Monday, November 14, 2011

what I'm reading: Joan Didion The Year of Magical Thinking

When my friend lost her father, she shared with me some books about grief. One of them was The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion's account of the year after her husband died. It's not a Christian book, but it will help you understand what it's like to grieve and may help you when you grieve.

The Year of Magical Thinking is a stunning book, a picture of grief from the inside. It's written with unflinching, sparse language that won't let you look away. The 'magical thinking' in the title refers to the way grief disorders your thinking: how there's an irrational conviction that if you do this, or don't do that, the person you grieve for will be able to return.

Here is an excerpt - a desciption of grief.

Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined event. We misconstrue the nature of even those few days or weeks. We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect this shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind. We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe that their husband is about to return and need his shoes. In this version of grief we imagine, the model will be 'healing'. A certain forward momentum will prevail. The worst days will be the earliest days. We imagine that the moment to most severely test us will be the funeral, after which this hypothetical healing will take place...We have no way of knowing that the funeral itself will be anodyne, a kind of narcotic regression in which we are wrapped in the care of others and the gravity and meaning of the occasion. Nor can we know ahead of the fact (and here lies the heart of the difference between grief as we imagine it and grief as it is) the unending absence that follows, the void, the very opposite of meaning, the relentless succession of moments during which we will confront the experience of meaninglessness itself. (pages 188-189)

1 comment:

Vanessa Murphy said...

Sounds Iike an amazingly well articulated book. It's certainly true that the funeral is nothing to get through compared to the weeks and months which follow.