A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis


Goodreads: A Grief Observed
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 1961


After the death of his wife Joy Davidman in 1960, C. S. Lewis found himself questioning his faith.  He worked through his emotions in four notebooks,  from which he later compiled this account, initially published under a pseudonym.

Star Divider


“Talk to me about the truth of religion and I’ll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I’ll listen submissively. But don’t come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don’t understand.”

In the introduction, Lewis’s stepson Douglas Gresham points out that the title “A Grief Observed” indicates that the book does not deal with the experience of every grief, but only with the experience of Lewis’s particular grief.  Even so, generations of readers have found comfort and consolation in it is pages.  Lewis’s account shows a man who falls into the depths of despair and somehow reemerges, first questioning his faith and then finding that he can still believe, after all.  His experience reminds readers that feelings of hopelessness and doubt are natural, but do not have to be the end of the story.

Madeleine L’Engle succinctly explains the importance of this book in her introduction: “It is helpful indeed that C. S. Lewis, who has been such a successful apologist for Christianity, should have the courage to admit doubt about what he has so superbly proclaimed. It gives us permission to admit our own doubts, our own angers and anguishes, and to know that they are part of the soul’s growth.”  Some may find Lewis’s doubt scandalous, but it is through doubt that Lewis ultimately attains growth.  He muses that perhaps God is testing him, not because God is cruel  but because he himself needs to learn exactly how strong his faith is.  He worries that his faith was never much at all, it seems so ready to flee as soon as grief assails him.  And yet he finds that God does give consolation–only that is not feelings of warm fuzzies but instead the strength to carry on.

For Lewis does go on, though initially he wonders what that might look like.  He worries that he will lose his memory of his wife, that she will become only his image of her.  He adamantly opposes the idea that things should go back as they were, that he should go on living as if she had never been.  He feels tempted to cling to his grief to honor her.  But he begins to think that, to really honor her, he must love her and wish her well.  He realizes he has been thinking mostly of himself, then of her, and then of God.  He has got the order all wrong.

A Grief Observed is a powerful book, an intimate look at one man’s struggle with the pain of death and the pain of wondering if he can ever belief in God again–believe in God, not as someone who exists but as someone who is good.  Publishing it was surely an act of courage.  But one that has benefited countless readers.

5 stars

9 thoughts on “A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis

  1. Sarah J. says:

    I adore Lewis! This is one I’ve been meaning to pick up. Great review! I really enjoyed some of the historical information you provided. I’m definitely more excited to check this one out now!


  2. Michael J. Miller says:

    I was watching a lecture last week, given by Harvard’s Dr. Karin Oberg, on the potential of life on other planets. In the beginning of the lecture, she discussed her own personal faith journey and cited Lewis’s writings as bringing her from agnosticism into first the Anglican Church and then the Catholic Church. I found myself thinking it’s been far too long since I’ve read any of his works. This seems another timely reminder that I should pick him up again. And I’ve never read this one! Perhaps I’ll start here.


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