I’ve spent the last few days cataloging my book cases on GoodReads. I discovered recently that the app allows you to scan books with your smart phone by the UPC or the front cover “art”. I tried it out, mesmerized by how well it worked. I would say about 1 of 20 books on my shelves were too old, obscure, or didn’t have proper “bookishness” credentials (Scholastic books are notorious for this)… but the rest of my hundreds and hundreds of books were an easy scan, and I now can search them online in my GoodReads profile by key-word. This was a LOT easier than me typing out a list of books so I could search it in Excel or some other software. Smart phones for the win, right?!?!
My husband brought the mail in yesterday after work while I was bending over a pile of history books, trying to get them all on the correct chronological shelf, and he told me there was a package for me to open. Dana had sent me a book about grief. I was so busy yesterday that I hadn’t hardly thought about my mom, except for when I was in the kitchen, where it is impossible to escape her. She spent so many hours doing dishes and talking to me while I cooked, helping me chop vegetables, sitting with the boys while they ate, teaching them piano while I worked on the pantry or made a menu. She was a constant weekly presence in our kitchen and dining area… more so than anywhere else.
I picked up Dana’s book and took it to the bedroom while the guys watched “Up” downstairs. I could hear them giggling at the talking dog and knew I had a little time to read while I took a break from my bookshelves. Preparing for the school year is serious work… and dusty, too.
I kept reading until the book was finished; only stopping to get up once to grab some water and answer my phone. After that, it only seemed natural that I would write a review… after scanning my book into the app I was already using.
This year I’m going to try and focus on getting our books at home read… instead of seeking out a ton of new ones at the library. We really do have a mountain of books to climb here. Homeschooling for two decades has turned my house into a glorified library. Need a book? Come over and check one out.
I may end up thinning the shelves down some… I’ve already put a few books on Paperback Swap after finding that I had more than one copy! I can’t imagine moving out of my house into my mother’s tiny cottage with all of these books.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I’ve never begun writing a book review through tears, until now. I’m also not one to write long reviews; preferring instead to let the author tell their story and let my review be the hand nudging you to either read or not read the book in the first place. In this case, to be blunt, I’m nudging you to read it, unapologetically.
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Someone sent me a card after my mother died at the beginning of the summer. It was a landscape in sepia with the Shakespeare quote, “My soul is in the sky.” I couldn’t stop staring at it. I kept it on my desk for weeks. It didn’t seem fair that her soul was in the sky and her body in the ground; and even then, that I couldn’t talk to either of them.
I had these thoughts a lot. Anger and pain. Loneliness. But the anger was surprising – especially the stuff directed at mom. Lots of it was directed at God, too, who I knew was the one who had blessed me with her in the first place… all these years that she got after her diabetes diagnosis at age 28. Years in which she got to see her four grandkids grow up, a couple nearly into adulthood. God could have taken her in her 20’s, before I even had the chance to remember her well. But He didn’t.
Out of the blue, my sister-in-law sent me this book. I’ve read C.S. Lewis (and loved his books), but had not read this one. I picked it up and couldn’t put it down. My tea got cold. I read the whole thing at once, glad to feel understood.
That’s what I loved about this book. It was a glimpse of C.S. Lewis – mind like a steel trap – in rare ultra-human form. Weeping. Groveling. Shouting at God and reminding himself who he was talking to. It connects Lewis to everyone else who wasn’t ever his intellectual equal… and it shows how a man can grapple with losing something precious and survive to tell about it, faith in-tact.
A Grief Observed is a “notebook by the bed”… a “journal” of private observations. It isn’t a lecture or a how-to self-help book. It’s just C.S. Lewis sharing his raw self when he might have admitted to being his least becoming. When he really didn’t care what anyone thought, only that they were in the room so he wasn’t alone.
I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.
Favorite quotes from the book (there were too many to list and I marked this book up like I was studying for a test… and laughed out loud at his ramblings – yes even with such a stark topic as grief – he made me laugh):
From the introduction…
I loved that his step-son wrote the introduction in my copy (Douglas Gresham)… he stated about C.S. Lewis and his beloved wife “They seemed to walk together within a glow of their own making”.
His take on the book was: “This book is a man emotionally naked in his own Gethsemane.”
From the book…
“And no one ever told me about the laziness of grief. Except at my job – where the machine seems to run on much as usual – I loathe the slightest effort. …It’s easy to see why the lonely become untidy, finally dirty and disgusting.”
“At first I was very afraid of going to places where H. and I had been happy – our favourite pub, our favourite wood. But I decided to do it at once – like sending a pilot up again as soon as possible after he’s had a crash. Unexpectedly, it makes no difference. Her absence is no more emphatic in those places than anywhere else. …The act of living is different all through. Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything.“
He was waxing poetic about how he was afraid his memory of H. was going to fade away into bits of his own imagination and be somehow marred, and that she wouldn’t be there to correct him, and that somehow this would make her die again to him… (that’s the gist of it, anyway), and he said this, which is one of the things I feel about mom:
“The rough, sharp, cleansing tang of her otherness is gone.”
That one sentence was like a dagger. This book is no easy read for the bereaved, but such a comfort, even in it’s ruthless honesty.
“Aren’t all these notes the senseless writings of a man who won’t accept the fact that there is nothing we can do with suffering except to suffer it?”
In chapter three where he’s explaining how exhaustion lifted and the sun came out after a long stint of grey, he says he remembers H. best.
“It was as if the lifting of the sorrow removed a barrier. …You can’t see anything properly while your eyes are blurred with tears.”
I love his paragraph on what a good wife is. I’ll leave you to the book to read it yourself. This was just a bonus for me, since my grief was not a husband, but a parent. So much of his experience is similar to mine, however; as like Lewis, when I was able to breathe and stopped worrying about how I wouldn’t remember her face or the things she said or did the way they really were, I discovered that “she met me everywhere”.
I loved how he explained that after a period of clarity and peace, he was thrust into “hell” again. Grief, being more of a circle or spiral, than a straight line to travel. Good to know we are not broken if we aren’t always “getting better”.
Such hope in his words: “The less I mourn her the nearer I seem to her.” and “H. is still a fact.”… whether gone or not, she is… still… a fact. As my mother is still a fact.
Now and again he fades off into statements that can only be to his wife: “Did you ever know, dear, how much you took away with you when you left? You have stripped me even of my past, even of the things we never shared.”
I loved his bits of praise towards the end… “Praise in due order; of Him as the giver, of her as the gift.”