Grief is both a dark and dreadful thing. Unfortunately, it is also an experience that is inextricably linked with being human. When Benjamin Franklin said, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes,” he was absolutely right. What he didn’t mention, however, was the experienced consequence of death for those left behind — namely grief — which is equally guaranteed for as long as we’re alive. Yes, the simple reality is that at some point we will all grieve, and it will be hard.
One man who knew grief on an intimate level was famed author and Christian apologist, C.S. Lewis. In 1960, Lewis’ wife — American poet, Joy Davidman — passed away from cancer, prompting Lewis to pen a series of raw reflections on grief, God, and the deepest searchings of faith. While it is not possible to mine the depths of wisdom found in A Grief Observed or The Problem of Pain by simply plucking out a few quotes, Lewis’ enduring words, which are rooted in personal experience, may help us learn something about how to deal with grief in a wise, honest and contemplative manner.
So, without further ado, here are eight poignant C.S. Lewis quotes that will provide some profound insights into the process of dealing with loss:
“Bereavement is a universal and integral part of our experience of love.”
When we open ourselves up to loving someone, we risk experiencing grief. It’s a painful conundrum: you cannot know the depths of true love without, at the same time, being acutely aware of the sorrow that a potential loss may bring. Love and grief may feel like polar opposites, and to some degree they are: one provokes euphoria, comfort and fulfillment, while the other causes pain, depression and despondency. But just as we risk heartbreak by bringing a child into a world of such suffering, so we also throw ourselves into loving others despite the risk of being acquainted with grief. The trade-off, as most of us will know, is worth it. Indeed, without precious friends and family in our lives — and the potential for loss — we would never get to experience the wonderful, God-given gift of love.
“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.”
Grief manifests in many different ways, and the experience is likely to be different from person to person. However, one common observation is the unwelcome presence of fear. Perhaps it is fear of the future without the person you’ve lost, or fear that you will forget them if you start to move on. Sometimes, fear is unspecific, inexplicable and has the ability to descend on you like a misty grey fog. It can be strange and unnerving.
The key, however, is to let yourself feel it. Running from fear very rarely helps, and it can actually intensify when you attempt to mask it or pretend it doesn’t exist. Instead, facing it head on can be an effective way to combat this unpleasant emotion. Moreover, there are a couple of proven antidotes to fear; namely love and faith. When we have faith in God’s plan for our lives and his ultimate sovereignty over our circumstances, fear is granted no hold on us. Similarly, the scriptures tell us that “there is no fear in love,” but rather, “perfect love casts out fear.” We can trust that fear will be banished when we call upon the name of the Lord.
“We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn,’ and I accept it. I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for.”
In John’s gospel, Jesus uttered the famous words, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Here’s the brutal reality: we weren’t promised an easy road in life. We will all, at some point, experience loss and bereavement. Grief is integral to the human experience.
However, as Lewis rightly highlights, Jesus also told us that those who mourn will be blessed. As you grieve, you can be assured that the Spirit of God will draw near to you and comfort you in your time of sorrow. Indeed, the prospect of suffering need not scare us if we know the one who overcame it on the cross.
“I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow. Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process.”
When you hear the word grief, perhaps you think of the famous “five stages”: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. These can be certainly helpful in assessing where you are on the grief journey. However, many take issue with the final stage of acceptance, believing that this somehow means that you’ve forgotten your loved one or are happily moving on in life without them. This is rarely the experience of those who have suffered loss. Instead, many would say that you “never get over” the death as such, but rather that you learn to experience peace and joy again in spite of the enduring heartache. Grief is a continual and often life-long process — you should never feel guilty for being at the stage you’re at.
“Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say “My tooth is aching” than to say “My heart is broken.”
While it may be necessary to grieve alone for a period of time, the burden of sorrow is simply too great for one single person — it must be shared. However, as is the case with many experiences of emotional turmoil, grief can be incredibly difficult to reveal to others. Too often, we convince ourselves that “looking to have it all together” is more important than grieving and healing healthily.
Unfortunately, as those who have suffered emotional strife will tell you, mental pain festers in the darkness. So, with care and wisdom, bring it into the light; articulate your thoughts and feelings with a trusted friend or family member, and don’t be afraid to seek out the services of a specialist grief counselor. Yes, physical pain is easier to explain, but mental anguish is just as real, and can be even more destructive if it is kept bottled up.
“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
“What is God teaching you through this period?” would be a rather glib question to ask someone who is in the midst of intense grief, and we must be careful when trying to posit spiritual challenge to those in such heavy situations. With that being said, we cannot deny that God does and will teach us things through the darkest seasons of our lives. Lewis reminds us that the Lord “shouts in our pains,” and that we would be wise to seek out his voice of life in all situations and circumstances.
“Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape.”
Following the loss of someone close, and beyond a period of intense grief, we can be sure of one thing: life will never be the same again.
“A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.”
Keep the faith. As Lewis repeatedly points out in A Grief Observed, this can be wildly difficult to do, especially in a time of deep sorrow. So take heart: if perhaps the greatest Christian writer of the last several hundred years has the capacity to engage in such deep spiritual questioning, we may too find ourselves susceptible to a crisis of faith at some stage or other. There is no doubt that grief and hardship often marches us into the barren desert of spiritual nothingness. Indeed, as we reluctantly plod through this pilgrimage of pain, we may endure somewhat of an existential crisis, desperately searching for answers to life’s deepest questions.
But as Lewis reminds us here, we cannot deny the existence of God by refusing to turn to him. He is alive, and he loves us. Wonderfully, no amount of earthly darkness will ever be able to extinguish his heavenly light. May we know this now, and may we hold fast to it when our time of grief and sorrow comes.