Death, Dying, Grief and Mourning

            "Death is always the same,
                               but each man dies in his own way."

Carson McCullers, Clock Without Hands, 1960

   

   Search Site

 

in Western Literature

An Anthology by  Adrienne Nater

 • Home •  • Preface • • Introduction •  • Chronology •  • Index •  • About the Author •

[PREVIOUS]

Death, Dying, Grief, and Mourning

in Western Literature

[NEXT]

Printable Page

 

 

C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed, 1961

 

Death of his wife, Helen Joy

From Chapter 2

Death of his wife, Helen Joy:

…The most precious gift that marriage gave me was this constant impact of something very close and intimate yet all the time unmistakably other, resistant --- in a word, real. Is all that work to be undone? Or what I shall still call [Helen] to sink back horribly into being not much more than one of my old bachelor pipedreams? Oh my dear, my dear, come back for one moment and drive that miserable phantom away. Oh God, God, why did you take so much trouble to force this creature out of its shell if it is now doomed to crawl back – to be sucked back – into it? …

…What pitiable cant to say, ‘she will live in my memory!’ Live? That is exactly what she won’t do. You might as well think like the old Egyptians that you can keep the dead by embalming them. Will nothing persuade us that they are gone? What’s left? A corpse, a memory, and (in some versions) a ghost. All mockeries of horrors. Three more ways of spelling the word dead. It was H. I loved. As if I want to fall in love with my memory of her, an image in my own mind! It would be a sort of incest. …

…But there are other difficulties. "Where is she now? That is, in what place is she at the present time? But if H. is not a body – and the body I loved is certainly no longer she – she is in no place at all. And ‘the present time’ is a data point in our time series. It is as if she were on a journey without me and I said, looking at my watch, ‘I wonder is she at Euston now.’ But unless she is proceeding at sixty seconds a minute along the same timeline that all we living people travel by, what does now mean? If the dead are not in time, or not in our sort of time, is there any clear difference, when we speak of them, between was and is and will be?

Kind people have said to me, ‘She is with God.’ In one sense that is most certain. She is, like God, incomprehensible and unimaginable.

But I find that this question, however important it my be in itself, is not after all very important in relation to grief. Suppose that the earthly lives she and I shared for a few years are in reality only the basis for, or prelude to, or earthy appearance of, two unimaginable, supercosmic, eternal somethings. Those somethings could be pictures as spheres or globes. Where the plane of Nature cuts through them – that is, in earthly life – they appear as two circles (circles are slices of spheres). Two circles that touched. But those two circles, above all the point at which they touched, are the very thing I am mourning for, homesick for, famished for. You tell me, ‘she goes on.’ But my heart and body are crying out, come back, come back. Be a circle, touching my circle on the plane of nature.

But I know this is impossible. I know that the thing I want is exactly the thing I can never get. The old life, the jokes, the drinks, the argument, the lovemaking, the tiny, heartbreaking commonplace. On any view whatever, to say, "H. is dead,’ is to say, ‘All that is gone.’ It is part of the past. And the past is the past and that is what time means, and time itself if one more name for death, and Heaven itself is a state where ‘the former things have past away.’

…One flesh. Or if you prefer, one ship. The starboard engine has gone. I the port engine, must chug along somehow till we make harbour. Or rather, till the journey ends. How can I assume a harbour? A lee shore, more likely, a black night, a deafening gale, breakers ahead – and any lights shown from the land probably being waved by wreckers. Such was H.’s landfall. Such was my mother’s. I say their landfalls, not their arrivals.

 

 

   
 

Adrienne Nater, 2008

www.DeathDyingGriefandMourning.com

©© 2008 Adrienne Nater. All rights reserved.