In the wake of Ian’s death, I was flooded by a precious barrage of cards and books about grief that friends with their own grief stories thought might be helpful. I have faithfully read every one, and undoubtedly the book that I return to the most is my now dog-eared copy of CS Lewis’ A Grief Observed. My friend Karen sent it to me—Karen’s Mom died of cancer a couple of years ago, and I thought of all people, Karen would know what I should read. I was right. That short little yellow book was the very first piece of mail that I received in New York when I got back from the impossible cocktail of my honeymoon and Ian’s funeral, and I think I love it because it feels safe. CS Lewis was a godly man who walked faithfully with Jesus. He was also a man that stood helplessly by and watched his precious wife wither and die of cancer. A Grief Observed chronicles his raw, heart-searing, lip-trembling emotion as he stares up, red eyed and exhausted, at a God who no longer feels safe or good to him. It is his story. It is many of our stories.
I pulled it out again last night, because it has been one of those weekends. One of those weekends where you walk into Friday congratulating yourself for doing a little bit better—and then abruptly, like an early-morning mist that you can never be quite sure was there at all, it disappears. Over dinner, someone casually asks whether or not you have a big family. That’s a question you’d never considered, never rehearsed, never steeled your heart against. It catches you so unexpectedly off guard that shards of your broken heart leap into your throat and you awkwardly, tearfully, stammeringly attempt to decide on the spot whether your family is still “big”. You fight the good fight not to weep in front of strangers as your brave façade crumbles, and once again you remember that your world is broken.
CS Lewis talks about this in his book. He says:
“Getting over it so soon? But the words are ambiguous. To say the patient is getting over it after an operation for appendicitis is one thing; after he’s had his leg off 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’ll 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. Bathing, dressing, sitting down and getting up again, even lying in bed, will all be different. 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 shall presently be given a wooden leg. But I shall never be a biped again.”
And so, to my one-legged friends—the vast ranks of us stumbling with crutches or learning to ‘stump about’ on awkward prosthetics—you are not alone. And on those exhausted days that you cannot stump about one more solitary step, cling to this:
Isaiah 46:4b I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.
He has promised to carry you.