Sunday Book Review – A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis

 

Welcome to my Sunday Book Review. Through my journey of grief and reading several books on the subject of grieving, several times I came across quotes from C.S. Lewis’ book on grief mentioned in other books- A Grief Observed, which he wrote after losing his beloved wife. I came across Lewis’ reflections on bereavement in some other books I’d read, which had me scurrying off to Amazon to read yet another book on grief. But I didn’t feel this was just ‘another book on grief’, but a telling, a rant, a questioning, and a feeling of familiarity. I also felt this book different because it wasn’t written after the healing began, rather, in the rawness of grief as he questioned death and what, if anything, comes after.

 

Clive Staples Lewis was one of the intellectual giants of the twentieth century and arguably one of the most influential writers of his day.

 

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” – C.S. Lewis

 

 

 

 

Blurb:

A Grief Observed is Lewis’ brutally honest reflection on the death of his wife, Joy Gresham, which 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.

 

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.

 

Written after his wife’s tragic death as a way of surviving the “mad midnight moments”, 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 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.

 

 

My 5 Star Review:

I’ve read many books on grief through my own journey of darkness after losing the love of my own life, and what I will say about this book is that it’s raw and in the moment while the writer suffers the pangs of grief for the giant loss in his life while in the depths of his grief, sharing his thoughts and cynicism on the topic of death during the grieving process through his anger at god. Lewis questions all we know of death and what happens after, asking, what do we know really about the end of life and if there really is anything more after. Lewis helps put in words what many of us grievers wonder of the same. The author doesn’t offer the hope, but shares his path to coping as he questions god and religion and what exactly the ‘afterlife’ is all about and if it exists.

 

Lewis is a broken and confused man struggling to accept the death of his wife, writer Joy Gresham, he affectionately refers to as H., (her given name, Helen). These are the writings of a man suffering grief after losing the true love of his life – his ‘other half’. His writings are like a search for answers, a questioning of self, love and god.

 

Lewis talks about some people as ‘idiots’ in one of his rants – people who don’t have the faintest idea about some of the platitudes that automatically spill from their mouths as condolence: “It was God’s plan,” “She’s in a better place now.” Empty platitudes he calls them from people who have no conception behind those words. This statement seems to be the general concensus from those of us who’ve loved and lost.

 

Often people don’t know what to say. They don’t want us to hurt so they say words like, “It will get better, time to move on, or even worse, pretending to know the actual weight of grief when they’ve never walked the walk,” Lewis touches on this, the deep-seated root of pain of loss as he laments in his grief.

 

I’d recommend this book for anyone grieving and searching their soul.

 

 

Memorable quotes from Lewis on grief: ― C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

 

“Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything.”

 

“Tonight all the hells of young grief have opened again; the mad words, the bitter resentment, the fluttering in the stomach, the nightmare unreality, the wallowed-in tears. For in grief nothing ‘stays put.’ One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats. Am I going in circles, or dare I hope I am on a spiral?”

 

“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.”

 

©DGKaye2021

 

42 thoughts on “Sunday Book Review – A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis

  1. Thanks for your review Debby… There is a Hallmark card for every human event including bereavement and they tend to be filled with platitudes. The truth is that people are at a loss what to say to someone who is in terrible pain so fall back on set phrases however well-meaning they are. Emotionally, mentally and physcially you are on fire and there is no way to extinguish that. Like all fires that have a constant supply of fuel such as memories, it doesn’t die down completely for a very long time. And even then the embers are prone to reigniting as special anniversaries act as a reminder.

    C.S. Lewis voiced what so many millions have felt but were unable to articulate and this book clearly is a must read for those who are going through this most tragic of losses. Well done on the review when you are in the midst of your own grief.

