Tuesday, August 18, 2015

“Your manuscript has now gone safe to the printer”

From “A Severe Mercy”, by Sheldon Vanauken

“Then her breathing slowed. My face was close to hers. Then each of three breaths was lighter than the one before. There were no more. I knew on the instant of her dying that she was dead ... Then I kissed her lightly and stood up. As I stood there in that suddenly empty room, I was suddenly swept with a tide of absolute knowing that [she] still was ...” (From pg 177 in the 1979 paperback edition).

[After that, I was surprised to find that] “I could smile, too. And I was conscious of a sort of amazement that the sky was still blue and a steak still tasted good. How could things go on when the world had come to an end? How could things--how could I--go on in this void? How could one person, not very big, leave an emptiness that was galaxy-wide? Everything--every object--was pervaded by the void ... There were, though, thousands of other things and memories, each of which must be seen in that piercingly blind emptiness” (pg 180).

“Along with the emptiness, which is what I mean by loss, and along with the grief--loss and grief are not the same thing--I kept wanting to tell her about it. We always told each other--that’s what sharing was--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” (pg 181).

“The tears came freely, and I did not attempt to refrain from them when I was alone. Indeed, for over a year, there was no day that I did not weep, and I did not find that the tears cut me off from her. It was the tearless void that severed us at times” (pg 182).

From a letter from C.S. Lewis within the text:

“And how you reassure me when, to describe your own state, you use the simple, obvious, yet now so rare, word ‘sad’. Neither more nor less nor other than sad. It suggests a clean wound--much here for tears, but ‘nothing but good and fair’. And I am sure it is never sadness--[which is] a proper, straight natural response to loss--that does people harm, but all the other things, all the resentment, dismay, doubt and self-pity with which it is usually complicated” (pg 184).

“I feel very strongly what you say about the ‘curious consolation’ that ‘nothing can now mar’ your joint lives. I sometimes wonder whether bereavement is not, at bottom, the easiest and least perilous of the ways in which men lose the happiness of youthful love. For I believe [youthful love] 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. Your [manuscript], as you well say, has now gone safe to the Printer” (pg 185).


  1. Moving.

    Did you ever pick up a copy of "A Grief Sanctified" by Richard Baxter, John?

    1. CR, I did. I read some of it but not all.

    2. Great! It helped me following the passing of my mother, a different relationship of course, but still a very practical guide to loss, and the emptiness that tends to follow and swallow.

      We have a good, good Father.