Over the last two or three years I have read and reflected on the subjects of suffering, death and grief quite a lot. And it's been helpful. But with all that energy, enthusiasm and optimism that comes with the beginning of a fresh new year I had thought that maybe this year I should shift my gaze to life and living. You know, eating hot cross buns eight days into the year and other crazy stuff like that. Yet, twenty days in and I had read two books on grief and been reminded of a third - Timothy Keller's Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering published last year - to acquire and read.
The first two, predictably, were A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken and A Grief Observed by CS Lewis. Both are beautifully written, personal accounts of grief following the deaths of their respective wives. Without giving names to them, they write their way through what we know as the stages of grief - stages that don't pass in orderly fashion but that swirl around and around, being revisited time and time again - painfully, frustratingly and sometimes even comfortingly.
These are wonderful books, but they're not books I'd give to someone in the raw stages of early grief. As CS Lewis himself, a man of reading and writing and books and letters, said,
And no one ever told me about the laziness of grief. Except at my job - where the machine seems to run on much as usual - I loathe the slightest effort. Not only writing but even reading a letter is too much.
(A Grief Observed - Part One)
What I found especially helpful was reading about that time in grief that Vanauken calls "the second death" - and which CS Lewis described in his book in depth. It's that moment in grief when it stops being so very raw. When there aren't tears every day. When maybe it's harder to bring a clear picture of the one lost so readily to mind or recall the exact tone of their voice. It is the second death - and it feels all disloyal and like a betrayal. And yet, it is getting through this step that leads to peace and acceptance.
Great books to read for their sheer beauty, to keep learning about grief and how to respond to it in a godly way and perhaps to share with someone who has reached that point of frustration in their grief and needs to give words to what is happening, see that it will pass - which is OK - and be assured that they will emerge from it all, albeit as a changed (hopefully stronger, richer) person from the one who stepped into the process.