A Grief Observed

A Grief Observed

4.2 97
by C. S. Lewis

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In April 1956, C.S. Lewis, a confirmed bachelor, married Joy Davidman, an American poet with two small children. After four brief, intensely happy years, Lewis found himself alone again, and inconsolable. To defend himself against the loss of belief in God, Lewis wrote this journal, an eloquent statement of rediscovered faith. In it he freely confesses his doubts, his…  See more details below


In April 1956, C.S. Lewis, a confirmed bachelor, married Joy Davidman, an American poet with two small children. After four brief, intensely happy years, Lewis found himself alone again, and inconsolable. To defend himself against the loss of belief in God, Lewis wrote this journal, an eloquent statement of rediscovered faith. In it he freely confesses his doubts, his rage, and his awareness of human frailty. In it he finds again the way back to life.

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Written as he mourned the loss of his wife, C. S. Lewis's A Grief Observed is an elegant and honest reflection on the fundamental issues of life, death, and faith. This intensely personal memoir has helped countless others find courage and hope.

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Random House Publishing Group
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4.15(w) x 6.90(h) x 0.51(d)

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A Grief Observed

Chapter One

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.

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. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.

There are moments, most unexpectedly, when something inside me tries to assure me that I don't really mind so much, not so very much, after all. Love is not the whole of a man's life. I was happy before I ever met H. I've plenty of what are called 'resources.' People get over these things. Come, I shan't do so badly. One is ashamed to listen to this voice but it seems for a little to be making out a good case. Then comes a sudden jab of red-hot memory — and all this 'commonsense' vanishes like an ant in the mouth of a furnace.

On the rebound one passes into tears and pathos. Maudlin tears. I almost prefer the moments of agony. These are at least clean and honest. But the bath of self-pity, the wallow, the loathsome sticky-sweet pleasure of indulging it — that disgusts me. And even while I'm doing it I know it leads me to misrepresent H. herself. Give that mood its head and in a few minutes I shall have substituted for the real woman a mere doll to be blubbered over. Thank God the memory of her is still too strong (will it always be too strong?)to let me get away with it.

For H. wasn't like that at all. Her mind was lithe and quick and muscular as a leopard. Passion, tenderness, and pain were all equally unable to disarm it. It scented the first whiff of cant or slush; then sprang, and knocked you over before you knew what was happening. How many bubbles of mine she pricked! I soon learned not to talk rot to her unless I did it for the sheer pleasure — and there's another red-hot jab — of being exposed and laughed at. I was never less silly than as H.'s lover.

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 loathe the slightest effort. Not only writing but even reading a letter is too much. Even shaving. What does it matter now whether my cheek is rough or smooth? They say an unhappy man wants distractions — something to take him out of himself. Only as a dog-tired man wants an extra blanket on a cold night; he'd rather lie there shivering than get up and find one. It's easy to see why the lonely become untidy, finally, dirty and disgusting.

Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be — or so it feels — welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become. There are no lights in the windows. It might be an empty house. Was it ever inhabited? It seemed so once. And that seeming was as strong as this. What can this mean? Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?

I tried to put some of these thoughts to C. this afternoon. He reminded me that the same thing seems to have happened to Christ: 'Why hast thou forsaken me?' I know. Does that make it easier to understand?

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's no God after all,' but 'So this is what God's really like. Deceive yourself no longer.'

Our elders submitted and said, 'Thy will be done.' How often had bitter resentment been stifled through sheer terror and an act of love — yes, in every sense, an act — put on to hide the operation?

Of course it's easy enough to say that God seems absent at our greatest need because He is absent — non-existent. But then why does He seem so present when, to put it quite frankly, we don't ask for Him?

One thing, however, marriage has done for me. I can never again believe that religion is manufactured out of our unconscious, starved desires and is a substitute for sex. For those few years H. and I feasted on love, every mode of it — solemn and merry, romantic and realistic, sometimes as dramatic as a thunderstorm, sometimes as comfortable and unemphatic as putting on your soft slippers. No cranny of heart or body remained unsatisfied. If God were a substitute for love we ought to have lost all interest in Him. Who'd bother about substitutes when he has the thing itself? But that isn't what happens. We both knew we wanted something besides one another — quite a different kind of something, a quite different kind of want...

