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Written after his wife's tragic death as a way of surviving the "mad midnight moment," A Grief Observed is C.S. Lewis's honest reflection on the fundamental issues of life, death, and faith in the midst of loss. This work contains his concise, genuine reflections on that period: "Nothing 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. Only torture will bring out the truth. Only under torture does he discover it himself." This is a beautiful and unflinchingly homest record of how even a stalwart believer can lose all sense of meaning in the universe, and how he can gradually regain his bearings.

Topics: Cancer, Christianity, Grief, Death, Marriage, The Bible, Widowers, Inspirational, Philosophical, Contemplative, Inklings, England, United States of America, and Essays

Published: HarperCollins on Jun 9, 2009
ISBN: 9780061949296
List price: $6.99
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An honest and emotional overview of grief from one who went through it, C. S. Lewis. It is very short, but definitely worth reading. read more
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This book draws the reader in and through its brief snippets you can feel the pain, taste the profound grief Lewis suffered when "H." died. Don't look for tidy answers to why God allows suffering and grief. Rather look for the calm sense that even though we don't see God's purpose we can sense his presence and trust his promises. This is a wonderful read.read more
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Lewis' "Pain" and "Grief" should be read together. Grief is Lewis' personal experience of natural evil in the world. In it Lewis absolutely rails against God for the death of his wife, and the injustice of it all.read more
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Painfully honest account of Lewis's reaction to his wife's death. I do not enjoy it or find it comforting, but I respect it greatly.read more
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A great travel through Lewis' suffering of loss and grief. It really helped me face some of the issues I'm going through right now with dad's death.Not a normal book with any clear sense or structure. Just random thoughts and notes. Real gems come through every so many pages. It really gives a sense of the emotional and intellectual struggles of someone grieving.read more
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Beautiful and touching.read more
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In "A Grief Observed," C.S. Lewis allows the reader to walk with him on his journey through grief. He was a brilliant scholar and Oxford professor whom people looked to for answers and meaning when suddenly his world was turned upside down by the loss of his wife Joy, who died of cancer in her 40s. In the book, he explores honestly the depth of his anguish and his search to find comfort and hope in the midst of the despair of loss.Lewis describes many of the multitude of emotions that grief can bring, and also the seemingly endless barrage of unanswered questions he found himself asking. Ultimately he finds comfort and hope in his faith, but not before journey through a time of anguish and questioning God- even expressing his anger and shock at the loss.If you have lost a close loved one, or know someone who has, this book may be a great source of comfort in the midst of grief. I facilitate a grief support group, and a number of people have found it to be very helpful in coping with the loss of a family member or close friend. I have also found it to be a helpful source of comfort and hope in facing some of the losses in my life.I would highly recommend it to anyone facing grief and loss, as well as for caregivers, clergy and counselors who work with the bereaved.read more
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I first heard of this book on the “What are We Reading: Religion” thread on LT. It describes Lewis’ journey through grief after the death of his wife (“H”) from cancer. He writes very honestly of his anguish and loneliness and how surprisingly little consolation he finds in other people or his religion in the first days after H’s death."It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it? . . . 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."Lewis’ initial goal in writing this book was to describe the “state” of sorrow but he discovers that it’s more of a process and by the end of the book, while he is still on his journey, he’s made alot of progress and, when he turns “to God, my mind no longer meets that locked door.”I haven’t experienced the kind of grief that Lewis describes nor am I religious so I was surprised to like this book as much as I did. I think it was a combination of how good a writer Lewis is and how honest he was about what he was going through that attracted me the most. In comparison to how detailed Lewis is about his initial grief, I was somewhat disappointed that it wasn’t clearer how he was finally able to move on to a better place. As he says, “there was no sudden, striking and emotional transition. Like the warming of a room or the coming of daylight. When you first notice them they have already been going on for some time.”read more
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A good book to read if you have suffered the loss of a loved one. Lewis gets quite personal and truly expresses the depth of emotion one feels at the loss of a spouse. Fear of forgetting, the pain of remembrance, and coming to an understanding with God without losing faith or placing blame.read more
