Discussion Questions for A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis
1. “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear,” starts C.S. Lewis in A Grief Observed, a book of reflections on life and loss after the death of his wife. Drawing from your personal story, how would you finish that same sentence? “No one ever told me that grief felt so like…”
2. Other people can complicate coping with our own grief. Lewis admits to being distant from their conversations but needy for their company. Sometimes, he feels like an embarrassment as friends and colleagues muster the courage to say something, anything, to him—or choose to avoid him altogether. How do you want to share space with other people in your darkest days?
3. A writer captivated by theology, Lewis turns to the presence (or absence) of God in our suffering. When we’re happy, he says, God feels like an open embrace. But when we’re desperate, God feels more like “a door slammed in the face.” Has this been your experience? Where do you turn when you’re suffering? What kind of door has greeted you? Describe it.
4. There is a tension for Lewis between his memory of his wife and the reality of who she was. Similarly, Lewis is concerned about his perception of God and the reality of God. Do you agree that these are important distinctions? Why or why not?
5. “You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death.” Do our loved ones really livein our memory? Where are they exactlyafter they die? Can we be certain they are withGod—and in what sense? The consolations Lewis once found in religion have changed. When has your faith, if ever, become a matter of life and death? What beliefs shifted? And what beliefs remained?
6. As terrible as his “mad midnight moments” are, Lewis is afraid of what will replace them when they’re gone: boredom, shame, false hope? The truth, he finds, is that he remembers his wife better when the suffering subsides. What do you know about the fear and freedom of letting go of grief?
7. Lewis maintains that we never let go of grief completely. He likens it to a man getting his leg cut off. The continuous pain will stop. But he will never be a biped again. Is this metaphor particular to the loss of a partner with whom one was “one flesh”? Or do all kinds of loves make claim upon our bodies? How has a loss permanently changed your gait?
8. Throughout the book, Lewis reflects on the process of reflection itself. He wonders if he’s going in circles—or something more like a spiral. He wonders if it’s helping or hindering the healing. Ultimately, he says his journals read less like a map of sorrow and more like its history. What compels you to write about, speak of, or name your own pain? What do you hope to gain by doing it?
9. “God is the great iconoclast,” Lewis concludes. And so, too, is all of reality. In this way, he says, we must try to love real things and not the idea of them. What’s one small thing you can do to love someone in your life as a person and not a persona?
10. In the end, Lewis finds not a locked door but a silent gaze. Not a message from the dead but “intelligence and attention.” Not an answer but a loosening of the question. How does where he leave us leave you?
Bonus: After reading A Grief Observed, what part of the book resonated with you most? What insight will you carry with you?
Discussion Questions written by author, editor, and facilitator Erin S. Lane.
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