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    1. Sally, oh yes indeed did your comment reignited my embers once again. That’s exactly how it works – even a kind word can set off the waterworks. And you are so bang on with ‘Hallmark’ cards. So many are just cliches of which most are familiar with. It is an uncomfortable time as many don’t know how to be or what to say to one who is grieving so they either prefer to dodge us, or say something encouraging from one of the ‘platitudes’. As one who is still very overwhelmed with grief, I can say, that the people who call me or visit are all good friends who – just act like a friend, there to listen, there to bring some normalcy, be company, just be a friend. The conversation should flow naturally. Nobody needs forced platitudes. ❤ xox

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  2. I remember reading C. S. Lewis’ book, a classic book on the raw elements of grief. One of the quotes you mentioned remains in my memory too: “Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything.” I echo Sally’s observation, “Well done on the review when you are in the midst of your own grief.” Hugs, my friend!

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  3. I think this would be a hard book for me to read, Debby, without being drawn back into the darkest corners of overwhelming grief. I completely understand what Lewis said about platitudes. I got so sick of hearing people say what they thought they should when I wanted to hear nothing at all. I even started going out of town to buy groceries so I wouldn’t have to be accosted in the one grocery store in our small town. There was nothing anyone could say or do to lessen the hole in my heart. I’m glad you found some good in this book. Sometimes it helps just to know you are not on the journey alone. Hugs!

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    1. I totally hear all you said Jan. I too have found my circle much smaller. It happens. They say surviving the loss of a loved one changes one. I can attest to that. My curiosities keep me reading as I am still in the ‘spring’ of this new path. I look forward to the time when I no longer wish to read these books. ❤

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  4. One of our most famous Christian writers and academics and yet his faith was greatly tested when faced with the reality of death. In truth if you asked most praticing Christians and clergy what they really believed could they come up with a comforting answer? Christian theology is not understood by most folk and no doubt far from the simple teachings of Christ. I’m impressd Debby with your wide reading on death and reviewing for us. I’ve always been interested in what really is going on and after teenage years spent in an evangelical youth group I soon grew out of that. I can’t believe that one religion is Right, perhaps all are. I like to think that what lies beyond is beyond our human understanding. My late husband was not at all spiritual, but he was totally accepting and not afraid, so perhaps he knew something I didn’t!
    I heard an intelligent chap on the radio say he was a physicalist; death is hard for those left behind, but not for the dead person as they do not exist any more. If there is nothing then there is nothing to be scared of…
    There is so much energy in the universe I can’t believe he is right!

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    1. Thanks for sharing some of your fascinating insights here Janet. And oddly enough, Lewis had abandoned Atheism for Christianity. I agree, what lies beyond is almost beyond comprehension, and perhaps that’s what fascinates so many of us. My husband too was not spiritual, but a kind soul who always put his faith in my words when it came to talking anything spiritual. Hugs xx

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  5. That was a fantastic review, Debby, and it sounds like a very raw and heart-breaking book. I just want to say that you don’t need to to take any notice of peope telling you how you should be feeling. You have every right to your own thoughts and feelings, and they are what you should be listening to above all else. Loving hugs, Toni x

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  6. I did not know about this particular book, Debby, but CS Lewis is a very compelling writer. The Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce both demonstrate his intelligence and questioning mind about all things religious.

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    1. Hi Robbie. Yes, I wanted to read the perspective of a famous writer who’d loved and lost decades ago. But grief is timeless. And funny, I have those two books by Lewis on my TBR list. ❤

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    1. It is for many Jim, but I have been blessed with the friends in my circles who lend ears and know instinctively what to say and what not to. I think it’s harder for acquaintances to know what to do, and don’t even get me started with ‘family’.

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  7. Jeez, Debby. Just reading those quotes made me cry. The pain resonates. I remember those feelings, and clearly they linger. Surviving loss is so devastating. Thanks for sharing this book and your review. I hadn’t heard of it before, but it sounds powerful. Hugs.