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This slender book--only 76 pages in four chapters--is both raw and powerful. I do understand why one reviewer spoke of feeling distaste that something so personal was published. I think that's its strength though. Yes, I almost wanted to look away. I've felt conflicted at times about Lewis' work. I admire him as a writer, but disagree strongly with many aspects of his worldview. For one, I'm no believer in any aspect of the supernatural, am no Christian, and Christianity defines him and his works. But I think particularly because I've read so much by Lewis, I can't help but see him as a sort of friend. And not even knowing he died before I was born keeps me from flinching from the pain on the page. But I also admire his willingness to expose that pain. And this is a book not just about pain, about loss--but about love. About his love for his lost wife, who obviously greatly enriched his life, and yes, in the end his love for God that Lewis tries so hard to find again in the face of feeling shut out when he needs God most. He talks about his faith being like this rope that seemed strong and secure when it only needed to bind a box, but doesn't seem so secure when he was using it to hang above an abyss. I think there's something so very brave, nay heroic, in spending a long career as a Christian apologist and then be willing to bare not just your pain, but your doubt. And because Lewis is a superb writer, there were so many lines here that resonated--particularly the line, "Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state, but a process."read more
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For someone who has suffered a similarly deep loss as Lewis, this book is a comfort. When I read this book, I often find myself underlining something that I have thought or felt or wondered as I've made my way through my own grief. If you've never experienced grief, this is the most realistic account I've ever read. "A Grief Observed" is a gut-wrenching book to read, but I find it utterly amazing every time I read it.read more
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C.S. Lewis joined the human race when his wife, Joy Gresham, died of cancer. Lewis, the Oxford don whose Christian apologetics make it seem like he's got an answer for everything, experienced crushing doubt for the first time after his wife's tragic death. A Grief Observed contains his epigrammatic reflections on that period... This is the book that inspired the film Shadowlands, but it is more wrenching, more revelatory, and more real than the movie. It is a beautiful and unflinchingly honest record of how even a stalwart believer can lose all sense of meaning in the universe, and how he can gradually regain his bearings.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
C.S. Lewis joined the human race when his wife, Joy Gresham, died of cancer. Lewis, the Oxford don whose Christian apologetics make it seem like he's got an answer for everything, experienced crushing doubt for the first time after his wife's tragic death. A Grief Observed contains his epigrammatic reflections on that period: "Your bid--for God or no God, for a good God or the Cosmic Sadist, for eternal life or nonentity--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," Lewis writes. "Nothing 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. Only torture will bring out the truth. Only under torture does he discover it himself."read more
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Lewis loved his wife. I found it hard to relate with his loss, primarily because I didn't feel loss as much as he did.read more
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I decided to read this book because I too was asking some serious questions and feeling that God and Christianity in general just didn't have all of the answers. I was especially curious to see how someone like C.S. Lewis would address the subject of death and dying. After all, here is a man that makes his living manipulating words. How would he describe the processes of grief? Would he find words adequate enough or would he just flail in the dark searching for the same answers that I was unable to come up with? In the end I'm not sure if it's actually possible to critique his efforts because they are born out of his own experience. He was open, honest, and at times naked in his writing. Whether you agree with his views or not I think it's definitely worth your while to read this book. I'm not sure if it will make sense to the merely curious but to those who know what grief is I think it will be a raw and emotional journey through the process of sorrow from one who has experienced it firsthand.read more
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I always love everything by CS Lewis, this included. He brings up some profound thoughts on the loss of a spouse and I felt like I understand him and know him better. However, I wouldn't tell everyone who has just lost their spouse "You've got to read 'Grief'." Not that impactful or comprehensive and you really have to be a Lewis fan.read more
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A Grief Observed is the journal C. S. Lewis kept after losing his wife, Joy, to cancer. In it he pours out his feelings, as his faith is battered by the storms of grief. I felt a bit awkward reading it, kind of like I was standing around, gawking at a car accident. On one hand, you want to see what's happening, but on the other you don't want to intrude on another's misfortune and sorrow. Of course, reading a published book is hardly an intrusion on anyone. The book was an interesting way to consider my own beliefs without having to personally suffer the loss of my wife. --J.read more
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A powerful look at grief.read more
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In A Grief Observed the author chronicles his thoughts and feelings as he comes to terms with the death of his wife. At 64 pages (London : Faber and Faber, 1966) this is a slim volume, but the content is potent. As Lewis grapples with his faith in God, one cannot help but feel uncomfortable at times (even as an atheist), yet one feels a strangely irresistible, almost voyeuristic, impulse to continue reading. I can't think of a comparable work. Although I do not share the author's religious inclinations, I am sure I will turn to this book for consolation whenever I am confronted with a family bereavement.read more
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I read this back in high school (as many of Lewis' books) and couldn't put it down. How he changes talking about his grief and forming that into a love for Christ is nothing short of brilliant!read more
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I know this is a classic per se, but I didn't like the book. It was hard to get into the book for me, and I found Lewis' writings distant. The book is about how C.S. Lewis deals with the tragedy of his wife's death; however, the forward lets you know that his wife had a terminal illness when he married her. I would've rather read Lewis' thoughts on that matter instead.read more
