Book Club: A Grief Observed.

((from Kate))

For many days, months, and years there was an almost-permanent sob locked in my throat – ready to give way with any one “more thing.” But as of late what’s caught behind my jaw is a roar. Half the time. And the other half is a whimper.

Sitting feet away from strong stone walls and thick tall trees, reading and writing and having turned the volume up all the way on an anthem for this season ….

“Ooh, this chill, when it gonna leave my bones?
Take the ache so I can go,
And be washed in the wilderness.
Oh, carry my body ‘cross the frozen ground,
While the moon burns bright and the fire fades out.

I got miles and miles to go before I sleep.
Before I can feel anything, before I’m free.
I got miles and miles to go before I sleep.

Wind blows, covers every single track,
If I wanted to, I couldn’t go back.

And what I’m keeping my mouth closed to is the close-to-erupting lion’s roar that wants to scream out of my very skeleton at a hundred miles an hour. There’s a knowing in my guts that this life is guaranteed to be as hard as it’s been and even harder waits on the horizon. There’s a fighter in me who wants to stand ready to do battle every day until the bliss of eternal rest, knowing that she has.

The nicest thing my father ever said to me wasn’t even to me. Around the dinner table close to twenty years ago one brother asked which of us kids he’d take to war and he replied: “Your sister. She has more punctures in her armor. She’s already been out there. You take someone with you who knows what war is.”

And that girl isn’t totally lost, she’s exhausted but she isn’t gone.
Almost recklessly she wants to roar a yell of “WHAT ELSE YOU GOT?!”

The rest of that girl, this girl, holds back a constant whimper.

That girl, this girl, was up till 6 o’clock this morning reading and crying. So dejected from too much war, too much grief, too much hurt, too much fear, too much lonely, too much of too much that I just tipped my head backwards – chin to the ceiling, and all my hot tears streamed sideways and pooled in my ears. I cried quietly so as not to wake anyone.

Grief is not welcome anywhere.

So where do the grieving go?

Think about it.

Is your door open to someone whose grief you haven’t encountered? Are your arms ready to wrap up someone whose grief ‘happened’ years ago?
Do we know how to sit in the muck without trying to fix it?
Do we know how to grieve without growing embittered or self-pitying?

Fifteen years ago the man who’d asked me to marry him, the man who was a pastor, that man got someone pregnant and never told me. We went from dreaming out loud about our wedding as I studied ministry and he practiced it – to his complete silence. I found out about the pregnancy in an email from his parents. And I never heard from him again.

It was the very strangest grief – I explained to others that I had to treat it like a death because there were no answers. I was 20 years old. I threw up in my dorm’s trash can. My roommate rubbed my back and told me that I was sinning by getting upset.
My sweet mother told me to take my vitamins and take a nap.

Those were the first months that I picked up a copy of “A Grief Observed” by C.S. Lewis. Never written to be read by anyone else, it was the rawest of words and thoughts and hurling wonderings he kept in a journal when his beloved wife died.

I devoured the pages and have a dozen times since.

Mr. Lewis was the first friend to give me a safe space to grieve, and he was the first one to utter words that didn’t try to ignore, solve, or seek out a silver lining.

I read it again this morning in the very quiet darkness before dawn.

This week your Hopers are inviting you into their figurative living room to sit cross-legged on the carpet, share in the charcuterie board on the coffee table and talk about our favorite books. Books that have shaped us, healed us, helped us and books we’d encourage you to read as well.

For me to write all of the words that Mr. Lewis wrote in this tiny 76 page tome which matter to me would equal probably 75 pages, so I will just type a few…

“Feelings, and feelings, and feelings. Let me try thinking instead. From the rational point of view, what new factor has H.’s death introduced into the problem of the universe? What grounds has it given me for doubting all that I believe? I knew already that these things, and worse, happened daily. I would have said that I had taken them into account. I had been warned – I had warned myself – not to reckon on worldly happiness. We were even promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, ‘Blessed are the that mourn’ and I accepted it. I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. 

The case is too plain. If my house has collapsed at one blow, that is because it was a house of cards. The faith which ‘took these things into account’ was not faith but imagination. The taking them into account was not real sympathy. If I had really cared, as I thought I did, about the sorrows of the world, I should not have been so overwhelmed when my own sorrow came. 

Your bid – for God or no God, for a good God or the Cosmic Sadist, for eternal life or nonentity – will not be serious if nothing is staked on it. And you will never discover how serious it was until the stakes are raised horribly high… Only torture will bring out the truth. Only under torture does he discover himself.

And I must surely admit … that, if my house was a house of cards, the sooner it was knocked down the better. And only suffering could do it.”

No one else has been able to maintain my eye-contact when I’ve wondered out loud if God is an abuser. For how can He be good?

How could He be good when after the marriage that never happened in my youth, hard long years passed without romantic redemption? Inside of those years were health crises that led to four straight years, 1,461 days of bleeding. A 24 year-old having to decide if she would go forward with a full hysterectomy. Then the death of friends, unexpected blows to the core. And finally, love again.

Love shouting! Love kissing. Love holding me at night. Love that wrote letters tucked to my window on early mornings with hand-scratched visions of our kids and home and family and future and so many promises. Love that bought us the three-story Victorian across from a fountain on our favorite street. And Love that left before the ink had dried on the deed. Days later I was in a hospital bed, my mom sobbing when she thought I was asleep, my joints had stiffened until I’d fallen face down – after hours of testing the spinal tap proved positive for meningitis. So there I was for days, thankful for pain medicine that would keep me asleep because I couldn’t handle it all in such quick succession. I had no roars left.

It was then, not the first go ’round or second or seventeenth, but then that I felt the idols of marriage and a husband physically ripped from the sinews in my chest.

Mr. Lewis continues writing: “The terrible thing is that a perfectly good God is in this matter hardly less formidable than a Cosmic Sadist. The more we believe that God hurts only to heal, the less we can believe that there is any use in begging for tenderness.

Suppose that what you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good. The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably he will go on cutting. If he yield to your entreaties, if he stopped before the operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless. But is it credible that such extremities of torture should be necessary for us? 

Well, take your choice. The tortures occur. If they are unnecessary, then there is no God or a bad one. If there is a good God, then these tortures are necessary. For no even moderately good Being could possibly inflict or permit them if they weren’t.

Either way, we’re in for it.
What do people mean when they say, ‘I am not afraid of God because I know He is good?’ Have they never been to a dentist?”

It was after my thirtieth birthday, finally recovered, finally whole, finally found by a godly man who never lied, who held me when I had “too many feelings”, who named the hows and whys of loving me without end, whose heart I wanted to hold forever, whose goodness and passion I saw when he shyly hid it from the world, who showed me what it meant to “know the one my soul loves” – it was when he held me in his arms with tears in his eyes and said “I can’t marry you.” that I was done.

Days after he’d left, and my millionth house of cards had fallen, I screamed and screamed and clawed the fabric on the couch – willing the ground to open me up and swallow me whole.

Next month it will be three years since then. All of these men have since married another. Had babies. Had dreams come true. And my grief has never subsided. It sits ever-behind my heart just like the whimper that sits close to my tongue.

Every friend close to my heart knows the story, the details, has carried for at least a little while part of the weight of it, but I can’t shake it.

And maybe I’m not meant to.
Maybe the torture is what’s revealed to me the firmness (or lack) of my foundation.
Maybe the blowing down of my house of cards is the only way to rebuild.

No matter what the day holds, roar or whimper – if I muster enough to stand ready for the next wave of this world’s pain or stay hidden under the covers, I will forever be thankful to have a crumpled copy of this book in my grip.

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