A Grief Observed
By: C.S. Lewis
Review By: Cliff Watkins
Most know author Clive Staples Lewis for his Chronicles of Narnia series that has had great success on the big screen after being converted to a motion picture. Lewis has written more than 30 books including Screwtape Letters and Mere Christianity, but amongst such great works, it is hard to believe that a man as accomplished and intelligent as Lewis would struggle with grief. One would definitely not expect the author of Mere Christianity, which has encouraged many in the faith —and even aided in the conversion of some —to falter in his faith or struggle with doubt. However, Lewis’ brutally honest reflection on the death of his wife, Joy Gresham, exposes readers to the fact that man is vulnerable and fragile when attempting to understand the goodness of God in the midst of extreme pain.
Lewis’ four-part reflection brings readers face to face with the cruel reality of the damage that sin has done to our world. His writing demonstrates utter despair as a result of acknowledging that death is a natural and unavoidable destiny for all. He writes expressing the sentiment that his wife was so beautiful and beloved that her death, though natural, was undeserved. Lewis compares the feeling of grief to fear stating that it gives him the same restlessness, yawning and fluttering of the stomach. It is not hard for the reader to recognize that Lewis feels that damage has been done to his world. He writes, “At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, to want to take it in. It is so unentertaining.”
In the midst of such detachment from the world around him, Lewis makes it clear that he is still very attached to God. “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. The conclusion I dread is not ’So there is no God after all,’ but, ‘So this is what God is really like after all.’” Revealing statements like this permeate this book as C.S. Lewis doesn’t leave his love for God behind nor his incredible intellect, but allows himself to step away from pretense and wrestle with the issue at hand; his present grief and lack of understanding.
Throughout his discourse, Lewis never denies the fact that God exists, contrarily, he refuses to settle for the easy answer provided by those around him concerning acceptable display of his grief. “What grounds has it given me to doubt all that I believe? I knew already that these things, and worse happen daily. We were even told ’blessed are those that mourn,’ and I accepted it. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, and not to others, and in reality, not in imagination.” Lewis’ writings show similarity to Job in that he seems to recognize that God’s will can include acts which are meant to humble those who believe.
While Lewis paints a vivid picture of why he loved his wife Joy, throughout his reflection she remains a faint figure in the background while the author focuses on grief itself. A Grief Observed leaves readers with a real sense of the frailty of the human experience. This writing serves as a meaningful reminder of the cycle of life in that it demonstrates that while lives will naturally end, life as well as love goes on. Conversations between Lewis and his wife were intimate displays of unity and dependence, but also convey that both of them understood that they would not be permitted to live in wedded bliss forever. Ultimately, this writing was a reflection on love and the grief that must be endured when a loved one passes away. It is also an observation of the perseverance of God’s love through turmoil and an illustration of how Lewis as a man overcame his grief with understanding that while his wife’s life ended, his relationship with God would not be damaged and could in fact, be strengthened.
The book of James warns us that our faith will be tested. In this wonderful work Lewis allows us to walk with him through the testing of his. He writes, “You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life or 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?” In the end, Lewis learned to trust in God’s love and share his story of love and grief with others who may benefit from his experience.