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In this slender volume, C.S. Lewis shares his personal experience with grief following the death of his wife. This is a grief that has him questioning his belief in God and exposing the raw, painful, angry emotions that accompany his grieving process. There are many ways to grieve, but one thing is certain - it has to be faced, and Lewis has done just that in this book. The harsh reality that everyone who lives will die means that we must all face grief at some time if we haven't already done so. His experiences with grief are not unique, but he is to be applauded for sharing his palpable pain in a way that may help others who suffer a loss of such magnitude.read more
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A wonderful short piece of work. I greatly enjoyed to hear honest questions being answered and appreciated that he took them very seriously. I belief time of doubt is so necessary but is often not talked about. I welcome it, however, and love when books like this and Disappointment with God by Philip Yancey tackle questions head on.read more
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This is one of the most remarkable books I've ever known. It is, in my experience, the best work of short nonfiction in Christian literary history. Regardless, it is certainly one of the most poignant. I feel inadequate to explain further, but being so brief a book, I see no reason why you shouldn't read it.For those of you who struggle with completing nonfiction, I will tell you that you likely will have no such problem with "A Grief Observed". It's emotionally, psychologically, philosophically, and theologically compelling, applicable to personal experience, and fascinating down to each and every vivid sentence. I for one make it my intent, with delight, to read it many times again.read more
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It's hard to rate something like this book. The text itself acknowledges the truth of the title: it is a single grief observed, not grief in general. Interest in C. S. Lewis and his life, or his point of view on faith, or interest in this book through recent grief of your own, is the best portal into this book.

I haven't lost anyone as near and dear to me as H. to Jack. I lost my grandmother recently, and I recognise some of the feelings he describes -- and oh, how much do I fear feeling them for myself in full force, one day.

He is analytical about his grief, thinking it through in stages, asking questions of God and trying to answer them for himself. Thus, it's not quite as painful to read as it could be. His son's introduction is quite painful, when he speaks of 'Jack' and his pain, so familiarly, so tenderly.

I hate the reviews of this that say it's all mind and no heart. Probably because I'm an analytical, 'cold-hearted' person myself -- I see myself in C. S. Lewis' observed grief -- and yes, I feel pain as much as anyone else, I just address it differently. Everyone grieves in different ways; no two griefs are alike.

Truly cheerful stuff to read on one's birthday.read more
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In A Grief Observed, author C.S. Lewis shares the journal he wrote after the death of his wife Helen Joy Gresham, nee Davidman. As his stepson observed, few could have written so powerfully and honestly about his pain and grief, few would, and fewer still would have published the journal (Lewis xix). Lewis begins his journal as an attempt to face and temper his grief. “Come”, he says, “What do we gain by evasions? We are under the harrow and can’t escape. Reality, looked at steadily, is unbearable (28).” As he uses up the last of the four manuscript books in the house—and resolves to buy no more—he finds that that the journal has served its purpose as a defense against total collapse (59). Lewis published his journal (originally under a pseudonym) with the hope that those who have similarly lost a spouse might find some consolation from his writing. Honest in all things, the Christian apologist also provides a portrait of a religious man whose faith is shaken.Through four decades, Lewis’s journal has spoken to the newly bereaved as a friend might. However, few are the friends who can find the words and the will to comfort, as Lewis discovers. Even his stepson seems embarrassed to discuss his mother’s death and the grief both husband and son feel (9). People don’t know what to say, and the bereaved one’s presence is an uncomfortable reminder of the loss almost half of them will face one day, if they outlive their spouses (10). The bereaved one doesn’t want to be alone, but doesn’t want to be talked to (3)—a preference that anyone who has suffered depression will recognize. As the bereaved emerge from the first painful weeks of grieving, dry academic treatises cannot provide comfort like that found in the insights and candor of someone who has suffered the same kind of loss. At the least, A Grief Observed reassures the newly bereaved that they are not alone in their chaotic thoughts and pain and anger, and more importantly, that grief’s grip on their lives will relax as time passes. Like anyone who has kept a journal, Lewis rereads his earlier entries, frequently chastising himself for undue attention to self, regretting the whining that he seemed to perhaps be enjoying. His honesty in retaining these less than flattering entries is a gift to his readers, whose manner or rituals for handling grief he, for one, will not judge (56). Lewis validates the grieving process for his readers by describing it as well as the place in a life that the loved one held. No trophy wife, H., as Lewis refers to her in his journal, was “my daughter and my mother, my pupil and my teacher, my subject and my sovereign; and always holding these in solution, my trusty comrade, friend, shipmate, fellow-soldier. My mistress; but at the same time all that any man friend…has been to me” (47). Valuing her “masculine” traits as well as the “feminine” ones she called forth in him, Lewis finds that marriage reconciles the two: “Thus by a paradox, this carnival of sexuality leads us out beyond our sexes (49).” Yet he recognizes the limits of the one-flesh metaphor. While his mind could sympathize with her travail, the miseries of the dying and of the bereaved are complementary and opposite, as are the bodies of the lovers (13). Most missed was “the cleansing tang of her otherness” (20). Married only three years, with re-emergence of her cancer always a possibility, Lewis reports that they “... 