"Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything."
C S Lewis's A Grief Observed was recommended to me by a MacMillan nurse who had been involved in Maria's care and
who had come to know us personally - and the nature of our relationship. She had come to visit me to find out if I was coping - or not. I had explained to her that everything felt pointless now. That life had no meaning. She talked me through that as best she could and recommended I read his book.
I read it about 3 months after Maria passed.
I am specific about the timing because the book, which is about the loss of Lewis's wife Ivy Davidson to cancer, is a painfully, sometimes brutally, honest diary of his grief. I sometimes found it difficult to read because it cuts through that cloak of denial we wrap around ourselves in order to protect us from the harsh reality of the truth. But in that, I was also able to identify with his precise articulation of the overwhelming, debilitating sense of utter emptiness. As if your core has been completely ripped out. Leaving a void. A void that somehow endlessly aches. He also describes the seemingly perpetual loop of feelings, disbelief, anger, fear that we find ourselves in. In a way, the fact of his frank openness gave me a level of empathy I was unable to find elsewhere.
“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?
But if a spiral, am I going up or down it?
How often -- will it be for always? -- how often will the vast emptiness astonish me like a complete novelty and make me say, "I never realized my loss till this moment"? The same leg is cut off time after time.”
Lewis also addresses the subject of faith. This was a subject that would come back for me, but at the time of reading, I didn't factor it as part of my healing. Neither Maria nor I believed in God. For him, the circumstance of his wife's death makes him question his faith. It was the first time I recognised faith as needing to be blind, like love. A matter of total and utter trust regardless of the tests that life asks of it. Of you.
Ultimately, the book provides the light at the end of the tunnel as Lewis comes through the depths and emerges from the dark. From that perspective, it was the first inkling that I would find a way forward.
A Grief Observed is a short but penetrative read, it condenses so many aspects of grief that repeat and echo through the journey. As a scholar and philosopher, C S Lewis is adept at crystallising the emotional, physical and metaphysical impact of his experience, much of which I have found to be a mirror of my own. I would add a caution, though I found it to be an essential read, timing is, in my opinion, essential. You need to be ready to look in the mirror and fully accept your feelings and the truth of grief. For those who are not grieving but wish to understand its impact, this couldn't be a more powerful read.