At the beginning of the year, a friend’s mother in my Accountability Group passed away. We gathered last week on Zoom to support his loss. A couple hours after that meeting, I found out my uncle was in the ICU for his heart. He needed surgery, but was too weak to have it done. He passed away the next day.
To help process the loss and my questions about unhealed childhood trauma, I wrote about what we don’t say at a funeral service that we really need to learn to talk about. I struggled if the quote I used on this week’s Motivational Monday blog was appropriate (it didn’t feel so motivational to me), yet I posted it anyway. Grief is a part of life.
This week’s share day is on grief.
I read C.S. Lewis’s book A Grief Observed (well, actually listened to the audio book) prior to meeting with my Accountability Pod. Ironically, it was mentioned in the daily reading of my bible plan on the day my friend reached out to us for connection. This is a must read for anyone struggling with grief, be it the loss of a loved one, a pet, or grieving the loss of a relationship. I ordered my paperback copy a couple of days ago.
Many of us know C.S. Lewis as the author of the Chronicles of Narnia series. I’ve heard he’s good friends with J.R. Tolkien (one of my all time favorite authors) and that C.S. Lewis was religious, with a lot of Christian ideas sprinkled throughout his Narnia books. And this is why this book appealed to me so much. After the death of his wife, in this collection of his journaling bouncing back and forth in emotions, he questions his faith, God, and writes from such a raw, painful place.
“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.
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. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.”
~ C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
There’s a forward at the beginning of the book written by the son of C.S. Lewis’s wife and about his life growing up with a man that raised him as a father. He refers to C.S. Lewis as “Jack” and since I was listening to the audio book, I was utterly confused. Is Jack C.S. Lewis?
When C.S. Lewis was four years old, his dog Jacksie was hit by a car and Lewis adopted the name Jacksie. He would answer to no other name, yet eventually he accepted Jack. Jack was how friends and family knew him.
In addition to looking that up, I found that he had originally published A Grief Observed under a pseudonym, N. W. Clerk, so his readers wouldn’t associate that work with his. Many friends suggested that C.S. Lewis read this book to help him heal from his own grief, unaware that he was the actual author. A Grief Observed was published under his real name after his death.
I found myself connecting with C.S. Lewis because I’ve too had these disjointed thoughts and emotions so many times in my life. With the death of all three of my parents and grandparents, dealing with cancer and Alzheimer’s, and the death of my marriage, I know how deep and dark grief can be.
“For in grief nothing “stays put.” One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats. Am I going in circles, or dare I hope I am on a spiral?
But if a spiral, am I going up or down it?
How often — will it be for always? — how often will the vast emptiness astonish me like a complete novelty and make me say, “I never realized my loss till this moment”? The same leg is cut off time after time.”
In 1969, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross identified the 5 stages of grief in her book On Death and Dying. This was ground breaking back then, helping people understand the emotions that were coming up when they lost someone close to them. Those five stages are:
“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
In 2005, David Kessler co-authored a book with Elisabeth titled On Grief and Grieving which takes these five stages and applies them to the grieving process. They aren’t linear, many times we bounce back and forth through these various emotions as we heal from our loss.
“The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.”
In 2016, David’s 21 year old son died from an accidental drug overdose. I listened to a podcast with Brene Brown and David Kessler where they talk about his loss, how he believed through his life’s work he was prepared to handle grief, yet the loss of his son was nothing he could have ever prepared for. He questioned if acceptance was all there was after grief and later came to believe there was a sixth stage; purpose.
His book Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief talks about finding one’s purpose, the meaning behind the loss. His purpose has been to share his personal experiences with others. Here’s a short article he wrote that was published in the Irish Times: I Thought I Knew Everything about Grief until my 21 Year Old Son Died.
“Your loss is not a test, a lesson, something to handle, a gift, or a blessing. Loss is simply what happens to you in life. Meaning is what you make happen.”
I know there’s multiple stages of grief. I understand we must go through each of them in our own time. Unfortunately, that knowledge doesn’t make healing from grief any easier.
Grief doesn’t have to include death.
It could be grieving the person you married is not who you believed them to be and the life you dreamed of will be different due to their addiction, betrayal, or abuse. Grief could be the loss of a job, your home, or any of a number of things this pandemic has brought upon us. Grief could be the loss of your business during the riots or taking the courage to come out into the open about your sexuality and being shunned for being true to yourself. Grief is what our children are struggling with as they go to school on Zoom lacking the important social connections that help us emotionally grow as a child.
Grief for one is different for another. There is no comparison.
We all need to know it’s ok to grieve. We all need to have empathy for one another when we experience loss. Each of us processes grief differently and that’s ok.
Understanding is what important.
For when we understand, we can heal.
Together We Can Heal.
“Life is an achievement, and death is part of that achievement”
~ Mother Teresa to David Kessler a year before she passed
Uncle Jack, through my words, may your life and death be an achievement for my Fledglings to help them learn to fly when they feel their wings have been clipped keeping them trapped to the ground. May you rest in peace and decorate the evening sky with my mother as she paints her beautiful sunsets for the world to enjoy.