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.” (7). The reader is left wishing that the Lewises had had more time together for their feast of love—for themselves, of course, but also so that Lewis could have lent his voice to readers who had survived longer marriages, for surely the tenor of such unions changes and deepens. Still, regardless of the number of years, Lewis, in marrying a seriously ill woman, embraces the truth that most of us would defer: no less than courtship and marriage, bereavement is part of the universal experience of love (50).In describing the state and the process of grieving, Lewis traces its root to the physical absence of the loved one—no matter that she may exist elsewhere on another plane, her restoration in physical form is all that the bereaved wishes. Her absence is felt not just in this place or in that situation, but “like the sky, spread over everything” (11). Habitual impulses in which the loved one is the target of feeling, action, and thought are repeatedly frustrated (47), and until reference to the loved one lessens, the person grieves. Still, Lewis resists feeling better as somehow being unfaithful to his deceased wife (53). While recovery is halting with many relapses, it comes eventually like the dawn with no “sudden, striking or emotional transition” (62), signaled at first by a moment or two of happiness sparked by once-pleasant situations. The stages of Lewis’s grief sound remarkably similar to that Kubler-Ross describes in the dying, that is, denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance (ix). As a committed Christian, Lewis directs his anger toward his Deity.Much religious discourse is devoted to reconciling injustice with the existence of deities, that is, the theodicy trilemma: 1. God is good; 2. God is all-powerful; 3. Bad things happen to apparently innocent people (Oden 5). Once an atheist, Lewis converted as an adult to middle-of-the-road Anglicanism, apparently rejecting the Calvinist concept of predestination, but accepting teachings such as original sin (nobody is wholly innocent), purgatory (temporary suffering is educative), and man’s inability to know the mind of the Creator—the spitting cat doesn’t know (or care) whether his tormenter is a veterinarian or a vivisector (Lewis 40). With regard to God’s intent, Lewis asks how much reality can sift through man’s abstract intelligence, selective memory, preconceptions and assumptions (64)?The lack of consolation afforded by Lewis’s religious faith was a surprise although his honesty is no doubt reassuring to his similarly bereaved readers: “…don’t come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don’t understand (Lewis 25).” Isolated, he observes that “…go to Him when your need is desperate…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 (6).” But then, he adds that Christ himself was similarly abandoned in His time of need. Perhaps like a drowning man, the person in great need has no capacity to receive help (46) while his faith is being tested. Striking out in anger, Lewis renames his God the “Cosmic Sadist” and the “Eternal Vivisector” (38). His Christian faith provides some tentative answers. How could such an apparently cruel God also create daffodils, he wonders hopefully (31). Had the Lewises “mastered the exercise” and a schoolmaster-God deemed it time to move on to another lesson (48)? The possibility of an after-life holds little comfort at first, since H. is now “like God, incomprehensible and unimaginable (24)”, not the physical presence that he loved. Contemplating purgatory, where H., “a soul straight, bright, and tempered like a sword…will be made even brighter”, Lewis himself is tortured, begging, “But oh God, tenderly, tenderly. Already, month by month and week by week you broke her body on the wheel whilst she wore it. Is it not yet enough (42)?” Bargaining that the only way he would yet see H. again was to “sidle back to God (68)”, Lewis reasons that her death has now left him free to love God first (70), a less than resounding affirmation of the value of religion—but again an honest evaluation with which his bereaved readers will identify.A Grief Observed is an example of the best that a journal can be. The author found it healing, and in sharing it with all his doubts and dark moments, Lewis gives the comfort of true understanding to all his bereaved readers. Those of us who are not (yet) similarly tasked, can appreciate Lewis’s insights on the universal experience of love, on the utility of his Christian beliefs, and on the emotional needs of our bereaved friends. Works CitedKubler-Ross, Elisabeth. On Death and Dying. New York: Collier Books. 1993.Lewis, Clive Staples. A Grief Observed. New York: HarperCollins (sic) Publishers, Inc. 2001.Oden, Robert. God and Mankind: Comparative Religions. Cassette. Chantilly, VA: The Teaching Company. 1992.read more
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I have listened to this book several times on CD since the death of my husband. So far it comes the closest to describing what I find to be indescribable, the grief felt when one loses their soul mate and the inability to put the loss into perspective for those on the outside. I recommend this for anyone who has lost someone close or to someone who is trying to understand someone elses grief.read more
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The most human of lewis's works.read more
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This book was difficult to relate to because it is a diary of sorts of CSL's very deep and personal experience in losing his wife to illness. The validity of CSL's Christian faith comes into consideration though I don't think it is a crisis of faith. One can relate to a good deal of what CSL writes. The book gives expression to the inexpressible.read more
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Honest, hopeful in even the bleakest of times, another glimpse of Lewis' brilliance.read more
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An honest and emotional overview of grief from one who went through it, C. S. Lewis. It is very short, but definitely worth reading.
