A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis – Book Review

Blurb from Goodreads

This brief but poignant book was first published in 1961 and concerns the death of C. S. Lewis’ wife, the American-born poet Joy Davidman.

In her introduction to this new edition, Madeleine L’Engle writes: “I am grateful to Lewis for having the courage to yell, to doubt, to kick at God in angry violence. This is a part of a healthy grief which is not often encouraged. It is helpful indeed that C. S. Lewis, who has been such a successful apologist for Christianity, should have the courage to admit doubt about what he has so superbly proclaimed. It gives us permission to admit our own doubts, our own angers and anguishes, and to know that they are part of the soul’s growth.”

Written in longhand in notebooks that Lewis found in his home, A Grief Observed probes the “mad midnight moments” of Lewis’ mourning and loss, moments in which he questioned what he had previously believed about life and death, marriage, and even God. Writing A Grief Observed as “a defense against total collapse, a safety valve,” he came to recognise that “bereavement is a universal and integral part of our experience of love.”

My Review

Please note: I wrote this review in the summer of 2016 and am now cross-posting it from Goodreads to my blog.

Saying goodbye to someone who was there beside us our whole lives is just about the hardest thing we ever have to do. 


“And grief still feels like fear. Perhaps, more strictly, like suspense. Or like waiting; just hanging about waiting for something to happen. It gives life a permanently provisional feeling. It doesn’t seem worth starting anything. I can’t settle down. I yawn, I fidget, I smoke too much. Up till this I always had too little time. Now there is nothing but time. Almost pure time, empty successiveness.”

I lost someone just last week. Unexpectedly. Out of the blue. Caught completely unawares and both my head and heart were set into a tailspin of grief and loss.

And for a few days I found comfort with my family, with our funeral traditions; we grieved together and we buried him. But then I had to return to my real life and to the day to day living in this world. And I couldn’t stop looking around me and judging others. I saw the sunshine, I saw people going about their business and I wanted to stop them and say ‘don’t you realise what has happened? Don’t you realise the world had lost one of its most amazing people?’

But that’s the grief talking.

I’ve read a lot of poetry these past few days. I always like to find comfort in words. And then I came across this book online. “A Grief Observed”.

It’s not a self-help book.

Not a book to make you understand why it is we grieve or how to best come to terms with our loss…

But what it is, is one man’s journal of his experience of grief after the death of his wife. As I was reading it I could recognise some of my own feelings. It made me feel good to read about loss… does that sound strange?

I guess what I mean is I have all these crazy thoughts in my head right now. I want so badly to talk to my loved one again just to see his face light up; to hear his laughter and his opinions on life… and I keep forgetting that I can’t actually ever do that anymore.

And those moments are the worst. When you remember that he’s gone forever.

But then there are moments of happiness like when the little kids next door make me laugh and I forget that I’m sad… And then I remember that I’m supposed to be grieving and I feel almost guilty for laughing. I say to myself ‘doesn’t grief and loss mean I should be sad all the time?’

This book doesn’t have the answers. But it made me feel understood. I didn’t, or at least haven’t so far, experienced everything like CS Lewis did. I didn’t lose a spouse so I guess that’s quite different but we both lost someone we loved.

But like Mr Lewis did I’ve asked some questions about the whys and the whats of life and theology.

I think in these moments it’s quite natural to turn to any theistic beliefs we have, our faith in something greater than who we are, think about what may come after.

He certainly asked more questions than I did, but reading about his beliefs, which don’t necessarily correspond with my own, made me feel better about having my own questions.

And in reading about his grief I felt connected to life. We each experience death and grief differently. This isn’t the first time I’ve lost someone that I dearly loved but this time for whatever reason I needed something to connect me back to living and I found a little bit of comfort in this short book.

I’m not making much sense. All I know is death sucks. Grieving sucks. There’s no right or wrong way to grieve. There’s just learning to live without someone and cherishing the memories you have and all the wonderful years they were in your life.


“I once read the sentence ‘I lay awake all night with toothache, thinking about toothache and about lying awake.’ That’s true to life. Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery’s shadow or reflection: the fact that you don’t merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer. I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief.”

Addendum

It’s been five years since I wrote this review. Five years since I lost the man that was to all intents and purposes my surrogate grandfather. And I still miss him terribly. I still feel the shock of his sudden passing.

In the years that followed we’ve lost his wife too; I was sadly too unwell to make it to her funeral and watched it online from my sick bed. And death has claimed a further two people that I loved just as much.

I don’t think grieving ever gets easier.

Personally I learned to sit with my sorrow, and in time the pain became bittersweet as I was able to recall with fondness things I loved about each of these people who touched my life in the most beautiful of ways.

I’m very thankful I read this book. It helped me during the most acute part of my grieving, and it helped me to keep living while honouring the lives of the deceased . So if you’re struggling with grief and loss I highly recommend it.

And may the memories we have of the ones who have left us behind be an eternal blessing and comfort. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a h’anam dílis.

2 thoughts on “A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis – Book Review

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s