Monday, January 11, 2010

What I’d Like to Say to Joan Didion

How does a part of the world leave the world? How does wetness leave water? ~ Rumi

I’m reading Joan Didion’s book, “The Year of Magical Thinking,” which is about the sudden death of her husband while their only child was hospitalized and gravely ill. When my brothers, Jim and Dan, died 4 years ago everything I thought I believed about life and death came into question. My understanding of death was reduced to that of a child’s, but I wanted to understand and to penetrate the mystery of it. My desire for understanding manifested in the reading of many books about death and the grieving process.

After my father’s accident this past October and while he was in the hospital, I picked up Didion’s book as though I had signed up for a refresher course on my study of death. While reading, I braced myself for the worst, losing my dad, which ultimately did happen.

As I understand it, Didion’s book is a personal exploration into the pathological symptoms of grief. The underlying premise of the book is that while she logically understands death, there is an irrational part of her that does not. She re-tells how she analyzed every detail of the night her husband slumped over with a heart attack at the dinner table, hoping to discover a different ending. Months after his death, she couldn’t bring herself to give his shoes away, thinking what? That he might come home and need them.

My study of death began because I wanted to find proof that I would see my brothers again. And so, I understand firsthand Didion’s magical thinking, and to it I add a further question: Is it any stranger to think that a loved one can return from death than it is to accept that they died in the first place? Isn’t the vanishing as fantastic as the idea that they might return from it?

~ Origianlly posted on on December 13, 2005.

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