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This book draws the reader in and through its brief snippets you can feel the pain, taste the profound grief Lewis suffered when "H." died. Don't look for tidy answers to why God allows suffering and grief. Rather look for the calm sense that even though we don't see God's purpose we can sense his presence and trust his promises. This is a wonderful read.
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Lewis' "Pain" and "Grief" should be read together. Grief is Lewis' personal experience of natural evil in the world. In it Lewis absolutely rails against God for the death of his wife, and the injustice of it all.
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Painfully honest account of Lewis's reaction to his wife's death. I do not enjoy it or find it comforting, but I respect it greatly.
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A great travel through Lewis' suffering of loss and grief. It really helped me face some of the issues I'm going through right now with dad's death.Not a normal book with any clear sense or structure. Just random thoughts and notes. Real gems come through every so many pages. It really gives a sense of the emotional and intellectual struggles of someone grieving.
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Beautiful and touching.
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In "A Grief Observed," C.S. Lewis allows the reader to walk with him on his journey through grief. He was a brilliant scholar and Oxford professor whom people looked to for answers and meaning when suddenly his world was turned upside down by the loss of his wife Joy, who died of cancer in her 40s. In the book, he explores honestly the depth of his anguish and his search to find comfort and hope in the midst of the despair of loss.Lewis describes many of the multitude of emotions that grief can bring, and also the seemingly endless barrage of unanswered questions he found himself asking. Ultimately he finds comfort and hope in his faith, but not before journey through a time of anguish and questioning God- even expressing his anger and shock at the loss.If you have lost a close loved one, or know someone who has, this book may be a great source of comfort in the midst of grief. I facilitate a grief support group, and a number of people have found it to be very helpful in coping with the loss of a family member or close friend. I have also found it to be a helpful source of comfort and hope in facing some of the losses in my life.I would highly recommend it to anyone facing grief and loss, as well as for caregivers, clergy and counselors who work with the bereaved.
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I first heard of this book on the “What are We Reading: Religion” thread on LT. It describes Lewis’ journey through grief after the death of his wife (“H”) from cancer. He writes very honestly of his anguish and loneliness and how surprisingly little consolation he finds in other people or his religion in the first days after H’s death."It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it? . . . 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."Lewis’ initial goal in writing this book was to describe the “state” of sorrow but he discovers that it’s more of a process and by the end of the book, while he is still on his journey, he’s made alot of progress and, when he turns “to God, my mind no longer meets that locked door.”I haven’t experienced the kind of grief that Lewis describes nor am I religious so I was surprised to like this book as much as I did. I think it was a combination of how good a writer Lewis is and how honest he was about what he was going through that attracted me the most. In comparison to how detailed Lewis is about his initial grief, I was somewhat disappointed that it wasn’t clearer how he was finally able to move on to a better place. As he says, “there was no sudden, striking and emotional transition. Like the warming of a room or the coming of daylight. When you first notice them they have already been going on for some time.”
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A good book to read if you have suffered the loss of a loved one. Lewis gets quite personal and truly expresses the depth of emotion one feels at the loss of a spouse. Fear of forgetting, the pain of remembrance, and coming to an understanding with God without losing faith or placing blame.
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This slender book--only 76 pages in four chapters--is both raw and powerful. I do understand why one reviewer spoke of feeling distaste that something so personal was published. I think that's its strength though. Yes, I almost wanted to look away. I've felt conflicted at times about Lewis' work. I admire him as a writer, but disagree strongly with many aspects of his worldview. For one, I'm no believer in any aspect of the supernatural, am no Christian, and Christianity defines him and his works. But I think particularly because I've read so much by Lewis, I can't help but see him as a sort of friend. And not even knowing he died before I was born keeps me from flinching from the pain on the page. But I also admire his willingness to expose that pain. And this is a book not just about pain, about loss--but about love. About his love for his lost wife, who obviously greatly enriched his life, and yes, in the end his love for God that Lewis tries so hard to find again in the face of feeling shut out when he needs God most. He talks about his faith being like this rope that seemed strong and secure when it only needed to bind a box, but doesn't seem so secure when he was using it to hang above an abyss. I think there's something so very brave, nay heroic, in spending a long career as a Christian apologist and then be willing to bare not just your pain, but your doubt. And because Lewis is a superb writer, there were so many lines here that resonated--particularly the line, "Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state, but a process."
