I finally finished Lewis’ A Grief Observed. I mean I literally just finished the book. I felt compelled to see it through after coming across it last night. My immediate thoughts are – Wow! What a raw, honest, introspective, eloquent journey with Lewis through one of his darkest valleys.
As I am ever the optimist, midway through the reading I found myself praying and hoping Lewis would find light and peace and hope. Yet in those same breaths and thoughts I was thankful he was honest and bold to share the truth of pain, sorrow, and anguish. As he said when he married H. the two were one flesh and losing her was an amputation. His doubts of God, reality , and his own faith were very real struggles he did not disguise. It is often so with us when our souls are torn.
Every thing inside of me wanted to reach through those words to the hurting author and just make it better. As a caregiver by nature, a nurse practitioner by profession I have taken care of many with physical and emotional pain. I have dedicated 26 years of my life thus far doing this because I love to help people. I especially love to help hurting people and what the caregiver wants most of all is to ease the pain. We wish we could eliminate any suffering at all, but in my many years in medicine, I have encountered the reality that sometimes you just cannot.
In losing his beloved wife, Lewis faced with the reality that “there is nothing we can do with suffering except to suffer it.” This is true and hard. The question of pain is the one that will place any defender of the faith on shaky ground. The harsh reality of grief is one that we all have or will meet in time.
There is nothing we can do with suffering, except to suffer it…
C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
Just as it is true in one’s own grief journey , Lewis’ record of his wrestling with grief leaves so much to unpack. There are the issues of faith, marriage, relationships , pain, loneliness, lament, and the nature and character of God himself. While this was a first completion of reading it through, I doubt it will be a last as this brief 94 pages leaves so much to ruminate. On the surface however, let’s just talk about the grief process as a whole.
In our modern western society we are uncomfortable with the subject of grief. I feel this is because first and foremost it is hard. In facing the bereaved we confront our own grief. It is a reality of life that we do not want to dwell on. So we don’t talk about it. We don’t learn about it. We don’t know how to walk with others through it. So inadvertently we leave the walking wounded limping because we are paralyzed by the whole topic, process, and situation.
Because we don’t talk about it or dwell on it , and we sure don’t dedicate time to study it , we don’t learn anything and thus we don’t teach. We don’t really know how to help someone in the raw pit of grief. And when we do attempt to help, we often lean on old adages that are intended to soothe or comfort. You know the ones we have all heard.
They are in a better place.At least theyare no longer suffering. They are with God. God will use this for good. And the worst told to my brother and his wife after they learned at 28 weeks of pregnancy their precious Lydia was with us no more. At least you are young and you can have more children….
Did that person even think before they said that? And as a nurse practitioner I am ashamed to admit it was healthcare professional that told them this. So none of us are immune to the well meaning , empty adages that leave the bereaved feeling worse.
Let us just consider a few of these and look on the other side of the coin:
They are in a better place.– So I am selfish because I want them still here with me.
At least.... Here is good advice one of our guest instructors in nursing school shared. NEVER start a sentence with at least. It just doesn’t help.
They are with God.– I hope and pray they are. Ok maybe I know if anyone could be they are, but isn’t God everywhere and it does not change that I still want them here with me?
When my niece died it was then I truly came to learn just how poorly we handle grief as a society. I did not want to be like that healthcare provider leaving them with adages that only added to the pain. I was at a loss. I remember going to the library and bookstores looking for something on grief. This was in 2010. There was very little to be had. There is probably more now than there was then, but it is still lacking. My hopes in finding a book on grief was not to ease my pain or my brother and sister-in-law’s pain in losing their daughter. I however was just hoping to learn how to walk along side them. How am I am even supposed to be there for someone I love dearly who lost their daughter? I did not know what to say or do. I will attribute my actions solely to divine intervention and definitely not my own wisdom or merit. I turned in desperation to the book of Job.
