Tag Archives: CS Lewis A Grief Observed

Grief: In Conclusion, Lessons from Mom, Acceptance


Eight days have passed since I last wrote. For a “blogger” this is akin to obscurity. For a writer, which I believe know I am, eight days is almost like torture.

I wanted the lesson I learned from the ether, the one about forgiveness, to gel. I considered it as though it were a soufflé: Shh! Don’t make noises around it, step gently, don’t disturb it.

Of my grief the other day, I wrote to a friend, “I think when my mom died I literally lost time and data. I am encountering things now that I don’t remember forgetting… If that makes any sense. It’s like some of them are totally new.”

. . . . .

CS Lewis was right when he wrote that when we love our departed and don’t feel grief about them, that they feel more near. I was in a place last week, true acceptance — and I am still there, although with occasional tears — that allowed her or my memory of her, or something real and true of hers to come to me. I let it feel safe. I let it know, without any specter or sliver of judgement or regret or resistance, that I am ready:

In yoga last week, the very next day after I appealed for forgiveness, I was in child’s pose, at the end of a vinyasa series, and I smelled her twice. The first for about six bewildering seconds and then >poof!< it was gone and then a few seconds later, it came back for about another three seconds. An incarnation of my mother’s earthly spirit as only I could relate to it was with me. I didn’t court it, I didn’t beg for it to stay, I just … accepted it. I didn’t believe it at first. I sniffed my clothes, my hands, my skin to debunk it; I must’ve looked like a lunatic: they’re all in child’s pose, face down, chest to thighs, shins to earth and I’m acting like a bloodhound. Nothing around me that smelled like her. I smelled of my laundry detergent and my hair conditioner. I nodded in gratitude. She felt safe; that was cool.

A friend just messaged me about the significance of that moment. Child’s pose is one we do to come down or cool down or relax from a series. That we are at peace, submission, when we do it. My friend said, “She was at peace and wants it too for you; the fact that you were in child’s pose, is a big deal too.” 

A few readers have lovingly appealed to me that I accept that my pre-Labor Day world is gone. I appreciate their guidance, and I agree that I have been reluctant to accept that truth. Who could blame me? No one I know. No one else is in my skin. But it is with heavy emotion imbued with truth that I accept it now. I will never be ‘over’ her death. I don’t think anyone ever expects me to be. My life has changed forever. The woman who bore me has left forever.

Mom used to speak all the time about acceptance. I suspect that some of it was a lecture for herself. She meant, despite my rigid assertions that she lived in the ether, reality. “You can’t change reality, or people,” she used to say.

The reality is that she has gone to God and is no more a living being on this earth. I know now, the deep and profound love I had for her was primal and true. How could it not be?

She used to say that about me all the time, “Maally, you are so true. True blue and loyal to the end!” she would exclaim, almost as a cheer, and I would recoil with embarrassment and pride; I guess that’s what we refer to as “sheepishly” now.

Those exchanges in my memory now are threatening my soufflé. They tread very close to evoking how I felt at the time she said such things, as though I was being teased. Right now, my gut is telling me to be careful not to lionize her for if I do, I disavow and invalidate the crushing challenges I endured as her child; to accept this entire thing means I must accept all of it: her perspective and limitations, and all of mine as well.

I feel her on my left side right now. Or something like her.

It’s gone.

. . . . .

It occurred to me, in this grief-inspired, post-guilt haze that I still have a lot of life to live. That I have other things to write about and that I need to assimilate the reality that Mom has died and is never ever >gulp< coming back, into my life because this is how all life goes. Eventually: it ends!

Most of us come into this world, meeting them for the first time and expecting them to always be there. Even as her health declined and I witnessed her truly staggeringly precipitous aging, and I rationally knew that her time was short, I was not at all accepting of it on an emotional level.

My ongoing break wall graffiti, “Pfft. We had barely known each other when I was growing up… it won’t be so hard to adjust to when she dies…” is total garbage. Her loss has been profound. Her personality was massive. She. Was. My. Mom. It doesn’t matter if the relationship was gossamer-strong or plutonium-fragile.

The fact is that she was always on my mind whether I own it or not. We shared cells, DNA … we were connected. Tragically, we both wanted acceptance from one another — constantly.

But that forgiveness and grace I experienced last week has ushered in a new space where I am allowed to matter to myself. I can write about other things and it’s not to spite her. For me to continually and actively devote this space to the void her death created and my grief from it is to feed a vacuum of self-indulgence.

