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#13 done - The Year of Magical Thinking

From the defunct Babes and Books blog where a bunch of friends challenged each other to read twenty books in one summer:

I’m sitting in my favorite chair writing this while [my daughter] is in her favorite chair, wearing her robe, and playing on her laptop. The idea that one day I may have to pray that she wakes up and regains full use of her body is unthinkable. But that is just what Joan Didion has to do. That she has to do it before and after her husband drops dead at dinner is quite preposterous. I mean, come on…what else can happen? But it’s all true and Didion walks us thru her mind and heart with little fanfare.

I liked this book for its honesty. Losing someone so close to you is hard and in the world we live in, people don’t want to hear the hard icky truth.
 The English social anthropologist Geoffrey Gorer, in his 1965 Death, Grief, and Mourning, had described this rejection of public mourning as a result of the increasing pressure of a new “ethical duty to enjoy oneself…” The contemporary trend was “to treat mourning as morbid self-indulgence, and to give social admiration to the bereaved who hide their grief so fully that no one would guess anything had happened.”
The parts of the book that I really liked were her discussion of what she calls “vortexes.” I call them tangents of my mind, but I like her term too. It’s where you are walking down the street and all of a sudden that song comes blaring out of a passing car. The next thing you know, you’re back in college with that roommate talking about how cool it is to be in our very own apartment. Then you go back to the day you told your parents you were moving out and the pain in their faces. To save yourself from guilt, you remember all the reasons why you had to leave. Then you snap out of it…back to the present.

Didon also covers that great debate in my own head. Can you ever go back to a place that so embodies your lost one? She writes about freaking out in  Boston so soon after her husband’s death. They barely spent time in Boston together. “How could I go back to Paris without him, how could I go back to Milan, Honolulu, Bogota? I couldn’t even go to Boston.”

Her chapter on grief is the most powerful part of this book thou. When I read I use sticky notes to mark passages that I feel make a great point or just well written. Instead I marked  chapter 17. It opens
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 death. 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…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.
Didion does a good job at identifying all the insanity that runs thru our heads after we lose someone so close. I’m not sure if this book is good for those who haven’t lost someone so close, but for me it was healing. I know that I would recommend that anyone who has, to wait at least that one magical year before reading this book (*cough*Amy). It really revealed to me how many wounds are just open & oozing puss, ones that I made myself forget about. I also revel in books that make me realize that I’m not the only crazy person on the face of the Earth. So thanks Joan for saving me a few sessions in therapy.


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