I spoke with Mom again last night, as I have been doing daily ever since the day my father passed away. She’s doing better than before, both emotionally and physically, though of course it’s a long road ahead, and I don’t doubt some days will be problems for her. I figure to keep in close touch by phone, and to visit as often as I can; she really likes to see Jagan, who has lately been on her very best behavior, so that helps her feel better as well.
My Mom got some books from people to help deal with the loss. One thing which jumps out at me is how poor the available books on Grief are. I understand that it’s a complex issue, especially since it seems that everyone has to deal with grief in their own way, but the books out there today are, well, pretty much all dreck. This seems to be especially the case with books written by people who hold PhD’s. They understand the intellectual concept well enough, but they don’t seem to have a clue about talking to real people about their real pain and trauma. As an example, my mom is pretty religious. So she was less than impressed when one author holding a PhD, in a book intended to be read by the bereaved for guidance and comfort, suggested that it was a sign of weakness to “use religion as a crutch” when a loved one dies. While I can understand that someone who is not religious may not like the idea of embracing one’s faith in a time of trouble, it seems to me the height of arrogance to insult someone’s deepest-held beliefs at a time when they have already suffered a severe loss. Other books were not much better, treating the death of a loved one with much the same regard as they would a problem with the garbage disposal – oh, your husband died? Gee, that’s too bad, but he was getting old anyway, and now you have freedom to do whatever you really wanted to do – blah, blah, blah. Browsing through the books myself, I cannot say I found a single thing worth mentioning here – with the notable exception of C.S. Lewis.
As those familiar with Dr. Lewis know, he lost his wife Joy to cancer, after a long fight which the couple at one time thought they had won. I especially enjoyed the scene from the movie “Shadowlands”, where Anthony Hopkins caught perfectly the pain and frustration Lewis felt when person after person, all with the best of intentions, trotted out some banal exhortion. You know, ‘This was somehow for the best’, ‘It was meant to be’, and such useless words which do nothing for the moment or the need. As he was still coming to grips with his pain, and understanding that people needed something to address the pain they felt when suffering such a loss, and as therapy for his own loss, C.S. Lewis wrote “A Grief Observed”, far and away the best book I have ever read on the subject. It’s not an easy read, by any means, but it’s direct and honest, and it helps like no other book I have read on the subject.
It’s not surprising, really. Grief strikes all of us, but when it does, there’s few indeed who feel inclined to write about it, to wrestle with it, while the white-hot pain tears away at your own spirit and composure; even the best writers would be reluctant to invite that monster further into their own soul. It adds to my respect for Dr. Lewis that he was that rare courageous person, who understood that his own pain could serve to heal others.