Some 50 years ago, C.S. Lewis published a slim volume entitled, A Grief Observed which chronicled his painful journey of loss following the death of his beloved wife, Joy.
“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.”
How different the experience of loss is today during these unprecedented times. The hundreds of thousands of survivors of those who have died of either Covid-19 or other causes have often been engulfed in an atmosphere of isolation. Absent are the very social customs that Lewis found challenging yet so supportive. Our celebrations of life, if they occur at all, may be delayed, abbreviated and limited in size and scope. The camaraderie of group conversation, personal reflections, tears, laughter and hugs has been supplanted by cards and calls, by Tweets, texts, email and Zoom encounters.
Like Lewis, who jotted down his musings in various notebooks scattered around his empty house, we may begin to observe our collective grief through the act of journaling. Yet, how are we to replace the human contact for which we traditionally yearn?
As we look deeply and open ourselves to being more fully present within the gaps of time and routine which this pandemic presents, we may begin to see ways of being. I could not be with my dear brother-in-law, Bernie, as he succumbed to the pandemic weeks ago. I could not hold my sister close. Though I could, as a hospital worker, be present with an elderly woman, a stranger to me, as she struggled within her pandemic fog. Offering her the very things I would wish to share with my brother-in-law, water, touch, time and presence was my way of “being with Bernie.”
Observing his grief, C.S. Lewis first questioned, then confirmed and ultimately expanded his spiritual view.
“Heaven will solve our problems, but not, I think, by showing us subtle reconciliations between all our apparently contradictory notions. The notions will all be knocked from under our feet. We shall see that there never was any problem.”
For Lewis and for each of us, observations of such magnitude require deep vision. A glance, a cursory look, will not suffice. Like ancient fire-keepers, we are called upon to be watchful. We faithfully watch events unfold that we can neither fully anticipate nor control. Through the process of this steady, watchful observation without judgment, healing emerges.
“There was no sudden, striking, and emotional transition. Like the warming of a room or the coming of daylight. When you first notice them they have already been going on for some time.”
– Betsy Schussler
Lewis, C.S. (1963). A grief observed. Faber and Faber Limited, Seabury Press, London.