C.S. Lewis wrote a book about grieving (A Grief Observed,) soon after his wife “Helen” (Joy) died. It was based on notes and observations that he made during his grieving process. It starts out with a sad, melancholy, series of memos about how he felt and thought about her death, and his ruminations are not pretty, nor (in my opinion) initially theologically sound. He is grieving, fearful, and does not seem to know exactly where he is emotionally or physically.
Thinking of Helen and her death makes him tired, and he says it is “easy to see why the lonely become untidy; finally, dirty and disgusting.” He feels forsaken: they had lived, loved, and expected so much. Now he is ashamed, embarrassed, and suggests that perhaps “the bereaved ought to be isolated in special settlements like lepers.”
It is hard to imagine or read about Lewis thinking this way, but Helen’s death has nullified everything. He is finding out what he really believes because “its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you.” Death takes all the former things away and their reality will never be repeated. He wonders about heaven and rejects the idea of meeting former friends there, considering the thought rather as preserving mystery. At this point, he sounds more like a fatalist than a Christian.
Lewis continues to reveal his feelings: apathy; his dreams and his anguish. He sees “A sinful woman married to a sinful man; two of God’s patients, not yet cured.” The pain continues although it is lighter because when “I mourned H. least, I remembered her best.” He believes or feels that “the door [to God] is no longer shut and bolted.” He wonders, do “the dead also feel the pains of separation” and suffering? He does not want to fall back on loving the past, their memories and their sorrows, or even their own love. Lewis finds that “passionate grief does not link us with the dead but cuts us off from them.” It makes the dead more dead. Rather depressing to read this, but an honest reflection on his feelings.
To Lewis the process of recounting his grieving seems more like a history than a map outlining the journey. He finds that “I don’t want to go back again and be happy in that way,” that is, his H’s happiness. As he turns to God “my mind no longer meets that locked door.” Lewis prefers praise because it infers that what we praise always has “some element of joy in it.”
According to Lewis, in our imagination there are five senses: 1) an incurable abstract intellect; 2) a selective but haphazard memory; 3) a set of preconceptions 4) assumptions, and 5) our conscious memories. The links are the images, which are not important of themselves, because there is “an infinitely higher sphere.” As Lewis says, “I need Christ, not something that resembles Him.”
At this point in his reflections, God, to Lewis, is “the great iconoclast” and all reality is the same. We have ideas about God, but that is not God. We have simple-minded images of what heaven is but “they make an End of what we can get only as a bye-product of the true End.” When we try to find out more, we do not get an answer from God, but is a special sort of answer and “not the locked door.” Many of our questions are nonsense and “All nonsense questions are unanswerable.” “We shall see that there never was any problem” and that we will find some “disarming simplicity in the real answer.” We await the resurrection of the body.
The book was not particularly helpful to me in the grief of losing my wife Joice. I am not an intellectual like Lewis, so my thoughts are far more prosaic. Although I think a lot about heaven and where Joice might be and what she may be doing, I do not regard my thoughts as pointing to what is really happening in heaven. I do imagine her “working,” that is, serving God in some capacity. I also think of her having enjoyment doing it and imagine her interacting with friends, new and old. Heaven is a happy place. She may be wearing a white robe, although that is not what I imagine. She always loved bright clothes, so why wouldn’t she be wearing them in heaven? Perhaps Joseph was given a new multi-colored robe. I can imagine God doing that.
It is true that I want the real Joice and not an image of her, but the images I have are all based on reality and the actual experiences we had together. Will we experience new things together in heaven? My theology is based on the faith that what I hope for will happen and what I cannot see now will be revealed plainly. This is clear from Hebrews 11 which shows examples of those who already surround me with their witness.
I do not believe in a purgatory-like holding pen where I must stay until I am completely cleansed, as Lewis seems to think. What more can Christ do for us than he has already done? Our cleansing from sin is by virtue of his death and our future life is based on the truth of the resurrection.
Like a caterpillar morphing into a butterfly, I expect my old earthly body to be transformed into a new one in which I will serve in God’s heavenly kingdom. Exactly what form my body will take is subject to considerations like viewing Moses and Elijah on the mountain. The disciples did not have a problem in knowing who they were--human beings with bodies, not spirits or ghosts.
I, like Lewis, have grieved deeply over the loss of my wife. But God has given me the assurance from his word that I will be with her again in heaven. The door to my faith is not locked!