A Grief Observed Summary

C.S. Lewis

A Grief Observed

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A Grief Observed Summary

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A Grief Observed is a 1961 nonfiction work by C.S. Lewis. It was originally published under a pseudonym, as it details Lewis’s emotional journey following the death of his wife, Helen. It was later republished under Lewis’s name in 1963, after his death. Lewis explores difficult topics in A Grief Observed, including how he struggled with his thoughts on religion and God following his wife’s death. As a famous theologian, these struggles are poignant.

The book is divided into four sections, as they were sections of his journals during the time after his wife’s death. He refers to her as “H” throughout the work. H died of cancer after only three years of marriage to Lewis. In the beginning of his recollections, he is obviously still tortured after her death. He expresses his anger and hopelessness over what has occurred.

Lewis also questions God’s goodness, and if He cares about people. Lewis wonders if God is ambivalent to his creations. He asks the universe where God could be. Lewis wonders if Jesus was correct in his last words on the cross, asking why God had forsaken him. Lewis postulates if those words meant Jesus realized God was terrible, and different from what he had always believed. Lewis did not have difficulties with the thought of not believing in God, but that the belief that God was spitefully indifferent when He is needed most. Lewis refers to God as a “Cosmic Sadist,” who treats his creations like rats in a laboratory.

He mocks platitudes like “she will live in your memory,” as living is certainly not something H will be doing anymore. Consolations of religion mean nothing to Lewis at this point in his grief. Saying she is in God’s hands does not console him; as God did not protect her in His hands before death, why would they protect her more gently after death? He wonders if every prayer he has offered to God in his life was just false hope. Any sort of remission or glimmer of hope was just a preparation for the next awful occurrence.

Lewis feels as if he is watching life through a veil. He cannot think or process beyond the veil. Oftentimes, if he begins to feel H’s loss more strongly, he attempts to distract himself. He tries to remember what it was like to feel happy during his bachelorhood. Lewis tries to stop himself from shedding “maudlin tears,” as he knows his wife would condemn them. His writings continue down the path of hopelessness, as he wonders if the gates of heaven will forever be shut to him.

Lewis continues to talk about his struggles living his life without H. He has difficulties discussing her loss with their sons. Lewis felt that he belonged to his wife in body and in spirit, therefore his simple existence is a constant reminder of her loss. He and his wife had real intimacy—one that was intellectual and more of a connection than regular emotional intimacy. Lewis praises his wife for having a realistic view of the world, which he misses. Lewis begins to apply his wife’s realistic view of the world to his own faith.

Lewis regards his faith as a house of cards. His belief in God is like a tenuous house of cards, built on the beliefs Lewis himself constructed, not in the reality of God. Lewis wonders if he needs to metaphorically knock down the cards of his faith and build an entirely new personal, realistic belief system.

The book moves on from Lewis’s grief and struggle to a level of acceptance. He begins to remember his wife in happiness, without painful feelings attached to her memory. Although he acknowledges the pain he felt, he observes it in a different way. Lewis compares the healing to that of an amputated leg; there is so much healing beyond just the closing of the wound. All the platitudes become clearer to Lewis. She is a sword in God’s hand, perhaps making lightening.

Lewis accepts his wife’s death as part of God’s plan. He no longer views God behind that locked door, and he is no longer lost in the painful memories of his wife. H’s death was a natural progression, just as a marriage follows a courtship. His image of God has been shattered, but Lewis wonders if the shattering is part of the process of His presence. God is, as Lewis believes, the great iconoclast. His reality and true incarnation leaves the belief and thought of Him in ruins.

Lewis has realized that God uses pain to inspire people to trust Him as He is, and to use Him as comfort. Perhaps his questions to God were almost like nonsense in the grand scheme of the universe. Asking why God behaves the way that he does is like asking if yellow is round or square. His answers are that of looking at a child who does not understand their question, what Lewis refers to as a “No Answer.”

Finally, he compares humanity to lilies. God wanted humans to be lilies in a field, but organized differently. Giving us pain and a spirit is God’s grand plan. It does not make sense and is somewhat oxymoronic, but the struggle must be part of the ultimate conclusion.