Monday, April 11, 2016

Grief II

After yesterday's post about C.S. Lewis's A Grief Observed a friend sent me the "Foreword" to a more recent edition than the one I have. It was authored by Douglas Gresham, son of Joy Davidman and step-son of C.S. Lewis. I haven't been able to find that edition of the book on Amazon — the "Foreword" in the one linked above was by Madeleine L'Engle. The book was, of course, written in response to Gresham's mother's death in 1960 when Gresham was 14. From Douglas Gresham's Foreword:
A Grief Observed is not an ordinary book. In a sense it is not a book at all, it is rather, the passionate result of a brave man turning to face his agony and examine it in order that he might further understand what is required of us in living this life in which we have to expect the pain and sorrow of the loss of those whom we love. It is true to say that very few men could have written this book, and even truer to say that even fewer men would have written this book even if they could, fewer still would have published it even if they had written it.

My stepfather, C.S. Lewis, had written before on the topic of pain (The Problem of Pain, 1940), and pain was not an experience with which he was unfamiliar. He had met grief as a child, he lost his mother when he was nine years old. He had grieved for friends lost to him over the years, some lost in battle during the first World War, others to sickness. ....

Helen Joy Gresham (née Davidman), the "H." referred to in this book, was perhaps the only woman whom Jack ever met who was his intellectual equal, and also as well-read and widely educated as he was himself. They shared another common factor; they were both possessed of total recall. Jack never forgot anything he had read, and neither did she. ....

Much has been written, both fictional and factual (sometimes one masquerading as the other) concerning their lives and their meeting and marriage, but the most important part of the story pertaining to this book, is simply a recognition of the great love that grew between them until it was an almost visible incandescence, they seemed to walk together within a glow of their own making. ....

This book is a man emotionally naked in his own Gethsemane. It tells of the agony and the emptiness of a grief such as few of us have to bear, for the greater the love the greater the grief, and the stronger the faith the more savagely will Satan storm its fortress. When Jack was racked with the emotional pain of his bereavement, he also suffered the mental anguish resulting from three years of living in constant fear, the physical agony of osteoporosis and other ailments, and the sheer exhaustion of spending those last few weeks in constant caring for his dying wife. His mind stretched to some unimaginable tension far beyond anything a lesser man could bear, he turned to writing down his thoughts and his reactions to them, in order to try to make some sense of the whirling chaos that was assaulting his mind. At the time that he was writing them, he did not intend that these effusions were to be published, but on reading through them some time later, he felt that they might well be of some help to others who were similarly afflicted with the turmoil of thought and feeling which grief forces upon us. This book was first published under the pseudonym of N.W. Clerk. In its stark honesty and unadorned simplicity the book has a power which is rare, it is the power of unabashed truth.

What many of us discover in this outpouring of anguish, is that we know exactly what he is talking about. Those of us who have walked this same path, or are walking it as we read this book, find that we are not, after all, as alone as we thought. C.S. Lewis, the writer of so much that is so clear and so right, the thinker whose acuity of mind and clarity of expression enabled us to understand so much, this strong and determined Christian, he too fell headlong into the vortex of whirling thoughts and feelings and dizzily groped for support and guidance deep in the dark chasm of grief. .... [the Foreword]
Douglas Gresham's own book about his mother and C.S. Lewis is Lenten Lands: My Childhood with Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis.