CS Lewis wrote A Grief Observed after the death of his wife, the American poet and writer Helen Joy Davidman. It is a book that is well worth reading. He offers his personal insights into the mystery that is grief, what it did to him and how it made him feel and act. Some of what he says resonates with me, like when he talks about how difficult it is to focus or to start anything. Or running on autopilot at work. Lewis became impatient with people who said that death doesn’t matter or that there is no death. But I am not impatient with people who say that to me, because I know that they are just trying to do and say the right thing, and it isn’t really possible to do that. There is no one right thing to say to someone who has lost a loved one. It is not easy to talk about death or to deal with it in our society. I appreciate their caring and the thoughts involved.
Here are some excerpts from his book, A Grief Observed:
- We cannot understand. The best is perhaps what we understand least.
- Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape.
- It is hard to have patience with people who say, ‘There is no death’ or ‘Death doesn’t matter.’ There is death. And whatever is matters. And whatever happens has consequences, and it and they are irrevocable and irreversible. You might as well say that birth doesn’t matter.
- I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow. Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process.
- 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?
- Feelings, and feelings, and feelings. Let me try thinking instead.
- Do I hope that if feeling disguises itself as thought I shall feel less?
- Grief ... gives life a permanently provisional feeling. It doesn't seem worth starting anything. I can't settle down. I yawn, I fidget, I smoke too much. Up till this I always had too little time. Now there is nothing but time. Almost pure time, empty successiveness.
- 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.
- And no one ever told me about the laziness of grief. Except at my job--where the machine seems to run on much as usual--I loath the slightest effort. Not only writing but even reading a letter is too much.
- 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, hard to want to take it in……
- Aren't all these notes the senseless writings of a man who won't accept the fact that there is nothing we can do with suffering except to suffer it?