grief

A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis

The short book entitled “A Grief Observed” by C.S. Lewis relates how the author joined the human race when his wife and spirited poet, Joy Gresham, died of cancer. Lewis, the Oxford professor whose Christian apologetics make it seem like he’s got an answer for everything, experienced crushing doubt for the first time during her illness and after his wife’s tragic death. A Grief Observed contains meaningful reflections on that period: “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,” Lewis writes. “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 the book that inspired the film Shadowlands but it is more wrenching, more revelatory, and more real than the movie. It is a beautiful and unflinchingly honest record of how even a stalwart believer can lose all sense of meaning in the universe, and how he can gradually regain his bearings.

Although this book is non-fiction it is written like the author of so many famous books of fiction can write.  Yet, from a very personal standpoint, Lewis comes to grips with the reality of terminal illness.  It is always from the viewpoint of “this can’t be happening to me!”  He goes through stages of denial, first of the illness itself, and second of the untimely death of his wife.  Sharing his feelings with her son was very hard for Lewis.  Lewis and Joy’s son Douglas became very close.  The relationship started because he enjoyed reading Lewis’ classics.  Douglas truly admired and respected Lewis. Lewis was always the professor and statesman, and always had that stiff upper lip of the Englishman.  But when it came down to facing his feelings, Lewis was the first to really get in touch with them.  His wife, Joy, helped him get through the times of unknowing before she died.  Lewis and Douglas grew very fond of each other and mourned the loss of Joy together, arm in arm.

JoyJack

Joy was very warm and caring toward him during her therapy and temporary recovery.  She insisted on spending as much time with Lewis as possible.  They basically did everything together.  What is really touching about this story is what became of their marriage, and the reason why they married in the first place.

From the first meeting of Lewis, Joy Gresham, and her son Douglas, the beginning of their lasting friendship, through the courtship that took many years, A Grief Observed blends the two worlds or cultures of American values and those of the British.  The book brings you into the heart of Lewis like no other book he had written.  When you finish this book, your heart will be warmed and your mind will rest assured of the possibility of loving someone so deeply as to suffer more than the one who is sick.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is going through the illness of a loved one, especially if he or she has been diagnosed as terminal.

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