Job’s friends came to him, wept with him, grieved with him and sat in silence for seven days and nights. In fact if you continue the story you will see that when they speak, that is when things go downhill. Silence is uncomfortable. Allowing ourselves to enter into the grief with a person is hard and uncomfortable. We want to say something because we feel powerless and we want to make better a thing that we cannot. Even the most careful chosen words often fail when it comes to soothing the anguished soul.
I remember on the anniversary of my stillborn niece’s delivery, Aug 1. I was in Honduras on a mission trip. It was our 2nd year after we lost her. I wanted to acknowledge her and my love for her and my love for her parents and acknowledge their grief. What I posted had in some way been mistaken. This led to a reply that showed me they were hurt. I was more hurt that I hurt them and that they mistook my well intended post. So as I stated, even the best intended words can come up mighty short to the grieving soul.
Since that time I have experienced much loss. The good news is I now have heard of things like Grief Share. We actually have a group that meets at our church. I have been transparent with my grief and I see others are doing the same. There are efforts made to improve how we approach grief in our society, but I will say this: we still have a long way to go.
Lewis writes in A Grief Observed that he hoped his jottings would prove a map of the state of sorrow. He goes on to say, ” sorrow , however turns out to be not a state, but a process. It needs not a map, but a history.” Lewis’ history of his early grief process offers insight and allows us some understanding. Another book by Mary Beth Chapman, Choosing to See offers this peek into the reality of a mother’s loss of a child and those early days of her grief journey. Listening to the thoughts and words of those deep in the pit of grief is the only way we can being to understand any of this or how we can help and when it is our turn to be in that pit, how we can cope and endure.
This is the foundation of how we help the bereaved. We will love and lose. We will grieve and by God’s grace we will be comforted. As we are comforted in time he will allow us to help others with the comfort we received. I lost my Daddy July 4, 2021. A friend recently lost her father. I reached out to her as one who does not know her exact pain, but as one can parallel as I too have lost my Daddy and so relatively recently. I can tell you in that at this stage in my grief process the ability to help a fellow sojourner fresh on the road of grief offered some healing deep in my soul that is unexplainable.
Observing Lewis’ grief over his beloved H. has allowed me to add another layer of understanding of how others process grief. It allows me to contemplate some deeper components of the grief process where faith and reason are intertwined. Coming out the other side of this first read, I feel like I understand Lewis more. I feel like there has been some progress in my own grief through the reading. Additionally, I can now relate to others with a different personality than my own as they wade through grief. Most importantly, I feel compelled to keep the conversation about grief going. The aim is that we may grow in our compassion, cognizance and competence in the matter of grief and the grieving. Though the walking wounded will still limp down the road of grief, we will be better prepared to travel alongside and offer some hope in knowing they do not make this journey alone.
I purchased this copy of A Grief Observed in a used bookstore in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. It was August 2014. My stepfather, Steve, had died May 17 that year. I was no stranger to death or grief, but losing my stepdad would hit closer and cut deeper than any grief I had known before. I immediately went into caregiver mode. My mom, newly widowed would need me like never before. In fact only once I knew someone would be with her while I was away in Colorado, I decided to make the trip.
The Colorado Rocky Mountains are a place I feel closest to God. I was a mess and had not even began to process my loss. I needed a respite and I needed God. I knew I needed to do something with all this pain , but I did not know where to begin. So when I saw that book on the shelf it was staring at me. “Buy me!” , it seemed to say. So I did. I started reading it, but did not get very far.
Little did I know when I bought this book I would also say farewell to my Grandma Shirley (Steve’s mom) September 4 and my Aunt Angie (my dad’s youngest sister) October 1. This began a long list of loss. It was like every two years the list would grow. I had already lost my cousin Shane, Pappa, Granny Hicks, Aunt Diana, Uncle Ronnie, Grandma Arlene, Grandpa Arvie, my niece Lydia, Grandpa Charley, my mother-in-law, Mary Lou and my father-in-law, Huck.
