On Reading "The Year of Magical Thinking" by Joan Didion
Last night, I started reading "The Year of Magical Thinking." I devoured fifty pages straight and then had to stop, so overwhelmed by the book that I felt myself almost slipping into a depression. I kept away from it all day but returned to it tonight, reading almost another fifty pages. Didion writes of her husband, John Gregory Dunne's sudden death and the subsequent hospitalization and physical decline of her daughter, Quintana, in prose that is sharp, precise, and exquisite. Her words keep me engaged, almost obsessed, but the content serves as a hook, bringing my own painful memories and traumas to the surface. In her descriptions of the days after John's death, I remember what it was like , for the first time, to face life without my father. In the scenes at the hospital, I can visualize my own experience of being around doctors and nurses and the horrible reality of death. In her sudden bursts of memory, the "vortex" as she calls it, that pull her back into the past, I recognize my own struggle not to drown in my memories. In the middle of reading the book tonight, I stopped and texted my mother. I needed to tell her that I love and miss her, but she was asleep. I was completely alone, overwhelmed by a deep and violent aching for a past that both haunts and horrifies me. Didion's memoir drags me back to the memorial and the funeral and the immediate aftermath of my father's death and that's a place that is dark, empty, and unbearable, a place I am still trying to crawl out of with my sanity intact. And yet, at the same time, I feel an intense connection to the book, and I will finish it. I knew going into The Grief Project that reading books about loss would be difficult but it's important to go into the fear and the anguish and the grief, it's important to plumb these texts and examine how I respond to them, how they affect me, enrich me, and even devastate me.