Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Isolated (A Grief Observed)

An odd by-product of my loss is that I’m aware of being an embarrassment to everyone I meet. At work, at the club, in the street, I see people, as they approach me, trying to make up their minds whether they’ll ‘say something about it’ or not. I hate it if they do, and if they don’t. Some funk it altogether. R. has been avoiding me for a week. I like best the well brought-up young men, almost boys, who walk up to me as if I were a dentist, turn very red, get it over, and then edge away to the bar as quickly as they decently can. Perhaps the bereaved ought to be isolated in special settlements like lepers.
     To some I’m worse than an embarrassment. I am a death’s head. Whenever I meet a happily married pair I can feel them both thinking. ‘One or other of us must some day be as he is now.’ 
    At first I was very afraid of going to places where [Helen Joy] and I had been happy—our favourite pub, our favourite wood. Butsmall-plane-big-sky I decided to do it at once like sending a pilot up again as soon as possible after he’s had a crash. Unexpectedly, it makes no difference. Her absence is no more emphatic in those places than anywhere else. It’s not local at all. I suppose that if one were forbidden all salt one wouldn’t notice it much more in any one food than in another. Eating in general would be different, every day, at every meal. It is like that. The act of living is different all through. Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything.

C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed (London: Faber and Faber, 1961), 11-12.


  1. Lewis describes so well what so many have experienced in grief. While much of this novel may appear to be the typical driving, rational Lewis, it is not. It is more emotion than reason, even when it looks like reason. I'll try to show that in the next few days.

    And, yes, it's a bit of a jump from Narnia back to the Shadowlands (movie, partially inspired by this book). And why grief in this time leading up to Christmas? Well, for some grief is exactly what Christmas represents to them. The season is which we are supposed to be happy often makes us acutely aware of what we have lost.

    We had been working our way through this novel but I interrupted it in order to work through The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, on a countdown to its release in theatres. Great movie for all fans of Narnia and others.

  2. Ken, I'm a little confused reading this comment. I haven't read "A Grief Observed," but from what I know of it, it's a memoir, not a "novel." Are there parts of the book that are fictional?

  3. Note: Margaret is a great editor and she is right to correct me! I've clumsily used the term "novel" in that first comment when I should've used "book," as a novel is indeed a work of fictional prose. While A Grief Observed may be many things, none of them are fictional. Sorry for that confusion.

    What does confuse people is trying to read each page of the "book" as statement of fact or as description of "how to" grieve. No, it is a grief observed: it was what Lewis experienced -- a description, not prescription. Many comments made in the book are theologically misguided and Lewis eventually acknowledges this, more or less. The value of this work is in understanding how faith takes hold in our lives. If even the Defender of Mere Christianity should come to the brink in his grief and suffering, how are we to stay faithful in suffering if we have not fully taken hold of faithfulness to God in our lives?