I would go on to lose my stepmom, Lana; close church family; Grandma Curtis; Uncle Lynn; Aunt Lou; my cousin, Rachel; Aunt Val; Uncle Elmer; a dear friend , Vince; my cousin, Brandon; and then my Daddy.
I picked the book up again after Lana died. I tried yet again to read it. It’s not even a long book. Reading that book was like taking a bitter elixir, you know once you choked it down you would feel better on the other side. However, it was too hard to get past the taste at the time.
The rawest grief and if I am honest the deepest yet has been losing Daddy. He passed July 4, 2021. It’s been 8 months. The grief journey has been peace-filled, but hard and intermittent. Initially there was a heavy fog. You could not think or see. I mean you could see, but nothing seemed clear or to make sense. You functioned on muscle memory and rote memory. There was no energy or ability to take on anything new. Getting through the absolute required duties were exhausting and all you could do. Afterwards you would lie down or sleep. Brushing your teeth felt like tremendous effort. It coincided with a Covid surge so I was extremely busy with every 8 hour shift I worked. It was truly only by God’s grace I got thru those days.
In time the fog lifted. The heaviness was still there, but less weighty and less constant. Instead there were intermittent twinges and sharp stings of pain. They were often brought on by the simplest memories. I recall crying in HEB because of pimento cheese. (Dad often had me make him pimento cheese sandwiches on the days I stayed with him after his stroke.) I couldn’t watch football, westerns or listen to Elvis. It just hurt too much. In fact it took some extra energy to watch the Astros in post season because it reminded me so much of him. I pushed through the pain of it and got through to the sweet side of doing it because if he were here he would be watching. I watched the Astros mostly as a tribute to Dad.
There is still a lot of grief to unpack. A few days ago I kept seeing an image of him in my head. He was younger, healthier, and smiling. I found that odd because Daddy was not one to smile much. He wasn’t mean; he just wasn’t a smiler. It was sweet to see those images. It was peaceful, but at the same time it comes with the sting of his absence. Now mind you, I grieve with hope. I am a believer and Daddy was too. He wanted to make sure the world knew that after he lost his precious wife, Lana. He made sure to start going to church. He was baptized. He knew there is a God and a Savior and an afterlife and he wanted to be sure that profess that. This hope is what keeps me going.
It’s been 8 months. The week of spring break my brothers and I were all together again for the first time since Daddy’s funeral. We had a great time just hanging out together. I like to think Daddy was smiling because of that. He would have loved that… us together as a family. That was important to him.
So here I am spring cleaning and this book is on my night stand because I had on many occasions intent to read it. Perhaps it is time. As I dive into Lewis’ grief, I know that he will have thoughts that resonate with me. He will also have some that do not, but there will be something in that common grief journey that will seep into the recesses of my soul that is still healing from the loss; I just know it. And perhaps whatever balm I receive, maybe, just maybe I may be inspired to write more so that I too can help other grieving souls like me.
You see grief is a journey no one wants to take but we all will. We will feel alone at times, but we are not alone. All the sojourners who have gone before us and continue on are a testament that we will be okay and persevere. The sorting through the emotions and the pain and the good memories and the sobering regrets that is the hard work of grief. But …much like cleaning out my cluttered, overcrowded closets and drawers …with each painful step a little progress is made. And while it won’t get and stay tidy forever , it will get to a place that is just tidy enough that life is doable with a sense of peace. What I am working on in the physical state of my home is symbolic of the emotional state of my soul. As I make each next step, not to perfect (that will only happen when I am with Jesus), but to better.
So spring cleaning, an unfinished C.S. Lewis book and grief …
Soon I will have to be brave and swallow the whole 94 pages of soul elixir prepared by one of my favorite authors who is now in the place of hope that helped him endure life’s toughest pain to swallow.
Today is my Uncle Steven Carl Hicks’ first heavenly birthday. He entered eternal rest Aug.28, 2021.
