If a fictional character or fictional world strikes a chord with the public, the creator of that character or that world will forever be linked with his or her creation, no matter how many other unrelated works they produce. Say the name Sherlock Holmes and the name Sir Arthur Conan Doyle will not be far behind; ditto James Bond and Ian Fleming, Bertie Wooster and PG Wodehouse, Harry Potter and JK Rowling. Similarly, think Wonderland and you also think Lewis Carroll; ditto Middle Earth and Tolkien, and of course, Narnia and CS Lewis. Where the latter is concerned, it’s no great surprise that his rich, textured universe, one so expansive that it stretches over seven books, is the one work everyone associates him with, the one that made his reputation and secured his place in the pantheon of evergreen fantasy literature. However, Lewis proved he had more than one string to his creative bow when he responded to the death of his wife by writing perhaps the finest and most moving treatise on love and loss in the English language, ‘A Grief Observed’.
Understandably low-key in comparison to the epic scale of his Narnia chronicles (and even published under a pseudonym), ‘A Grief Observed’ documents the devastation as a loved one suddenly transforms from a physical presence to a mental shadow, exploring every aspect of abrupt enforced separation, from the profound – Lewis struggling to maintain devotion to his Christian faith – to the humdrum everyday routines that have been cruelly robbed of what made them tolerable. And ‘A Grief Observed’ does all this with an exquisitely poignant and achingly sad delicacy that makes it literature’s definitive artistic statement on bereavement; it’s the book that everyone who experiences bereavement should have as their constant companion, a far more effective and incisive source of comfort than a counsellor.
Lewis’s journal of his grief accurately describes the impact of losing his other half, the person with whom he shared his personal space; but sometimes grief can come not so much from the disappearance of a love rooted in intimacy as a love rooted in empathy, the love of someone who wasn’t the Siamese soul-mate who finished the sentences we began, but someone who was a visiting kindred spirit rather than a permanent resident (albeit a visitor whose impact was seismic). And this strain of grief can summon-up tantalising visions of alternate routes in which chances missed were taken and empathy did indeed eventually progress to intimacy ; it is a form of delayed shock, the belated recognition of something special that didn’t reveal its potential until the moment had long since passed. Can grief unacknowledged by the wider world be as intense and leave the recipient as drained and bereft as that endured by the spouse or partner? Of course. Grief is not a yardstick; it is relative. Yet, the downside to grief that is personal to the point of being invisible to the naked eye is that there is no circle of consoling friends and relations to ease the burden. You’re on your own.
So, what does one do? A couple of weeks ago, I felt so at sea that I even considered visiting a medium – yes, one who would host a proper séance of the sort we’ve all seen in the movies. I went online and I let my fingers do the walking through the Yellow Pages. What I found was a gallery of Mystic Meg-types, some of whom were reminiscent of characters from ‘The League of Gentlemen’. It was difficult to take them seriously or imagine their intervention could possibly help. But I still haven’t ruled out the prospect. I sense Alison’s presence at times, though I cannot articulate that presence. I have no religious faith, but I am not a hardcore atheist either; neither system of belief appears flexible enough to incorporate a solution for what I’m feeling into their respective doctrines. Perhaps this is where the spiritualist and the medium plug a gap in the market; and perhaps they serve a purpose when any other form of consolation is so threadbare.
© Johnny Monroe 2014