C.S. Lewis married late in life, when he was in his mid-fifties. He married his wife, Joy Gresham, in 1956. She died of cancer on July 13 1960. In 1961 C.S. Lewis published a book called A Grief Observed. The book was a collection of his notebooks reflecting on his own grief.
I love this book.
Not because Lewis always says things I think are correct, often he doesn’t. But I love this book because it’s very honest and very real. This is Lewis turning his command of the English language, his razor sharp intellect and his gift for profound analogy to the task of chronicling and reflecting on his own grief as it happens. Which makes it quite raw and visceral.
He offers us an inside look into one man’s descent into despair, piercing anger towards God, the crumbling of his faith, and then the journey towards a deeper understanding of himself, and both his love for his wife and his God.
Here is a quote where Lewis is contemplating his own plummet into doubt:
“Feelings, and feelings, and feelings. Let me try thinking instead. From the rational point of view, what new factor has H’s death introduced into the problem of the universe? What grounds has it given me for doubting all that I believe? I knew already that all these things, and worse, happened daily. I would have said that I had taken them into account. I had been warned – I had warned myself – not to reckon on worldly happiness. We were even promised sufferings. They were part of the programme. We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn’ and I accepted it. I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not in imagination. Yes; but should it, for a sane man, make quite such a difference as this? No. And it wouldn’t for a man whose faith had been real faith and whose concern for other people’s sorrows had been real concern. The case is too plain. If my house has collapsed at one blow, that is because it was a house of cards. The faith which ‘took these things into account’ was not faith but imagination. The taking them into account was not real sympathy. If I had really cared, as I thought I did, about the sorrows of the world, I should not have been so overwhelmed when my own sorrow came […] I thought I trusted the rope until it mattered to me whether it would bear me. Now it matters, and I find I didn’t.
“Bridge-players tell me that there must be some money on the game ‘or else people won’t take it seriously’. Apparently it’s like that. Your bid – for God or no God, for a good God or the Cosmic Sadist, for eternal life or noneternity – will not be serious if nothing much is staked on it. And you will never discover how serious it was until the stakes are raised horribly high; until you find that you are not playing for counters or sixpences but for every penny you have in the world. Nothing less 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.
“[…] And I must surely admit – H. would have forced me to admit in a few passes – that, if my house was a house of cards, the sooner it was knocked down the better. And only suffering could do it.”
C.S. Lewis A Grief Observed (pp. 32-33)
I appreciate both the clarity and the honesty.