by Ken Grano, M. Div., BCC
...he casts an image that speaks to a common phenomenon for those who are grieving when he says, "There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me."
One cannot help but appreciate the honest expression of grief when reading C.S. Lewis' "A Grief Observed". In the pages of this little book (really his private journal made available to the public), Lewis describes the nature and impact of grief that is relatable to many who have suffered a significant loss. Towards the beginning of his reflections on the death of his wife, he casts an image that speaks to a common phenomenon for those who are grieving when he says, "There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me."
Now I hope I am not taking too much liberty with Lewis' comment, but what stands out here is a felt separation between the one who is grieving and the world. What is more, if there is a blanket (so to speak) before me, than does that mean I see things through the blanket? If this is the case, everything that was once clearly visible has now become distorted. Why? Because now everything is seen not directly but indirectly through a veil (or blanket) which changes how things in the world are presented to me. C.S. Lewis himself seems to affirm this when he says, "The act of living is different all through. Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything."
Everything is different. Does that resonate with you? Nothing seems the same. In our time of mourning the world that was once so familiar can seem like a strange place. Not only the world but we can become a stranger unto ourselves. The loneliness and isolation this brings into our lives can seem unbearable. What are we to do with this loneliness? How are we to find our place again in the world?
Many answers have been given to these questions and they all have their merit. For example, sharing stories about your loved one or inviting others to share stories about them can alleviate some of the loneliness. Starting a blog provides an opportunity to openly express your grief and may help others who are going through a similar circumstance. Other suggestions have been to join a grief support group or gradually resume social activities you used to enjoy.
All of these are good suggestions. In addition to these, I wanted to bring to your attention certain markers for meaning discovery or guideposts as described by Joseph Fabry in his book, “Guideposts to Meaning: Discovering What Really Matters.” These guideposts can help us discover a sense of who we are, as well as how we can contribute and reconnect to a world that seems so foreign to us after the death of a loved one.
The first guidepost is self-discovery and addresses the questions of who you are and who you want to become. The second guidepost, choice, involves discovering where we have freedom to change a situation if desired and deciding what kind of attitude we choose to have when we can’t change the situation. The attitude we choose speaks to our values. For example, if I cannot alter a difficult situation yet I decide to not allow the circumstance to get the best of me (taking a stand), I discover that courage, or a sense of heroism, is an important part of who I am.
The next guidepost is uniqueness. Uniqueness refers to your gifts and talents along with how these gifts have been used for others, for some kind of cause, in the workplace, or to accomplish some other important goal in your life. Personal relationships are also included here. That is to say, there are relationships you have that no one else can lay claim to which connect you uniquely with those important people in your life. Following this is responsibility. This refers to the ability to respond to what you may be called to do. Given my uniqueness, my gifts/talents, and the attitude I have chosen, what is life asking of me? Or, in the context of Lewis’ writing, what is God asking of me?
Last of all is self-transcendence. This involves the ability and act of reaching beyond yourself to serve someone or a cause that coincides with your personal values. Psychologists, theologians and philosophers have argued that we find ourselves if we lose ourselves in the service of something greater than ourselves; which brings us back to that first guidepost, self-discovery. You may have noticed that these markers for meaning discovery compliment and inform one another. It is my hope that they will be informative in your own life as you learn how to walk again in the midst of the loneliness that often accompanies grief.