Thursday, March 5, 2009

Coffeegirl Book Club

Chapter 8: The Way of Grief

" We always told each other…and now this huge thing was happening to me and I couldn’t tell her. Someone speaking of the pain of stopping smoking remarked: If only I could have a cigarette while I suffer! I sometimes thought I could bear the loss and grief if only I could tell her about it."

I found many of Vanauken’s observations about grief and loss to be insightful, noting many things that I expect are often experienced but unnoticed by many who are facing a similar grief. I identified closely with his thought when he writes, “How could things go on when the world had come to an end?” It is difficult to see the world carry on normally when my world has come to a halt due to a crisis or deep loss.

I remember marveling that fellow airplane passengers were able to enjoy a peaceful journey while I attempted to swallow my tears and divert my thoughts from the security of my home being left behind – the end of my world as I knew it. It is a reminder for me that there are people walking past me each day whose world has come to a proverbial end; it is far too easy for me to forget that reality.

I loved his statement of amazement that in the midst of his grief “the sky was still blue and a steak still tasted good.” As shocking as it is to see the world around us go us in the midst of tragedy, it is even more shocking to realize that our own satisfaction from pleasurable things like blue skies and steak does not wane in the face of grief.

As Vanauken set out to bear the full impact of his tragic loss, I was overwhelmed by the depths to which he was opening his heart up to re-experience the heights and depths of his life with Davy. His determination to “find the meaning of it, taste the whole of it” reminded me of his resolution at the beginning of the book to choose the “heights and depths” of life, rather than taking the safe and cautious middle way. It allowed me to reflect on the ways I live in a self-protective posture rather than opening myself up to the depths (it’s far easier to open myself up to the heights) for fear of the impact it would have on my heart. It was inspiring to see his commitment made long ago, then demonstrated in his life with Davy, now carried over into this period of deep grieving.

The other passage that I’ve been thinking about is C.S. Lewis’ writing on the loss of love:

I sometimes wonder whether bereavement is not, at the bottom, the easiest and least perilous of the ways in which men lose the happiness of youthful love. For I believe it must always be lost in some way: every merely natural love has to be crucified before it can achieve resurrection and the happy old couples have come through a difficult death and re-birth. But far more have missed the re-birth.
An interesting thought, the crucifixion of natural love in order to achieve resurrection. The idea of relationships deepening and being strengthened after enduring a crisis certainly seems true, but I had never thought of it in the way Lewis presents it.

Do you think love is lost in lifelong relationships before it can be resurrected? And what is if it is not resurrected after the crisis? Lewis’ reflection that many couples seem to have missed the re-birth of their love after its crucifixion seems accurate in many ways – perhaps this is why genuine ‘inloveness’ among older couples is so noteworthy. What does this idea of the inevitable death, and hopeful resurrection, of love mean to you? Have you experienced this in your own relationship?

There is much more to be drawn out of this chapter, and again, I turn it over to you. I always look forward to hearing the words, passages and ideas that emerge as highlights in the chapter for you, my fellow readers.


Angela said...

Thank you for sharing those quotes. It's kind of funny because sometimes what we really need to hear comes at us sideways when we're not looking. I'm amazed at God's ability to encourage in the most unexpected ways. Sometimes what we need most to endure is a little perspective.

I wait for the resurrection of love.

Libby said...

I really related to his wanting to share what he was experiencing with Davy. And from that he decided to write her letters. I think I would do this.

Again, I like his poetry and "Summer" was so good there at the end of the chapter.

I think my husband and I are in one of those times of resurrection of love. A new period of our marriage we have come to. Moving on from one stage to the next.
I'd share more but kids are noisy and I can't get one thought to stick in my head. :)

amyinbj said...

OK ... I tentatively say this, but the way in which Van observed his grief seemed selfish. I whole-heartedly agree that grief needs to be observed and I appreciate the way that he took time to review his life and time with Davy. He did not rush right back into life and found significant ways to process through the loss. It sounded like they had such a rich and full community. I would imagine that her death also had a great impact on them. But they weren't allowed in except for the service (and even that after Van had had the 'real' service when it was just privately the two of them) and to send Davy's letters to Van.

Perhaps there were other communal situations that allowed for others to be a part. I am beginning to remember what annoyed me about this book when I first read it so many years ago :) -- I am moved by the love, respect and relationship that Davy and Van had. But it seems so self focused. Van is open to others writing to him, but this also seems a bit controlling to me. It is about him processing his loss -- which it very much was! -- but part of the very essense of Christianity is the 'otherness,' the community we are a part of.

I know that everyone responds to grief differently. I just hope that if good friends of mine die, their husbands won't cut me completely out.

Unti next chapter ... Amy

Becky Aguirre said...

I got a little behind in my reading, so am now nearly caught up...I think what stuck out to me is Van's determination to experience and work out his grief. So many people avoid it, not knowing how to deal with it...grief is a very painful process, but in the end one is so much healthier for having worked through the process. I hadn't really thought about Amy's point of view of his grief being selfishly inward-focused, but I think she might have a point there. I would not want to be shut out of a good friend's grief either, having my own grieving process to work through...I also know that each person works through grief differently...

Lewis' comments on the death and rebirth of love in marriage are fascinating. I had never really thought of it that way, but I would say that I agree, there comes a point (many points?) in the marriage relationship when there must be death to self if the marriage is to survive-at least there have been in our marriage. From personal experience, this is not a fun experience, but the rebirth is worth it if persevered for. And somehow this brings glory to God...

Okay, well, speaking of marriage, DH is waiting for me...gotta run.

Coffeegirl said...

I love the variety of comments on this chapter. Libby, I'm glad you frequently mention the poetry included in many of these chapters. I seem to pass over them when it comes time to write my thoughts down, but I've enjoyed them and the fresh perspective they give. I tend to be quite wordy in my writing across the board, and I've wondered if it would be a good challenge to try and write a poem with choice words to express how I feel, rather than filling pages of a journal. I'm glad to know you find the poems in the book meaningful as well.

Amy, I had a similar thought when I was reading through this chapter and I'm grateful for the way you've expressed it. It does seem like his intense focus on sharing all with Davy has turned him into an island in other ways, which doesn't seem right. I agree with Becky that the decision to face it fully is admirable as many seem to run from it, but to be so entirely exclusive seems almost anti-Christian. If you've read ahead into the next chapter, I wonder if C.S. Lewis would say something of what you've said if he were reading this book after the fact. He comes down hard on him for things that feed into that exclusivity.

Libby, it makes me happy to hear that you and your husband are in a time of resurrection of love. I've really enjoyed hearing how you've been drawn into meaningful conversations together as you've been reading along. Isn't it wonderful to be drawn into those spontaneous moments of sharing that you simply couldn't have planned?

And to Angela, I'm so glad that the quotes have been meaningful for you. I have often awed at that very experience of finding encouragement in unexpected places - reminders that He knows exactly what we are facing and what we need to hear, especially in times of waiting.


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