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For someone who has suffered a similarly deep loss as Lewis, this book is a comfort. When I read this book, I often find myself underlining something that I have thought or felt or wondered as I've made my way through my own grief. If you've never experienced grief, this is the most realistic account I've ever read. "A Grief Observed" is a gut-wrenching book to read, but I find it utterly amazing every time I read it.
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C.S. Lewis joined the human race when his wife, Joy Gresham, died of cancer. Lewis, the Oxford don whose Christian apologetics make it seem like he's got an answer for everything, experienced crushing doubt for the first time after his wife's tragic death. A Grief Observed contains his epigrammatic reflections on that period... This is the book that inspired the film Shadowlands, but it is more wrenching, more revelatory, and more real than the movie. It is a beautiful and unflinchingly honest record of how even a stalwart believer can lose all sense of meaning in the universe, and how he can gradually regain his bearings.
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C.S. Lewis joined the human race when his wife, Joy Gresham, died of cancer. Lewis, the Oxford don whose Christian apologetics make it seem like he's got an answer for everything, experienced crushing doubt for the first time after his wife's tragic death. A Grief Observed contains his epigrammatic reflections on that period: "Your bid--for God or no God, for a good God or the Cosmic Sadist, for eternal life or nonentity--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," Lewis writes. "Nothing 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. Only torture will bring out the truth. Only under torture does he discover it himself."
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Lewis loved his wife. I found it hard to relate with his loss, primarily because I didn't feel loss as much as he did.
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I decided to read this book because I too was asking some serious questions and feeling that God and Christianity in general just didn't have all of the answers. I was especially curious to see how someone like C.S. Lewis would address the subject of death and dying. After all, here is a man that makes his living manipulating words. How would he describe the processes of grief? Would he find words adequate enough or would he just flail in the dark searching for the same answers that I was unable to come up with? In the end I'm not sure if it's actually possible to critique his efforts because they are born out of his own experience. He was open, honest, and at times naked in his writing. Whether you agree with his views or not I think it's definitely worth your while to read this book. I'm not sure if it will make sense to the merely curious but to those who know what grief is I think it will be a raw and emotional journey through the process of sorrow from one who has experienced it firsthand.
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I always love everything by CS Lewis, this included. He brings up some profound thoughts on the loss of a spouse and I felt like I understand him and know him better. However, I wouldn't tell everyone who has just lost their spouse "You've got to read 'Grief'." Not that impactful or comprehensive and you really have to be a Lewis fan.
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A Grief Observed is the journal C. S. Lewis kept after losing his wife, Joy, to cancer. In it he pours out his feelings, as his faith is battered by the storms of grief. I felt a bit awkward reading it, kind of like I was standing around, gawking at a car accident. On one hand, you want to see what's happening, but on the other you don't want to intrude on another's misfortune and sorrow. Of course, reading a published book is hardly an intrusion on anyone. The book was an interesting way to consider my own beliefs without having to personally suffer the loss of my wife. --J.
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A powerful look at grief.
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In A Grief Observed the author chronicles his thoughts and feelings as he comes to terms with the death of his wife. At 64 pages (London : Faber and Faber, 1966) this is a slim volume, but the content is potent. As Lewis grapples with his faith in God, one cannot help but feel uncomfortable at times (even as an atheist), yet one feels a strangely irresistible, almost voyeuristic, impulse to continue reading. I can't think of a comparable work. Although I do not share the author's religious inclinations, I am sure I will turn to this book for consolation whenever I am confronted with a family bereavement.
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I read this back in high school (as many of Lewis' books) and couldn't put it down. How he changes talking about his grief and forming that into a love for Christ is nothing short of brilliant!
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I know this is a classic per se, but I didn't like the book. It was hard to get into the book for me, and I found Lewis' writings distant. The book is about how C.S. Lewis deals with the tragedy of his wife's death; however, the forward lets you know that his wife had a terminal illness when he married her. I would've rather read Lewis' thoughts on that matter instead.
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In this slender volume, C.S. Lewis shares his personal experience with grief following the death of his wife. This is a grief that has him questioning his belief in God and exposing the raw, painful, angry emotions that accompany his grieving process. There are many ways to grieve, but one thing is certain - it has to be faced, and Lewis has done just that in this book. The harsh reality that everyone who lives will die means that we must all face grief at some time if we haven't already done so. His experiences with grief are not unique, but he is to be applauded for sharing his palpable pain in a way that may help others who suffer a loss of such magnitude.