While I will continue to write, the underlying truth is that I now write in the aftermath of her death. Just as I write in the aftermath of any other experience, of the first day of fall, of 9/11, of ten five two minutes ago.

Of course her loss will color my writing. I can hear her now, “Stop using parenthesis! You’re better than that! If you’re going to say it, Say It!” She was a very strong formidable editor.

Part of my quandary is that I want to move on from this publicly and I don’t know how. This is all new to me. I started this situation, by blogging about my grief, now I must clean it up. “You need to lighten up, Maally…” I can hear her.

Yes, I suppose she was mostly right. I was the Felix Unger to her Oscar Madison. Part of that entreaty was to get me to leave her alone, to let her be, and in my German shepherd mind, to let her continue with her self-indulgence. She won. She always did, and finally, I’m ok with it. I also win too — I don’t feel guilty about it not working out because it was never mine to fix.

So that is the deal here, the final lesson: you can’t change a damned thing about anyone else. All you can do is change your reaction to other people. It’s been the message of this earth and all its conflicts since the beginning of time. It is the mother of all realities. Once we accept it, truly, it colors our lives. Everything becomes less stressful.

We are not as separate as we once believed. When we let go, we let in.

This was a disjointed post because I cut a lot out. I found myself breaking my objective, to not blog so obviously about my grief. I just remembered that one of Kubler-Ross’s stages is “Acceptance.”

Thanks for sticking around. I’ll be back to new normal soon.

So I’m going to wrap it up with a quote from a movie that Mom loved,

Thank you.

Grief: Observing “A Grief Observed”; ‘Think Pleasantly’


I just finished CS Lewis’ A Grief Observed on the advice of my brother, and some friends. It took about four days for me. I’m a slow reader and I scribble in my books.

It has been five weeks and a few days since Mom died and I think I’m ready to begin a new chapter in my life. The chapter that begins with the words, “We are not betraying the memory of loved ones when we laugh or smile so close after their passing. We are honoring the life we have left to live ourselves and taking them along for the ride.”

Those are my words. Lewis says similar things in his 76-page gem. “H.” is his deceased wife. I have underlined, annotated, starred and bracketed many passages in his book. Every chapter page had something fantastic in it. The thing that’s great about this book is that grief needn’t follow a death. There are plenty of things to grieve over: an unexpected turn in life; a job loss; divorce; bankruptcy; health issues. Grief, and its stages, are universal and omnipresent.

Perhaps the most poignant excerpts of all, for me, at this phase in my grief are these:

Still, there’s no denying that in some sense I ‘feel better,’ and with that comes at once a sort of shame, and a feeling that one is under a sort of obligation to cherish and foment and prolong one’s unhappiness. I’ve read about that in books, but I never dreamed I should feel it myself. I am sure H. wouldn’t approve of it. She’d tell me not to be a fool. So, I’m pretty certain, would God. What is behind it? Partly, no doubt, vanity. We want to prove to ourselves that we are lovers on the grand scale, tragic heroes … (p. 53)

… Passionate grief does not link us with the dead but cuts us off from them. (p. 54)

… All that (sometimes lifelong) ritual of sorrow—visiting graves, keeping anniversaries, leaving the empty bedroom exactly as ‘the departed’ used to keep it … was like mummification. It made the dead far more dead. (p. 55)

The less I mourn her the nearer I seem to her. (p. 56)

And so I recall the phrase that a matronly, motherly woman I met Sunday, while apple-picking with the team (our first real, happy outing as a family since the funeral), said when we took in the grand vista of the Blue Ridge mountains. She and her husband were a dapper couple, befitting an Orvis catalog and they immediately struck me as familiar. We chatted, they asked about our boys and in 10 minutes, we got to know each other quite well. She and I shared our stories of our mothers’ passing.

Think of her pleasantly and she will come to you.

It was enough of a phrase to jar me, ‘pleasantly‘? Why not ‘lovingly‘? Why not ‘longingly‘? I barely knew this woman and I had not yet read those excerpts from the book. How did she know that pleasantly was probably the most I could muster right now? Even more of a surprise is that her name was “Mary Jo” which is what lots of people thought my mother’s name was when she said her formal name, “Mary Joan,” quickly and being so polite and kind, my mother seldom corrected them. When this woman said her name, I almost passed out.