Today in church we sang these words from an opening song “Christ is risen from the dead We are one with Him again Come awake, come awake! Come and rise up from the grave Oh death! Where is your sting? Oh hell! Where is your victory?”
As I sang tears streamed down my face as I both grieved my Uncle’s death and rejoiced in the truth of this song. In these tears I had simultaneously much needed pent up grief released and yes also joy.
Later during the service we sang the hymn, “Come Thou Fount”
The tears constantly flowed as I sang the words of this hymn we sang at my Grandma Arlene’s memorial. You see it was at this very memorial Unc stood up before his family and proclaimed fervently the truth that is proclaimed in that hymn. He knew this truth. It transformed him. His life changed dramatically and he yearned for all of his family to have this same hope and joy.
So today it felt as if Uncle Stevie, and Grandma (Memaw) , my two faith giants were smiling from heaven while I sang out through tears and sometimes choked through this resounding truth:
“Jesus sought me when a stranger Wandering from the fold of God He to rescue me from danger Interposed His precious blood
Oh, that day when freed from sinning I shall see Thy lovely face Clothed then in blood washed linen How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace
Come my Lord, no longer tarry Take my ransomed soul away Send Thine angels now to carry Me to realms of endless days
Oh, to grace how great a debtor Daily I’m constrained to be Let Thy goodness like a fetter Bind my wandering heart to Thee
Prone to wander, Lord I feel it Prone to leave the God I love Here’s my heart, oh take and seal it Seal it for Thy courts above Here’s my heart Oh take and seal it Seal it for Thy courts above”
And as if God through His tender, comforting Holy Spirit reached into the recesses of my grieving heart and said, “I know it hurts sweet Shelly and I am here.”
Today is Dad’s birthday. He would have been 71. It is his first birthday since his departure. While I do wish he were here and that we could have Mexican food or German chocolate cake with him one more time, I remember his last year. His mind was sharp, but his body failing him.
It is a crazy paradox: Dad’s stroke limited his body and caused him health issues, but because of it he did not spend a day of the last year of his life alone at all. Prior to that he was very lonely after losing his wife 5 years ago. That is a long time living alone without your spouse. I know he missed her and I know he was lonely so it is a peculiar thing his illness was. I do look for the silver lining in all things. Ideally he would have had company without a major illness, but risk factors of diabetes and smoking, and high blood pressure took its toll on his body.
So as much as I selfishly miss him, I know he is at peace and fully healed and restored. And I could not dare to want to bring him from such peace. I am just thankful in my time (God willing a very long time from now) I will join him and all the saints that have gone before.
Today was a busy work day. Dad has been on my mind throughout it all and I think I was feeling blah and in a funk most of the morning. I think it’s because I wish I had the day to sit, reflect, write, and even take a drive to his gravesite (not because that is my sort of thing, but it was his so in order to honor that). However duty called and it’s a Monday in cold season so we had plenty of patients most of the day.
I delayed my Facebook post of remembrance because I wanted to pen something eloquent, but then it was too lengthy. So I kept it rather simple with some photos. I figured I would save the lengthy exposition for this blog. Since it is towards the day’s end my writing is more stream of consciousness and thought processing as opposed to an eloquent or artistic tribute. Perhaps that will come soon or another day soon, but processing these thoughts are a vital part of the grief journey.
I chose after work at 7pm to keep the evening simple. Instead of cooking we ordered carry out Asian food and watched Shang Chi. I wanted Mexican food initially, it’s what we would have had for Dad or what he would of had but I did get a little choked up thinking about it and made my ultimate choice. It’s been a long weekend. My brother and newborn nephew were both in the hospital. We had my Uncle Steven’s memorial on Saturday, so Iwas pretty spent leading to this day.
I get winces of emotional pain with this or that memory which make my eyes threaten to cry on occasion, but no big cry today. Now that work is done and I did relax with dinner and movie at home with my husband and daughter, apart from fatigue I actually mostly feel peace.
