Grief and its timewarp
It’s four months today since my Sue died. It feels more like a hundred years. This has been the bleakest Christmas I’ve ever spent. In trying to come to terms with it, I went looking to see what has been written about grief — and found very little that is useful to someone who is non-religious like me. The only exception so far is C.S Lewis’s A Grief Observed. Like me, Lewis met his wife late in life. Like me, he fell hopelessly in love with her. And like me, he was devastated when cancer took her away from him. His book is the most accurate account that I have encountered to date of what grief is like. Strip away Lewis’s attempts to reconcile his belief in a merciful God with the cruel fate that this God has permitted and one finds an exact description of many of the feelings I have experienced — only articulated more vividly than I could achieve.
Lewis is also very good on the well-intentioned assurance that one will eventually ‘get over’ such a loss. “The words are ambiguous”, he writes. “To say that the patient is getting over it after an operation for appendicitis is one thing; after he’s had a leg off it is quite another. After that operation either the wounded stump heals or the man dies. If it heals, the fierce, continuous pain will stop. Presently he will get back his strength and be able to stump about on his wooden leg. He has ‘got over it’. But he will probably have recurrent pains in the stump all his life, and perhaps pretty bad ones; and he will always be a one-legged man. There will be hardly any moment when he forgets it…. His whole way of life will be changed. All sorts of pleasures and activities that he once took for granted will have to be simply written off. Duties too. At present, I am learning to get about on crutches. Perhaps I will presently be given a wooden leg. But I shall never be a biped again”.