In the last year, I've experienced a spate of close family deaths, but Lewis’s A GRIEF OBSERVED is a personal diary I could relate to only fleetingly. Perhaps his sincere grief, and its intensity, is different to my grief because, thankfully, I haven’t yet lost my own much-loved spouse.
While Madeleine L’Engle’s introduction was an erudite and emotional expression of her grief after losing her husband of 40 years, Lewis’s first two chapters were too angrily self-absorbed and incoherent for me to gain any comfort or connection with his writing. To his credit, he appears fully aware of this, and expresses his own doubts about his painful intellectual ramblings about what is, in truth, a purely emotional experience.
“Do I hope,” he says on Page 32, “that if feeling disguises itself as thought I shall feel less?” And later, on Page 36, he says, “Feelings, and feelings, and feelings. Let me try thinking instead.” I was left with the impression that, in his obvious shock at losing his beloved H, despite all their prayers, he turned to his outstanding intellect for succour, and found none.
Reflecting the social era in which he wrote it (1960), and his own genius (he was an Oxford Fellow), there are also hints of social and intellectual elitism in this book. Lewis’s disparaging dismissal of a labouring man’s grief for his Mum (Page 21 and 51) did expose certain personal attitudes to people he considered intellectually and socially beneath him.
But then, like grief itself, this is a very individual book. Lewis’s grief cannot be mine, and vice versa. I’m left with a mild sense of distaste that such a personal diary was ever published and wonder why Lewis agreed to publish such an intimate and, at times, hostile reflection of his private experience of loss.
However, the last two chapters, when Lewis has clearly begun to find his emotional balance again, did provide some interesting and challenging thoughts on death, the process of grieving and God. Observations such as the small gem “Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process,” made the book worth finishing.