Perhaps best known for his children’s fantasy series, The Chronicles of Narnia, there is something painfully and undeniably human about C. S. Lewis’ short reflection on sorrow, A Grief Observed. The book was originally published under the pseudonym N. W. Clerk after his wife died of cancer. In his time of grief, Lewis turned to the two things he knew best to help him cope: his writing and his faith. Written in a series of partially used notebooks he had found lying around the house, A Grief Observed is Lewis’ reflections on how he was handling the loss of his wife, how it affected the way he remembered her, the way it affected how others treated him, and what it showed him about his relationship with God.
I was hesitant going into this book because I don’t consider myself overly religious and Lewis has earned quite the reputation for his clearly Christian beliefs and for including them in his writing. It was a pleasant surprise to find that this work didn’t preach. He maintains throughout that the experience never shook his belief in the existence of God, only in the way he viewed Him. In fact, it was obvious that Lewis was writing for himself and not for any particular audience. The pain and struggle to make sense of what he was feeling are raw and honest.
There is no formal narrative structure because this is not a novel. No one is referred to by name, not even his late wife. He only ever calls her his beloved H (Lewis’ wife was actually named Joy; the H is left over from the initial release). Having been written in pieces like journal entries, it’s amazing how well the stream-of-consciousness flows. He made sure he used completed thoughts, and yet he seamlessly moves from one idea, one fear, one hope, to the next.
It’s unclear how much time passes between the start of his reflections and the conclusion he forced himself to come to. It is also unclear how long after the death of his wife he began writing this study on his grief. What is clear is that in some way, writing about his pain, helped him come to terms with his fears and doubts concerning being left behind and living with his faith every day.
A Grief Observed is very short and easily read, but it manages to be more thought provoking than many books several times its length. Not having lost anyone as significant to me as Lewis’ wife was to him, I can’t say how it would be taken by someone who could better relate to his level of loss, whether it would comfort or upset them, but in general I would recommend it.
Though there were only a few instances where Lewis addressed it, what I found most intriguing were his explorations of how his status as a recent widower and his visible grief affected the way those around him acted towards him. I’m more familiar with that side of grieving and the perspective of the primary griever was quite engaging.