It was towards the end of my second year of grieving my husband when I first came upon a quote from C.S. Lewis’ 'A Grief Observed'. I was shocked to find a writer who so evocatively described my pain even as he wrote about his……
The act of living is different all through. Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything.The only things I knew previously about C.S. Lewis were that he was a very devout Christian, he’d written the Narnia Series (which I didn’t know much about because it wasn’t part of my childhood) and he’d married a Jewish woman in later life, about which I knew a little because I’d seen the Anthony Hopkins/Debra Winger movie The Shadow Lands. I hadn’t given much thought to him other than that because I figured his devotion to his religion would rule out anything much of interest to me.
Just goes to show how wrong assumptions can be. And how the pain of grief is Universal.
After coming across that one poignant quote I craved to read more from this erudite writer and purchased 'A Grief Observed' to explore further into his grief expressions, hoping to find solace in more of his descriptions of my profound pain. And find them I did.
Tonight’s diary is an exploration of C.S. Lewis’ writings as he journaled his grief over his wife’s death, later published as 'A Grief Observed'.
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No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.I’m not as restless now as I was during the first year after Russell died but I recognize when I’m heading for another major grieving cycle because I become restless as I try harder and harder to control my environment, my workplace, my life. And just about when I become a whirling dervish - Bam! - grief stops me in my tracks. Ha! All those efforts at ‘control’, they are nothing more than me trying to outrun my grief. You’d think by now I’d just give up the fight, turn around, shake hands with it and say “ok, what is it this time, let’s have it out”. But no, I fight feeling that pain just as hard as I ever have.
At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says.Yesssss. That exactly describes how I felt my entire first year of grieving. I find myself longing at times for that blanket, wishing I could feel more buffered from the rest of the world when “being present in life” is painfully hard.
This is one of the things I’m afraid of. The agonies, the mad midnight moments, must, in the course of nature, die away. But what will follow? Just this apathy, this dead flatness? Will there come a time when I no longer ask why the world is like a mean street, because I shall take the squalor as normal? Does grief finally subside into boredom tinged by faint nausea?“Boredom tinged by faint nausea”. How did he know to write this? That describes me in the aftermath of what I thought would be a delightful people-filled weekend not too long ago. My Friday night was spent at a waterfront happy hour having dinner with my neighbor and her women friends, and my Sunday was a garden tour with a friend and her relatives. And I ended the weekend feeling exhausted and, well yes, “faint nausea”. Things I would have participated in and enjoyed while Russell was alive now irritated me; I had little-to-nothing in common with the happy hour goers, the gardens seemed garish, lacking elegance. This wasn’t what I expected. My counselor tells me that the experience of grieving changes one, that I’m not the same person I was when Russell was alive, and it’s likely I’ll never experience things the same way again. I was proud of myself for scheduling “people time” into that weekend; I’m sobered by the realization that even now, when my “physical energy” has rebounded I must still be careful of my “emotional energy” quotient and plan accordingly. And I'm angry. Angry, I tell you! Because not only has Russell been taken away from me but so too has my expectation of what I can count on to help me feel better in this life here without him. Damn.
It's not true that I'm always thinking of H. Work and conversation make that impossible. But the times when I'm not are perhaps my worst. For then, though I have forgotten the reason, there is spread over everything a vague sense of wrongness, of something amiss. Like in those dreams where nothing terrible occurs - nothing that would sound even remarkable if you told it at breakfast-time - but the atmosphere, the taste, of the whole thing is deadly. So with this. I see the rowan berries reddening and I don't know for a moment why they, of all things, should be depressing. I hear a clock strike and some quality it always had before has gone out of the sound. What's wrong with the world to make it so flat, shabby, worn-out looking? Then I remember.I vascillate between resenting the profound pain of grieving while I'm experiencing it and anxiously awaiting its return when I'm not. At least when I'm grieving I know what's happening to me. Because when I'm not grieving, and I'm going about my life. and doing well, and Russell isn't front and center in my mind I don't know who I am. Russell was front and center in my life for 26 years and I know what that looks like, sounds like, feels like. But a life without all those wonderful things I hold dear? It's a life koan I don't want to think about. I'd actually rather be grieving. Like I said, at least when I'm grieving I know who I am.
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.And this too describes me. When Russell was alive I was always full of plans and dreams, always longing for more time to paint, to garden, and many other things. And now, now when I have all the time in the world, I have this strange lethargy. Yes, all of those things I wished to do still remain but they are somewhere far behind me, they no longer compel me to reach out and "do". I tell myself it's because grief continues to take my energy and what energy remains is used up taking care of the needs of living - paying bills, working, etc. But it's more than that. I can see the end of my life. Before Russell died I had that feeling of the infinity of life but now it's real to me that I'm going to die. And I think about how I will make it through the remaining years of my life without him. More than one of my widow friends have expressed their frustration at facing years plus of time without their beloved mates, 'almost pure time, empty successiveness'; C.S. Lewis said it so well for us.