Literary Interlude – A Grief Observed, CS Lewis

“Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything’

Several months ago an acquaintance recommended I read A Grief Observed by CS Lewis, a short collection of his thoughts in the time following the death of his wife. It sounded dry, dull and completely lacking in lions, witches and wardrobes. I put in on my mental bookshelf, doomed to collect dust until it eventually disappeared from my cluttered mind altogether.

However, recent events conspired to bring this work to the front of my mind, compelling me to seek out the original recommendation (I could only remember it as ‘The Book With Grief In The Title”) and procuring a download of the book two days ago.

I’ve read it twice.

There’s a lot to unpack, and it’s going to be a while before I’ve mentally and emotionally processed all of the thoughts and feelings surfaced while studying the text, but there are a few items that struck an immediate chord.

CS Lewis took a pilgrimage shortly after the passing of his wife, ‘H’. Similar to my time in Ireland, he visited places important to them in life. His discovery, however was that she wasn’t any less absent in those locations than she was anywhere else.

In my race to escape Christine I avoided reminders of her. I went out of my way to avoid anything that would trigger feelings, thoughts and especially emotions related to her being gone.

But the thing is, it didn’t work. No matter what lengths I went to, she was always there. Or rather, she wasn’t there and her constant absence was a reason to remember her.

On the other hand, trying to escape her brought on anxiety and increased the impact of the PTSD I’ve been suffering from. The more I tried to avoid feeling the loss the more I was reminded of it.

I was in a state of near panic constantly.

Now, after finally facing my greatest fear and embracing Christine I have realized something else. She is absolutely everywhere. She is in everything I see, everything I do. There are reminders of her and us. It can be beautiful.

Sometimes.

However, as the above quote continues, there is one place she isn’t present in a way that is acute and jagged.

“But no, that is not quite accurate. There is one place where her absence comes locally home to me, and it is a place I can’t avoid. I mean my own body. It had such a different importance while it was the body of H.’s lover. Now it’s like an empty house.”

I may be at the very beginning of learning to live without my beautiful, passionate, magnetic, vibrant, broken, beloved wife, but can I be whole again?

‘It will get better’

Will it? Should it? Lewis compares sharing this statement with a widower to sharing the same sentiment with an amputee, which seems to be the perfect example.

‘The leg you’ve lost will get better’

In one sense, yes. The wound will heal. An amputee will learn to become more ambulatory. Prosthetics will assist even more. You will live, and in time your life will be better than it was just after losing a limb.

But the limb will always be missing.

In the same way, I don’t believe I will ever be whole again. Not like I was with Christine.

Will I live? Yes. Will it get better? Of course. Could I meet someone and fall desperately in love with them? Yes. It’s entirely possible.

But I can’t imagine ever being whole again. Not all the way. There will always be a piece of me that is absent and can never be replaced.

And as much as it hurts, as painful as it is, maybe it’s also OK.

Maybe it’s right to let her have that part of me.

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