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A wonderful short piece of work. I greatly enjoyed to hear honest questions being answered and appreciated that he took them very seriously. I belief time of doubt is so necessary but is often not talked about. I welcome it, however, and love when books like this and Disappointment with God by Philip Yancey tackle questions head on.
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This is one of the most remarkable books I've ever known. It is, in my experience, the best work of short nonfiction in Christian literary history. Regardless, it is certainly one of the most poignant. I feel inadequate to explain further, but being so brief a book, I see no reason why you shouldn't read it.For those of you who struggle with completing nonfiction, I will tell you that you likely will have no such problem with "A Grief Observed". It's emotionally, psychologically, philosophically, and theologically compelling, applicable to personal experience, and fascinating down to each and every vivid sentence. I for one make it my intent, with delight, to read it many times again.
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It's hard to rate something like this book. The text itself acknowledges the truth of the title: it is a single grief observed, not grief in general. Interest in C. S. Lewis and his life, or his point of view on faith, or interest in this book through recent grief of your own, is the best portal into this book.

I haven't lost anyone as near and dear to me as H. to Jack. I lost my grandmother recently, and I recognise some of the feelings he describes -- and oh, how much do I fear feeling them for myself in full force, one day.

He is analytical about his grief, thinking it through in stages, asking questions of God and trying to answer them for himself. Thus, it's not quite as painful to read as it could be. His son's introduction is quite painful, when he speaks of 'Jack' and his pain, so familiarly, so tenderly.

I hate the reviews of this that say it's all mind and no heart. Probably because I'm an analytical, 'cold-hearted' person myself -- I see myself in C. S. Lewis' observed grief -- and yes, I feel pain as much as anyone else, I just address it differently. Everyone grieves in different ways; no two griefs are alike.

Truly cheerful stuff to read on one's birthday.
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In A Grief Observed, author C.S. Lewis shares the journal he wrote after the death of his wife Helen Joy Gresham, nee Davidman. As his stepson observed, few could have written so powerfully and honestly about his pain and grief, few would, and fewer still would have published the journal (Lewis xix). Lewis begins his journal as an attempt to face and temper his grief. “Come”, he says, “What do we gain by evasions? We are under the harrow and can’t escape. Reality, looked at steadily, is unbearable (28).” As he uses up the last of the four manuscript books in the house—and resolves to buy no more—he finds that that the journal has served its purpose as a defense against total collapse (59). Lewis published his journal (originally under a pseudonym) with the hope that those who have similarly lost a spouse might find some consolation from his writing. Honest in all things, the Christian apologist also provides a portrait of a religious man whose faith is shaken.Through four decades, Lewis’s journal has spoken to the newly bereaved as a friend might. However, few are the friends who can find the words and the will to comfort, as Lewis discovers. Even his stepson seems embarrassed to discuss his mother’s death and the grief both husband and son feel (9). People don’t know what to say, and the bereaved one’s presence is an uncomfortable reminder of the loss almost half of them will face one day, if they outlive their spouses (10). The bereaved one doesn’t want to be alone, but doesn’t want to be talked to (3)—a preference that anyone who has suffered depression will recognize. As the bereaved emerge from the first painful weeks of grieving, dry academic treatises cannot provide comfort like that found in the insights and candor of someone who has suffered the same kind of loss. At the least, A Grief Observed reassures the newly bereaved that they are not alone in their chaotic thoughts and pain and anger, and more importantly, that grief’s grip on their lives will relax as time passes. Like anyone who has kept a journal, Lewis rereads his earlier entries, frequently chastising himself for undue attention to self, regretting the whining that he seemed to perhaps be enjoying. His honesty in retaining these less than flattering entries is a gift to his readers, whose manner or rituals for handling grief he, for one, will not judge (56). Lewis validates the grieving process for his readers by describing it as well as the place in a life that the loved one held. No trophy wife, H., as Lewis refers to her in his journal, was “my daughter and my mother, my pupil and my teacher, my subject and my sovereign; and always holding these in solution, my trusty comrade, friend, shipmate, fellow-soldier. My mistress; but at the same time all that any man friend…has been to me” (47). Valuing her “masculine” traits as well as the “feminine” ones she called forth in him, Lewis finds that marriage reconciles the two: “Thus by a paradox, this carnival of sexuality leads us out beyond our sexes (49).” Yet he recognizes the limits of the one-flesh metaphor. While his mind could sympathize with her travail, the miseries of the dying and of the bereaved are complementary and opposite, as are the bodies of the lovers (13). Most missed was “the cleansing tang of her otherness” (20). Married only three years, with re-emergence of her cancer always a possibility, Lewis reports that they “... 