I miss Dad. It is surreal almost that he is gone but deep in my soul there is a peace. A stillness. It is hard to explain but just an unusual calm. I know it is the Lord’s gift to me this day and I cherish it.
So for now I think I processed enough and I am just going to sit still and savor this peace as it has been a very long time since I have felt such a thing.
I miss you Daddy
We will see you in a little while!
Lord , thank you for your peace that surpasses understanding, sorrow, grief, illness or any circumstance.
And though my mind still grapples with all the pieces
Still replays events of that day
Yet peace envelops my soul
Because it knows you’re home
Restored and at peace in the Savior’s arms
We still have much to do. Clearing out the house will be hard. Other steps are necessary before we get to that point. And I dread it, but I am busy enough professionally to push that to the back of my mind. I am sure when the time comes for this next hard task, just like all the ones before since you had the stroke, our loving Abba Father will carry us through one step at a time.
I miss you Daddy, but I do not miss the challenges a failing earthly body subjected you to, thus I truly rejoice that you are free. I wish I would have been there that Saturday before you left us. Though I was with you at the hospital until your last breath.
I am glad our last day together you did talk more and sleep less. We watched High Chaparral and talked about visiting Tombstone,AZ and Doc Holliday. You did so great with your therapy that day. I even stayed longer than usual. I am thankful for that day. I am even glad at the time I didn’t know it would be the last, but I am thankful for every single moment.
I know when I say last it isn’t truly the very last, but merely the last on this side of the veil. Next time, in glory. Rest in our Holy Father’s peace, grace, and glory. This very same peace and grace sustains us until we are with Him and you in glory.
Life is kind and also cruel. You lose someone you love. It is not healthy to park oneself in the pit of grief and stay there, but when duties and tasks and responsibilities make us push forward with too short a pause, well then grief is delayed. It comes in spurts and waves. You swing between extremes of “he is not gone”, because your daily routine can explain the absence … to the sudden reality that he is very much gone and there is no more calling or visiting. Such extremes and so little time to process it. Oh sure they give you 3 days bereavement. That was filled with arranging the funeral, running errands to have the funeral, preparing material for it, and then delivering the message or eulogy and receiving loved ones. And for those that don’t actively participate in the service it is still the receiving family and loved ones and condolences with your best game face on. You shove all the deep thoughts to the back burner so you can muster the strength to get thru this part. And you do. And then it’s time to go back to work and life and house work and yet you are tired. You don’t know why, but you are. I mean you know why, but you had no idea it was so heavy. A big loss just occurred and you can’t even process it because now its time for another game face. You push yourself through.
Our society fails in the way of grief and mourning. Old traditions expected it took time. There was an understood respected time allotted to the bereaved that was much more than 3 days. And we wonder why we are all a mess.
Your dad died. Ok answer the nurses questions, the doctors questions, the officer and judges questions. Then the funeral home has questions
Now do this, do that, go here, dress up nice and paint your face. Next stop graveyard. Next stop the house that feels so empty but so full of family.
Next stop bed. Now wake up and go to work and engage fully as if you didn’t just lose your dad.
Oh I will think about it later. Maybe I can process it in quiet time, but you are so physically exhausted you sleep thru the quiet time of contemplating and wake up in time to work. Oh of course workload explodes. And don’t forget all those other things you have to do.
Oh yeah, brush your teeth. Don’t forget that
I write this stream of consciousness as partial therapy and partial expression of my anger with the world and our society and how little care we give to anyone bereaved. I don’t cry out for merely me , but all and each that loses a loved one and has to trudge through as if we are fine and yet we are not and then we wonder why there is so much unrest.
If you are bereaved and suffer this plight or worse because I know worse is out there, I am sorry. I care. I wish I could change it. But I hope and pray that in my heartache maybe the Maker of souls will inspire me or some other bereaved soul to help change how poorly we deal with grief in our society.