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From the Winter 2001 issue of Knowing & Doing:  

C.S. Lewis on Grief

by Arthur W. Lindsley, Ph.D.
Senior Fellow, C.S. Lewis Institute


psychiatrist friend maintains that, “All change involves loss, and loss involves grief, and grief involves pain.” Since the events of September 11, 2001, there has been much change, loss, grief, and pain. There is a changed perception of our lives, a loss of a sense of safety and security, grief over those lost or grieving with families who lost loved ones, and all of this leads to pain from these and other sources. Although the events of Lewis’s life differ from ours, perhaps his struggle with grief can be helpful for us.

Lewis Loses Joy

  C.S. Lewis had a number of particularly painful events in his life. His mother died of cancer when he was a young boy, he was sent away to a boarding school with an abusive headmaster later declared insane, he was wounded in World War I, and his father failed to visit him in the hospital despite his pleadings. However, clearly the most painful event was the loss of his wife Joy. They had only been married for a few years. The rather strange circumstances surrounding their marriage are powerfully portrayed in the BBC or Hollywood movie versions of Shadowlands. They were married in a civil ceremony in 1956 and later, after Joy was diagnosed with cancer, married by an Anglican priest in 1957. Shortly after this second ceremony, a remission in Joy’s cancer occurred. Joy was then able to progress from bed to wheelchair to almost normal walking. The next couple years were filled with remarkable happiness. Joy wrote in mid-1957: “Jack and I are managing to be surprisingly happy, considering the circumstances; you’d think we were a honeymoon couple in our early twenties, rather than our middle-aged selves.”
  C.S. Lewis commented that he experienced later in life the married bliss that most people experience in their early years. However, it didn’t last. By late 1959, the cancer returned, and Joy died July 13, 1960. Two of the last things she said were, “You have made me happy,” and “I am at peace with God.”

A Grief Observed

  The loss of Joy plunged Lewis into the depths of grief and pain. Following Joy’s death, Lewis kept a journal and wrote down his thoughts because he was personally helped by doing so—with no intent of publication. Later, he published his journaled thoughts under a pseudonym, N.W. Clerk (a pun on the Old English for “I know not what scholar”). A Grief Observed was published two years before his own death in 1963. Interestingly, when the book first came out, many people thought it would be helpful to C.S. Lewis, and he received many gift copies.

The Problem of Pain

  Back in 1940, Lewis had published a book titled The Problem of Pain, which was a theoretical discussion of the problem of evil and pain. It is a book that still repays reading. He was aware then of the difference between theory and practice. In his introduction to The Problem of Pain, he says:

I have never for one moment been in a state of mind to which even the imagination of serious pain was less than intolerable. If any man is safe from the danger of underestimating this adversary, I am that man. I must add too, that the only purpose of the book is to solve the intellectual problem raised by suffering; for the far higher task of teaching fortitude and patience I was never fool enough to suppose myself qualified.


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