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.” (7). The reader is left wishing that the Lewises had had more time together for their feast of love—for themselves, of course, but also so that Lewis could have lent his voice to readers who had survived longer marriages, for surely the tenor of such unions changes and deepens. Still, regardless of the number of years, Lewis, in marrying a seriously ill woman, embraces the truth that most of us would defer: no less than courtship and marriage, bereavement is part of the universal experience of love (50).In describing the state and the process of grieving, Lewis traces its root to the physical absence of the loved one—no matter that she may exist elsewhere on another plane, her restoration in physical form is all that the bereaved wishes. Her absence is felt not just in this place or in that situation, but “like the sky, spread over everything” (11). Habitual impulses in which the loved one is the target of feeling, action, and thought are repeatedly frustrated (47), and until reference to the loved one lessens, the person grieves. Still, Lewis resists feeling better as somehow being unfaithful to his deceased wife (53). While recovery is halting with many relapses, it comes eventually like the dawn with no “sudden, striking or emotional transition” (62), signaled at first by a moment or two of happiness sparked by once-pleasant situations. The stages of Lewis’s grief sound remarkably similar to that Kubler-Ross describes in the dying, that is, denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance (ix). As a committed Christian, Lewis directs his anger toward his Deity.Much religious discourse is devoted to reconciling injustice with the existence of deities, that is, the theodicy trilemma: 1. God is good; 2. God is all-powerful; 3. Bad things happen to apparently innocent people (Oden 5). Once an atheist, Lewis converted as an adult to middle-of-the-road Anglicanism, apparently rejecting the Calvinist concept of predestination, but accepting teachings such as original sin (nobody is wholly innocent), purgatory (temporary suffering is educative), and man’s inability to know the mind of the Creator—the spitting cat doesn’t know (or care) whether his tormenter is a veterinarian or a vivisector (Lewis 40). With regard to God’s intent, Lewis asks how much reality can sift through man’s abstract intelligence, selective memory, preconceptions and assumptions (64)?The lack of consolation afforded by Lewis’s religious faith was a surprise although his honesty is no doubt reassuring to his similarly bereaved readers: “…don’t come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don’t understand (Lewis 25).” Isolated, he observes that “…go to Him when your need is desperate…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 (6).” But then, he adds that Christ himself was similarly abandoned in His time of need. Perhaps like a drowning man, the person in great need has no capacity to receive help (46) while his faith is being tested. Striking out in anger, Lewis renames his God the “Cosmic Sadist” and the “Eternal Vivisector” (38). His Christian faith provides some tentative answers. How could such an apparently cruel God also create daffodils, he wonders hopefully (31). Had the Lewises “mastered the exercise” and a schoolmaster-God deemed it time to move on to another lesson (48)? The possibility of an after-life holds little comfort at first, since H. is now “like God, incomprehensible and unimaginable (24)”, not the physical presence that he loved. Contemplating purgatory, where H., “a soul straight, bright, and tempered like a sword…will be made even brighter”, Lewis himself is tortured, begging, “But oh God, tenderly, tenderly. Already, month by month and week by week you broke her body on the wheel whilst she wore it. Is it not yet enough (42)?” Bargaining that the only way he would yet see H. again was to “sidle back to God (68)”, Lewis reasons that her death has now left him free to love God first (70), a less than resounding affirmation of the value of religion—but again an honest evaluation with which his bereaved readers will identify.A Grief Observed is an example of the best that a journal can be. The author found it healing, and in sharing it with all his doubts and dark moments, Lewis gives the comfort of true understanding to all his bereaved readers. Those of us who are not (yet) similarly tasked, can appreciate Lewis’s insights on the universal experience of love, on the utility of his Christian beliefs, and on the emotional needs of our bereaved friends. Works CitedKubler-Ross, Elisabeth. On Death and Dying. New York: Collier Books. 1993.Lewis, Clive Staples. A Grief Observed. New York: HarperCollins (sic) Publishers, Inc. 2001.Oden, Robert. God and Mankind: Comparative Religions. Cassette. Chantilly, VA: The Teaching Company. 1992.
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I have listened to this book several times on CD since the death of my husband. So far it comes the closest to describing what I find to be indescribable, the grief felt when one loses their soul mate and the inability to put the loss into perspective for those on the outside. I recommend this for anyone who has lost someone close or to someone who is trying to understand someone elses grief.
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The most human of lewis's works.
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This book was difficult to relate to because it is a diary of sorts of CSL's very deep and personal experience in losing his wife to illness. The validity of CSL's Christian faith comes into consideration though I don't think it is a crisis of faith. One can relate to a good deal of what CSL writes. The book gives expression to the inexpressible.
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Honest, hopeful in even the bleakest of times, another glimpse of Lewis' brilliance.
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