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  8. What a wise way to get over grief, even though momentarily! Thanks for sharing your candid review of Lewis’ book Deb. “Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything.”… What an apt description! Can we ever escape sky? Till today, I don’t know what to say to a person in deep grief but I do feel whatever we say sounds hollow… no words can ever be enough in such a situation. Big hugs dear friend. We just have to learn to live after losing an indispensable part of life.

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  9. A wonderful review, Debby. I love the quotes and how shallow it is when people say such phrases as “she’s in a better place” or “it was God’s plan.” These do nothing to comfort. I love your response to Sally: just act like a friend, there to listen, there to bring some normalcy, be company, just be a friend. The conversation should flow naturally. Nobody needs forced platitudes. ❤

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    1. Hi Carol. Yes, that’s exactly what we need. A bit of companionship time with those familiar with our significant other, normal conversation is all we want when we don’t wish to be alone. No platitudes required. ❤

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  10. Debby, this is a book I’ve heard a lot about, most of it positive and some negative. I realise from your superlative review that the latter is that the book can be so emotionally raw and for some this is just too much. Yet don’t we need books like this, not to sugarcoat the grief but write from the heart, the torn soul, observations and emotions that are the reality of loss.

    I understand how friendship, some sense of normality and flowing conversation is more important than ever for you. My brother lost his wife a few years ago, still in her 40s and the shock still reverberates. A couple of months after her funeral it was Christmas and we gathered as normal, my brother and two children wide eyed and blank with sorrow, yet we dressed up, celebrated as normal, talked, were together. Mentioned my sister in law a little, yet she was with us ALL the time, we could hear her laughter, imagine her comments.

    Sending you love & hugs Xx ❤️

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    1. Annika, thank you for sharing some of your own family sorrow. I can’t even project Christmas in my head. I’m having a hard enough time digestng our wedding anniversary next month. Thankfully, my small circle of friends are aware of what’s coming and plan to spend time with me when the day comes. And funny enough, as each grieving person goes through their own rituals of what they need to continue on, it has been the many books I’m reading that confirms as I read others bleed their souls, as painful as it is to read, it’s the reaffirmations of others’ grief that draws me in. ❤

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  11. I wasn’t aware of this book, Debby, but it seems a very honest response to grief. While I have not (yet) suffered the loss of a partner as you and Lewis both have, I understand the fraility of words and the impossibility of platitudes. When my sister died, it hit me hard, and I still grieve for her and her loss even though she’s been gone 26 years now. None of the words that people said, though offered with best intentions, helped. It was made more difficult when it seemed my grief as a sister was of lesser importance than that of others. It has made me reluctant to say anything to others, other than to acknowledge their grief, as I have done for you, as I know there are no words that can take away the pain. We just stand together, knowing that it might be part of the human experience but one from which we wish we could be spared. Sending hugs. 💖

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    1. Norah, I’m sorry to hear that you lost a sister. And yes, each grief is different, suited to the individual who is dealing with the loss. I’m sorry to hear that you felt your grief was minimized comparatively to others – something nobody should ever do. And like you said, all we can do is stand together in acknowledgment that we have loved and endure. ❤

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  12. Hi Debby – I’m so pleased you found his book on Grief Observed to be so insightful and helpful. Until we come to our own understanding … platitudes just come to mind – I know I said plenty in my early years … it’s only now since my mother’s illness (and my father’s sister and her husband) in the last 20 years … have I experienced this side of life.

    You sent me off to look for two books that I suspect my mother owned … CS Lewis’ Prayer: Letters to Malcolm, and the Four Loves by him … which I’ve now got out to read …

    I was interested in his short time with Joy …

    Thank you for this and for sending me off to my bookshelf … all the best – and you are helping others with these posts – and I hope you can get over here for a change as I know you were looking to do. With thoughts – Hilary

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    1. Thanks so much Hilary for your always inspiring words. And I am so glad I inspired you to look for those books by Lewis. Funny enough, I too had already added them for future reads. Great minds! 🙂 And I do hope my reviews on books on grief do help others. And it’s looking like October now for me coming to your side of the pond. No worries, I will let everyone know when that comes to fruitition! Hugs 🙂 xx

