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HALL OF FAMEon 25 November 2003
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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on 17 July 2007
"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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VINE VOICEon 15 August 2004
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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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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HALL OF FAMEon 24 February 2006
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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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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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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VINE VOICEon 26 November 2002
A fascinating, but so hard-hitting it's almost difficult to read, book. Written after his wife's death, it's quite short: I finished it in a couple of hours or so, maybe less.
In three parts, Lewis writes at different stages of his grief, each one some time after the previous one (the first is soon after his wife's death, from what I remember). It is engaging on so many levels: his overwhelming sadness and despair at the finality of death and the loss of his wife are clear and incredibly powerful. His thoughts on death, and how we should face it, are thought-provoking: and his self-analysis, as he looks at his own grief and reaction, are eye-opening.
This is a difficult book to read. I find it very difficult to know whether I would recommend it to someone bereaved or not; I would have to read it again before I could decide. But, perhaps apart from those actually bereaved, I would recommend it to everyone: it opens your eyes, briefly, to the reality of death and what it means.
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on 4 February 2006
'A GRIEF OBSERVED' is a look through a Christian perspective at loss, grief and recovery. One of the best written books, similar to another deep and emotional book along the same line 'SONG OF CY: UNDERSTANDING GRIEF' by Katlyn Stewart. If you are dealing with grief, and need answers, these books will offer that and much more.
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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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