I just finished reading C. S. Lewis’s journal, A Grief Observed, which he wrote following his wife’s death. The edition I read was prefaced with an essay by novelist Madeleine L’Engle and an introduction by Lewis’s stepson, Douglas H. Gresham. Both L’Engle and Gresham discuss the importance of recognizing the uniqueness of each experience of grief, but also of understanding that, in L’Engle’s words, “we do not know. [Death] is not in the realm of proof. It is in the realm of love.”
A Grief Observed was my first encounter with C. S. Lewis outside of the Narnia books assigned in elementary school, and even though I was tackling it as part of my grad school reading list I expected to learn more about the nature of grief than about the nature of writing. I was captivated, then, to understand his writing as part of the process of his grief–an experience I’ve been thinking about as I’ve been observing my own writing as it relates to the unfolding of grief in my lifetime.
From A Grief Observed:
“Images of the Holy easily become holy images—sacrosanct. My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it Himself. He is the great iconoclast…
All reality is iconoclastic. The earthly beloved [now deceased], even in this life, incessantly triumphs over your mere idea of her. And you want her to; you want her with all her resistances, all her faults, all her unexpectedness. That is, in her foursquare and independent reality. And this, not any image or memory, is what we are to love still, after she is dead.
But ‘this’ is not now imaginable. In that respect H. and all the dead are like God. In that respect loving her has become, in its measure, like loving Him. In both cases I must stretch out the arms and hands of love—its eyes cannot here be used—to the reality, through—across—all the changeful phantasmagoria of my thoughts, passions, and imaginings. I mustn’t sit down content with the phantasmagoria itself and worship that for Him, or love that for her.
Not my idea of God, but God. Not my idea of H., but H. Yes, and also not my idea of my neighbour, but my neighbour. For don’t we often make this mistake as regards people who are still alive—who are with us in the same room? Talking and acting not to the man himself but to the picture—almost the précis—we’ve made of him in our own minds? And he has to depart from it pretty widely before we even notice the fact. In real life—that’s one way it differs from novels—his words and acts are, if we observe closely, hardly ever quite ‘in character,’ that is, in what we call his character. There’s always a card in his hand we didn’t know about.
My reason for assuming that I do this to other people is the fact that so often I find them obviously doing it to me. We all think we’ve got one another taped.”