Nearly a year and a half after I picked it up, I finished A Grief Observed . I first tried reading it in an attempt to deal with my brother’s death in late 2009. Mid 2010, the wound was still too fresh to be able to dive into the book properly or usefully.
There are those who might argue that there’s no right or wrong time to read a book, watch a movie, see a piece of theater, respond to an artwork. On some level they may be right. Art is not just about what the piece is, in itself, but about who you are, and how you respond to it. After all, how can we explore or explain anything if not through the lens of our own experience? One might also argue that it’s our experience that makes an artwork beautiful. Am I talking myself into this?
Mm… not really. Personal experience can enhance an artwork’s power or devalue it, but just as there are certain objective truths about personalities, there qualities in a real piece of art (which is a projection of personality) that will make people respond. (If you really want to get into this but don’t feel like hauling out your Heidegger, read or see Yasmina Reza’s Art which is, like all good plays, really about relationships- but I’ve digressed enough).
All of this is a very roundabout way to justify the fact that I was not ready to face up to A Grief Observed before. You should know that it’s a journal- never written for public consumption. Lewis makes powerful, uncomfortable statements about God that he later retracts as “a yell rather than a thought” (p.35). He leads you through the stages of grief, not as defined by Kübler-Ross but lived and relived in his heart and mind. If you’ve suffered a significant loss (which we all must at some point) it is very painful to see elements of your own dark days reflected on the page.
I begin writing many of my posts well before I put them up. This one was started several weeks ago, before Holy Week, before my aunt suddenly announced that she was dying and then got on with it last Monday. She was a very special lady, Cecilia Rose, the matriarch after our matriarch died in the early nineties. Her home became the gathering point for our clan (and with 40 grandchildren and innumerable great grands, it is a clan). Cheech was there through every major illness, all our graduations, countless theatrical productions, bridal showers, new babies… She sat at my father’s, brother’s, aunt’s, uncles’ bedsides for hours, joking and soothing. She paid special attention to the fatherless kids in our family- helping to raise my cousin Eric and inviting my siblings over every chance she got. The summers we spend in Rockport together kept gave our unmanageably large family a much needed point of reference.
Beyond her actions, Cheech herself was a force to be reckoned with. She was full of joy and good humor quite literally till the end. Her appreciation of each of us as individuals was quite astonishing. I will think of her when my own siblings and I burst into spontaneous musical numbers, just like our aunties, when we visit the beach this summer where she cared for me the year my father died, when I celebrate Western Christmas with friends, when I see old family photos, when I wonder why our family seems a little bigger and less familiar.
I’d like to conclude, as I often do, with a few quotes.
The notes have been about myself, and about H., and about God. In that order. The order and proportions exactly what they ought not to have been. And I see that I have nowhere fallen into that mode of thinking about either which we call praising them. Yet that would have been best for me. Praise is the mode of love which always has some element of joy in it. Praise in due order; of Him as the giver, of her as the gift. Don’t we in praise somehow enjoy what we praise, however far we are from it?” – A Grief Observed, 71-72
For me at any rate the program is plain. I will turn to her as often as possible in gladness. I will even salute her with a laugh. The less I mourn her the nearer I seem to her.- A Grief Observed, 66
Oh, Cecilia, you will be missed.