This is not so much an analysis of the famous work, A Grief Observed, by C.S. Lewis, but more of a considering of two turning points in my life. One admission, I haven’t re-read Lewis’ book since the first time I turned its pages over 20 years ago. A final confession: I am no scholar of Lewis or a theologian, just a currently unemployed blogger who likes to ramble after having a pumpkin-spiced latte a bit too late in the afternoon for an early bedtime.
I first read A Grief Observed while lying beside my brother’s hospital bed. He feared dying alone, or rather, surrounded by medical professionals but no family. So my mother and I kept him company there in the middle of his illness and the darkness that was quickly growing for all of us.
My mother took the ever present fold-out recliner that was seen in so many hospital rooms at the time. And me? I found that I could place two chairs facing each other and provide myself with a serviceable nap space. When the cricks in my neck became too much–or the checks from the nurses too often–I read C.S. Lewis’s book in the dimmed light.
Tonight I thought again of those nights when we waited for what we knew would be the inevitable result, the death of my brother. Grief for what was to come had already begun. And with that, always a river of fear that washed over me.
His death would be one of the first major turning points in my life. There have been many since then, of course. But with my latest cancer diagnosis, yet again I feel that interminable waiting, that restlessness that doesn’t seem to end. And the fear that returns despite the many blessings that I can count each day.
Although not grieving the approaching death of a loved one this time, I feel that there is a grief in cancer treatment, a loss of our former selves in the surgical removal of flesh and the lasting repercussions of our treatment choices. And the pain–both physical and psychological–that always remains.
Waiting for my surgery in December, I can once again relate to this quote from C.S. Lewis:
“And grief still feels like fear. Perhaps, more strictly, like suspense. Or like waiting; just hinging about waiting for something to happen. It gives life a permanently provisional feeling. It doesn’t seem worth starting anything. I can’t settle down. I yawn, I fidget, I smoke too much. Up till this I always had too little time. Now here is nothing but time. Almost pure time, empty successiveness.”
There now seems too much time in my days. I admit that rather than shouting “Carpe diem!” and running for adventure, I often escape into movies and novels.
My days are full of waiting and thinking and pacing, all with little purpose. And like those evenings so long ago when I curled up in my makeshift nap space amidst the blinking lights of the hospital monitors, my spirit is restless. Counting the days to my surgery and considering the recommended treatments beyond chemotherapy, I know that these too will leave me forever changed, and that familiar fear always rushes over and around the spaces between the moments.
Facebook, of course, is ever present as well, but the easy platitudes that comfort others often prompt me into a cynical and lonely rant. Memes like “God doesn’t make mistakes!” often force me to shut down Facebook and return to my novels for a reprieve. Struggling with my second cancer diagnosis along with the finding of the PTEN mutation, I wonder about this. Seeing God as loving seems far away in these times, and I understand Lewis’ statement:
“Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.'”
I think those of us struggling need more than platitudes and Facebook memes. Someone to sit in that darkness with us, to share that space is needed.
I am already separated from my previous life by this illness, and I wonder what lies beyond this upcoming turning point. Bilateral mastectomies without reconstruction, a hysterectomy, and possibly radiation and ten years of anti-estrogen therapy. I won’t ever be my “normal” self again. But what will I become? And who will remain in that space with me and accept that new and changed me?
And what of my faith? I honestly don’t know for sure where I am headed now. Cancer is certainly a spiritual struggle, as is grief, of course. Lewis knew this intimately:
“God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn’t. In this trial He makes us occupy the dock, the witness box and the bench all at once. He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize that fact was to knock it down. …”
Surrendering now to the restlessness and the waiting, but still praying.