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  13. Thank you for your great review of C.S. Lewis’s book, Debby. I agree with him about platitudes. I also don’t like people saying, “I understand” because they don’t. When my 51-years old brother-in-law died from cancer, my “baby” sister’s best friend praised her for being strong because she didn’t shed tears. How awful! She was overcome with emotions. I have a collection of C.S. Lewis’s books. We study about him in my fellowship group at church. When my ex passed away, I told my daughter that people grieve differently and that not hurry the process.

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    1. Thanks so much Miriam. Obviously you have worn the shoes and get it! And how awful of someone to grade someone grieving on how they conduct themselves. I too have added a few of Lewis’ other books to my reading list because of the profound effect this book had on me. Hugs xo

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  14. Wow, Debby, just reading your wonderful review and the quotes you highlighted brought tears. He’s a wonderful author but I haven’t heard of this book. We all grieve in different ways and our timelines vary. But I will say that I also find myself at a loss for words when others are grieving. But I also wouldn’t say, “It’s in God’s plan.” Some platitudes just send me over the edge. Sometimes, I’m honest in saying that I don’t know what to say, but I’m here for you. Regarding what happens after death, everyone can believe what they want, but no one really knows until…anyway, thanks for sharing this powerful book and review. I’m going to add it to my list. I have so many books to read, but now I want to read more of C.S. Lewis! “Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything.” How heart-tugging. Sending hugs to you, Lauren 💞

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    1. Hi Lauren. I’m happy to introduce you to this book by Lewis. I too now have added a few more of his books. I enjoy his writing style too. And yes, I think we all feel uncomfortable around someone who lost a loved one. I often have said the same as you “I can’t even pretend to know how you feel, but I’m here for whatever you need.” That is all that needs to be said. Hugs ❤

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  15. I can tell this book touched your heart and soul, Debby, especially the part about people around grievers not knowing what to say. When someone’s loved one dies, you don’t act like a parent talking to their child (“It will get better”) or anything else for that matter, as death and grieving are a dimension outside of everything else. It’s not a simple wound or a disease. It will NEVER heal or get better. It will change over time, but that is the best you can expect or offer. I feel as an outsider, it is better to just “be there” and listen to friends or family members who are grieving. The quote “Am I going in circles, or dare I hope I am on a spiral?” is very poignant indeed.

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    1. Liesbet, it appears you have experience with this because you know what not to say, good analogy – not like telling a child it will get better. You got it right, that’s all we need, someone to be there for us and just listen and converse as the conversation flows. Thank you. ❤

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  16. Far behind, sorry. This is another path on the grief pantheon of books you have been following. I’ve not read the Chronicles of Narnia but know that those are what he’s known for. Didn’t know about this one. Good review. Thanks, my friend.

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  17. Thanks, Debby. C.S. Lewis had a way with words, although that doesn’t always translate when writing about one’s feelings, although in his case, it evidently did.
    Everybody, if they live long enough, will experience loss, but each person will experience it differently (and we experience different losses in different ways as well), so it is impossible to know what to say to somebody else, even when you know them pretty well, but people feel compelled to say something, and it can be upsetting, no matter how good the intention. In Spanish, people usually say (especially if they don’t know you well) “Te (o “le” depending how polite and formal they are being) acompaño en el sentimiento” [I accompany you in your feeling, I share your feelings, if you want], which is as empty as anything else one can say, but the idea of being with you and keeping you company while you grieve feels appropriate.
    Take care and thanks for your wonderful review.

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    1. Hi Olga. Thanks so much for adding to the conversation. Just like you said, every grief is different, and that will correlate with the relationship we had with the lost loved one. And yes, there is no right thing anyone can say. But like I say, all we need is someone to give a care about us. Pick up a phone – not a text. Be an ear more than a voice. ❤ xx

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