living far better than I could!

I've also bought copies for and passed on the yellow sticky advice on a very few appropriate occasions in the last 18 years. It has always helped.

A truly great book - inspirational and untold help.

If you ever find yourself in need of such a prop - well worth buying - and whilst the paper version and the yellow stickies - tried and tested - bookmarks or notes on kindle probably do the same thing.

I've just looked it out again on the recent death of a close friend's husband - and will be passing on a copy again.
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