The following is part of a National Review Online 2010 Christmas gift recommendation symposium. To see the entire article, click here. Sheldon Vanauken’s A Severe Mercy and C. S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed tell serious and heart-wrenching stories of loss, faith, and love.
First published in 1977, A Severe Mercy is a memoir recounting how, through the friendship of C. S. Lewis, Sheldon Vanauken and his wife Davy became Christians while at Oxford. Upon their return to the U.S., Davy faced a swift and untimely death in 1955. Vanauken continued to receive counsel from Lewis, whose own wife, Joy, was struggling with a terminal illness at the time. Lewis was able to illuminate for Vanauken how the loss of Davy was a manifestation of God’s mercy — “a mercy that was as severe as death, a death that was as merciful as love.” Only by losing Davy could Vanauken’s heart be readied for its true fulfillment in God.
A Grief Observed was first published in 1961, the year following Joy’s death. It is also a “therapeutic” book of a sort, in which Lewis hashes out his personal experiences of bereavement within the context of Christian belief. But the feelings of pain and desolation, of looking for and not quite yet finding God’s comfort, are palpably conveyed. Still, the lesson is one of promise: “My jottings show something of the process, but not so much as I’d hoped.…There was no sudden striking and emotional transition. Like the warming of a room of the coming of daylight. When you first notice them they have already been going for some time.”
Published in National Review Online November 26. 2010