A Grief Observed. Copyright (c) by C. Lewis . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Grief Observed 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 97 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
C.S. Lewis put into the writing the very things I felt, but could not express, in my own grief. I felt less alone - less hopeless after getting a glimpse into another Christian's pain and suffering. It is a short book - a collection of random thoughts he jotted down after his wife died of cancer. Easy for someone grieving to read, as concentrating is often difficult at such times. I underlined half the book, I found it so relevant to my own situation.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I found my husband and son murdered, most books on grief I tried to read were useless and trite. This is the only one that even came close to describing the pain I felt and how totally lost I was.
Guest More than 1 year ago
C. S. Lewis was a great thinker, but in this book, he is entirely human. Unafraid to face the baffling questions we face when dealing with grief, Lewis goes on a heartfelt search for a faith that can withstand the deepest travails. A very fast read, but a life affirming one. I have found it difficult to find books that really speak to the journey of grieving, but this one is up to the task.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
C.S. Lewis captures the process of grieving in such an amazing way. The culmination of his experience where he learns he must move his loss of his wife from his head to his heart is certain to provoke others on a similar journey to make this life altering change.
hyunlee More than 1 year ago
Prior to reading this short book, I read the Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis, which addressed the intellectual, philosophical aspects. But as he notes in the introduction to that book, "[W]hen pain is to be borne, a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little human sympathy more than much courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all." In Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis writes with brutal honesty the subjective experience of pain that he feels at the loss of his wife. And by the end, I got the sense that he really understood, really experienced what it meant to love God through our pain. I believe that this book will be helpful to those who may be experiencing suffering in their lives. It may also help those who are trying to help those who are suffering.
julie37619 More than 1 year ago
A Grief Observed was originally written under a pseudonym (N.W. Clerk) and is a chronicle in journal form of the emotions experienced by Lewis after the death of his wife from bone cancer. It is haunting and beautiful and heartbreaking all at once. If you've lost a loved one, there is something in this book that you can identify with. It's a fairly quick read, if you read it straight through. I think I spent a total of about 45 minutes on the entirety. However, this isn't a book that you read once, straight through and put away. I will be keeping this one on my shelf and pulling it out for days (and years) to come. I can already tell it's going to be like his others - books that I enjoy over and over again and gain something from every time I pick them up. I particularly appreciated (enjoyed isn't a word you'd want to use to describe this type of book, although it is so beautiful it's hard to say I didn't enjoy it) the way we see Lewis progress through his doubt. If you weren't aware, Lewis was a Christian and this book chronicles how he reconciles a loving God with the suffering and death of his dear wife. The book is divided into four parts, and Lewis progresses through anger at God, questioning of his faith, and the hurt from well-meaning friends quoting cliches in an effort to comfort him. The foreward by Madeleine L'Engle perfectly describes the book. She writes about how your experience with grief may not be the same as Lewis's, but you can identify with what he writes no matter how your experience differs. A Grief Observed is intensely personal, and makes no effort to document the human experience of grief or make any broad statements about the state of grief. Rather, it details one person's experience with the loss of his beloved. It is beautiful and touching and I promise you will not be sorry you read it.
JJ-Money More than 1 year ago
Through the use of journals, A Grief Observed invites the reader into the mind of a grieving C.S. Lewis as he struggles in dealing with the tragic death of his wife. The four separate entries all portray the various stages of anguish that Lewis endures; as well as his constantly changing mindset as he draws certain beliefs into question. At the beginning of the book, the reader is met with a harsh criticism of religion and faith as Lewis criticizes God himself. He accuses God of being cruel and abandoning people when they need him the most. However, as the journals progress, the effects that grief has on Lewis's mind become more evident. Lewis slowly becomes a, "saner man" as his sorrow begins to fade. His thoughts become more reasonable throughout the story, and he even regrets making some of the harsh accusations he made previously in the journal. Ultimately, by the end of the book, the reader is able to sympathize with Lewis in his difficult struggle in dealing with his wife's tragic death from cancer. A Grief Observed isn't written like a traditional piece of nonfiction literature. As a matter of fact, the basic and simplified manner in which it is written actually adds to the experience of the reader. It gives the audience a clearer and more realistic view of some of the different emotions that Lewis was feeling during his grieving process. Personally, I read the book in one sitting and found it to be an easy read. As a fan of C.S. Lewis's fiction material, such as The Chronicles of Narnia, it was very interesting to see the author deal with a real-life situation, and read his mixed thoughts and feelings regarding the tragedy. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the reading the book. However, while most of the text was relatively easy to read, I did find that a few passages proved to be repetitive at times. For instance, in certain passages, Lewis repeats many of his same thoughts and tends to ramble on, but it is hard to criticize him for writing his honest feelings. Ultimately, I would recommend this book to anyone who has recently suffered from the loss of a loved one as I found this book to be comforting to read.
Lorie Swisher More than 1 year ago
C. S. Lewis dares to rant, rave, question and complain. I loved it!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this a month after my own wife's death. I found Lewis's sharing of his grief to be comforting.I found his honesty to be refreshing. You do not needto be a Christian or religious to benefit from this book. I also enjoyed the afterword by Walsh. It helped to put Lewis's book into the context of his life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Every line was exactly what I was trying to get out, to explain, to understand myself.  I felt someone was in my mind, accurately getting my thoughts and feelings and observations out on paper.  It was such a relief to read...knowing I had not gone crazy, and was not alone!
LandMime More than 1 year ago
C.S. Lewis expresses his grief no-holds-barred. Very realistic in expressing the despair, anger, and huge questions regarding suffering and why. His conclusions are not crystal clear as is the mystery of life itself not comprehendible, but it is a comfort to know someone has written so powerfully regarding loss.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is an achingly honest, raw, and heart-felt cry of pain that mirrors the experience of anyone struggling with grief and loss. The writing is lyrical, the emotions beautifully expressed. While he pulls no punches, the conclusion is utterly satisfying. Written by one of the greatest minds in history, it was a great comfort to me when I needed it the most.
perhaps More than 1 year ago
An honest look at grief and shows that he is "real". Really helped me deal and take a look at how I really feel about my grief and to be honest about it. A book for those grieving and ready to work on it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
CS Lewis' reflections and thoughts are beautifully and insightfully drawn. This work is more than a starting point for the hardship of gripping with what comes after death. Insightful.
Ph4D More than 1 year ago
The works of C.S. Lewis are remarkable in their volume as much as their depth. Lewis is not afraid to explore the difficult and reason within his faith for solutions. His discussions and prepositions are remarkably candid, taking so much in to introspect while not shrinking from faith or foundations. The read is more than helpful for life, whether one is dealing with grief or not. The truths are universal and applicable to life and death. His writing is as timeless as it is provocative. Few times in his in works is his heart more exposed.
Sarah_in_USA More than 1 year ago
Just what my husband needed when his mother passed away. What else can I say?
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After mourning the loss of my husbsnd for three years and for every step forward moving three back, this book may have just saved my life. I felt the same feelings, questioned God with the same questions. And C S Lewis answered them all with such clarity doubt has left my mind. Thank You.
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