And it’s true. When I think ‘pleasantly‘ of Mom, I feel her and of course I mourn her, which likely sends the feeling of her away; it becomes about me, not about her. She is free! She is done with this crazy planet! I should be jealous! I know in my heart, she wants me to think pleasantly of her (she probably did all her life…things were difficult between us for years) but not just about her, about life. Afterall, who wants to be around a boo-hooer and Debbie Downer all day? Yikes, not me. Mom lost her parents and her loved ones and I remember her ready smiles not long afterward.

As much as I should feel grief and sadness when I consider her and the psychic state I was in (ready to accept her warts and all) just before God took her from me, I can’t wallow in it. I have three boys who need me and they lift me up. I have a husband I love dearly and he needs me too. My friends understand when I hole up but they don’t let it last long and sheesh, life is for living, right?

I asked my friend about the seeming coincidence of the chance meeting with the Orvis couple. First, this couple lives in the same town of my friend who checked in on me the next day. I called it a lightning bolt and a sign that my sadness, while noble, was doing no one any good, least of all me. My friend (a woman of tremendous faith and Biblical literacy) said,

You were struck by lighting….remind me to tell you the story of the Horse Named I Am.   God does these things for us…they are his gentle reminders to trust Him, walk with Him….He is walking you through the shadow of death right now, but his rod (used for guidance and to point you in The right direction) and his staff, (used for pulling you back from the precipice) will comfort you.  Now go read the rest of it….Psalm 23.  God’s word is complete, and we will find all His answers there…He says, call on me and I will tell you great and unmeasurable things that you do not know….book of Jeremiah.

And so one of these days, I will get on that 23rd psalm. And I’ll peek at the book of Jeremiah. I am a dolt actually — considering myself a writer and not having much familiarity with the best-selling book of all time… I know what Mom would say, “just let it go…” and “be happy…” 

At the beginning of Chapter 4, Lewis basically says he’s out of paper and he’s going to stop,

I resolve to let this limit my jottings. I will not start buying books for the purpose. … I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow. Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state, but a process. It needs not a map but a history, and if I don’t stop writing that history at some quite arbitrary point, there’s no reason why I should ever stop. There is something new to be chronicled every day. (p. 59)

That is what has occurred to me. I have had my first birthday since Mom died. Then there will be the first Columbus Day and the first day after Columbus Day… Christmas, then Boxing Day and then the day after Boxing Day… eventually, and I can hear Mom say this because I believe it myself, it gets to be a little pathetic, a little maudlin, and not a little uncomfortable. Death is universal. It’s the living who make it macabre.

“Cool it, Mimsy!” I can hear her now, smirking. She had a wonderful wit too. One time, when I was upset with her, I had to head out to an event. I was in a long wool red coat that my father gave me and a red felt hat my brother gave me to match. She and I had bickered over something and I couldn’t stay any longer to debate it. As I was leaving the house she said something to the effect of, “Fine! Leave… you … raging pimento!” and those are the moments I want to keep in my head. Not the sadnesses.

Staying in a cycle of sadness also creates more ugh in my life, frankly. I also see some old habits rearing their heads here while I’ve been in my cave. Drama feels lonely so she comes out to stir up shit. Because it’s an old friend, I let her. The hangover is not worthy of my time though. That energy is the vestige of my lifelong concern and decades-long vigilance of Mom. She was a lot of work, but she made me and I am glad to be here and the lessons I’ve learned and likely the most important one she taught me, to soften myself to people, to allow them warts and all has finally been taught. The test, her death, has been passed. The path now is to be gentler to myself and to do the things that bring me joy and value. Thus, I have effectively cleared my slate of unnecessary obligations and duties so that I can focus on the things I like. If I didn’t have a head cold and the sun were out, I’d be on the water today. But it’s 56˚ and cloudy and I feel like crap, so I’m here wrapping things up.

I have no doubt I shall think of her wistfully. I am certain I will catch my breath, and weep and perhaps heave some tears. But I am more eager to think of her joyfully pleasantly. This picture, perhaps my most favorite ever of her because it captures her so completely as I remember her, is the way I will remember her:

This is typical of my parents' in their shots of just them. He's likely talking about politics and she's not.

This is typical of my parents in their shots of just them. He’s likely talking about politics and she’s … not. (winter 1978-79)

I will write next about the faceless chicken, how we selected her gravesite and other gallows humor. I will miss my mother. Yet it is time for me to move on a bit, pleasantly. Otherwise, it could go on and on.

Thank you.