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My Grief Observed, but I Still Believe

by Cowboy Bob Sorensen

After the loss of my beloved Charlene, several people suggested that I read A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis. It is a short book, but being mostly alone and dealing with my recovery from open-heart surgery, legal matters involving her estate, the tyranny of the physiological and mental problems of grief fog — reading was a challenge. However, after I purchased it, I converted it into an audio book with a text-to-speech service. Voices in TtS can be quite good. Lewis was British, so I chose a voice with an appropriate accent. It took an hour to hear, and I listened to it again this morning.

A 1998 Polaroid photo of Charlene
A quick side trail here. Remember when I said she had lousy self-esteem? I found the Polaroid picture that was scanned and sent to me. It was the first image I saw of her, and still burned in my memory is that she said, "I hope it doesn't make you sick."

A Grief Observed was written after Lewis' wife died of cancer. They had been married for just a few years, far less than the twenty-four years that I had known Charlene. Even so, his grief was intense. It was interesting to me that Jack (a nickname of C.S. Lewis) did something similar to what I had been doing: writing down thoughts. Although Lewis is known for intellectual material in Christian apologetics, this series of notes has raw emotion. Some of his opinions developed and changed in the course of that writing period.

He expressed how he was unconcerned about some daily activities. This fits the grief fog concept, as sometimes recent widows (including one I know who has been a widow for about two years) don't even want to get out of bed unless we have to. With grief, depression, work, legal duties, I've let the apartment go. Just recently, I started working on the clutter. It would be easy to neglect clothing and personal hygiene, but I didn't go that far. No filth, just clutter. Some people forget to eat and drink (even becoming hospitalized), and the funeral director reminded me when we had our meeting not to forget to eat.

Lewis wondered if he was grieving for the real woman, or an image he had created in his mind. True, people tend to speak well of the dead. One of the things I miss most, and other people also miss, is her kind and sweet spirit. I am also aware of her flaws, so I don't think I'm doing what Jack Lewis was concerned about for himself.

I would never want to use some magic or a special favor from God to have her back and take up where we left off. She had a lifetime of emotional scars as well as physical pain. As much as I miss her, to make such a wish would be unspeakably selfish and cruel.

Jack and I also shared the same experience with the grief fog in that one of its effects is exhaustion. I mentioned lack of sleep, and that alone affects thinking. Combined with acute grief, things can become dangerous. It is interesting that I had an extra whammy in this because sometimes general anesthesia can cloud thinking; do not make important decisions. My surgery was in August, and I was put under for a few hours. Were grief and lingering anesthesia effects influencing my desire to jump off a bridge?

She was also my best friend. I am mostly alone here.

Although some are kind and understanding (perhaps members of this terrible club themselves), people are uncomfortable around the bereaved. I may be reading my own apprehensions into it, but some seem to want to keep me at a distance. Perhaps they are afraid that I'll make a scene like in a bad sitcom or something.

It is quite possible that our grief over profound loss also reminds them of their own mortality.

Charlene at one of the
St. Joseph lighthouses, 2005

C.S. Lewis was an Anglican, which is not all that far removed from Roman Catholic. While he was a noted apologist for the Christian faith, it has been rightly pointed out that his theology was often in error. He mentioned Purgatory, for instance. Interestingly, he wrote off how people talk of a family reunion because it was unscriptural, but he believed unscriptural things himself. While there is nothing in the Bible about a grand reunion, it is not anti-scriptural and there are reasons that others and myself are looking forward to such a thing.

I have felt guilty over many things, and wonder how much of this comes from Satan. Much is fatigue (which confuses emotions as well as thinking) and that grief fog. We read and hear about people who have dealt with suffering and death, but they show courageous faith. What's wrong with me? I'm not a good Christian, apparently.

My faith wavered, and Pastor Wes kept reminding me to focus on Jesus. I have so much hurt, so many questions. Why, God? Why did she die despite the fervent prayers of hundreds of people? There are other questions. I have confessed sins that may not have actually been wrong things because of pain and doubt.

Grief is an ongoing process. Someone said that it's okay not to be okay. We don't "get over it" or "move on" because that person is a part of us and shaped who we are today. The loss also changes us; a part of me died when she died. Charlene will always be with me, a part of me. Yet I cry out loud (that awful song sung by Melissa Manchester notwithstanding). Please watch this four-minute excerpt from a video! Maybe you can get closer to understanding those of us who grieve before you have to do it yourselves.

Some professing atheists say they decided there is no God because of evil in the world and because of personal loss. Jack Lewis sounded like he was coming close to that point. It crossed my own mind, but that would be simply lashing out at God on my part. Indeed, I told Pastor Wes that "God killed my wife," and he reminded me what I already know: We live in a fallen world, the very good creation that has been going downhill since Adam sinned. Although Lewis rejected evolution, he would have been better equipped if he had the Fall in his theology.

The last part of my title is taken from a song by Jeremy Camp. There's a book as well, but I haven't read it yet. However, I saw the movie version of I Still Believe. (Spoilers ahead.) It had quite a bit I could relate to. And something C.S. Lewis can relate to on some levels. Camp fell in love with Melissa. Then it was discovered that she had cancer, but he wanted to marry her anyway. Thousands prayed. It seemed to go away in a miraculous healing — then it came back and killed her.

Jeremy was angry, full of questions, and smashed his guitar. A note from Melissa fell out. Anyway, you can stream, rent, or buy the movie. Despite unanswered prayer (or the appearance of God being a cosmic trickster), he still believes.

We hurt and grieve deeply, and God promises to be there with us and guide us. When we are in Heaven, Revelation 21:4 tells us that God will wipe away every tear. I will always love Charlene, and I miss her terribly. So much I want to say... We'll understand eventually, whether in this life or the next. My faith is firm in that, in our reunion with each other, and to be with Jesus. We have hope in this life. I still have to learn how to live in this new way.