Yesterday by the shoreline of South Fremantle I closed the book that had introduced me to the many manifestations of grief. It seems naive to only enter such a state at 28 but until this year life had other methods of heartache, and death of a close family member was not yet one of them.

I picked up ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ while visiting Melbourne in June at The Paperback Book Shop. At the same time I was listening to The White Album on Audible, a collection of essays by Didion that spanned her observations of America in the 60s and 70s – an unquenchable period of time stamped vividly by Joans being there.

I felt I needed to finish that journalistic style before entering a deeply personal account of love lost, but the more I get to remotely know Joan, and her relationship with John, the combination of the two modes of writing, being, are inseparable. Her essence is imbued with the truths that make up time, and her time was spent with him observing politics, glamour and eerily insatiable waves of power, greed and the general lottery of life.

Nine months and five days after the death of her husband and fellow writer, John Gregory Dunne, Didion began her account on the emotional, and thus visceral, experience of losing her confidant, her editor and friend. She finished the book three months later on December 31st, 2004. It seems to me that the magical aspect of her thinking, as titled, was in fact the reality of allowing the rumination, the memory to surface. She opened the wound and slipped into its bloody fascia, found the pain and got comfortable there. The beauty, it turns out, was the changing of seasons, the reverence for his imprint on her heart and the acceptance of amalgamation, how we tend to give part of ourselves to the one we choose. The deep trust they shared took a year to return back to Joan, and it was, I gather, a lot to hold for one who used to be two.

I think about what she might be doing now, in New York City. What she thinks about the virus, shifting geology and the continental super powers of the world. I wonder if she reads articles from The New Yorker out aloud and if she believes John might reply in spirit with his mutual curiosity for the way things are, and might become.

The Daily Mail said “Will speak to and maybe comfort anyone who has lost for ever the one they loved” but when loss came to visit me in August I had already started the book and it made okay with the grieving process, somewhat prepared, connected and in quiet cohorts with the feelings that line these pages pertaining to medical phenomena and distortions. Yet, much like her distinction of losing her parents, the alleviation my grandmother had in her body, a somewhat natural ending of time, differs to the shockwave of losing half of a pair. I suppose it is what Pa feels still, now, in his memories, dreams and waking absences.

I never saw a wild thing / sorry for itself, D,H Lawrence wrote, in a much-quoted four-line homily that turns out on examination to be free of any but tendentious meaning. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough / without ever having felt sorry for itself.

This may be what Lawrence (or we) would prefer to believe about wild things, but consider those dolphins who refuse to eat after the death of a mate. Consider those geese who search for the lost mate until they themselves become disorientated and die. In fact the grieving have urgent reasons, even an urgent need, to feel sorry for themselves. Husbands walk out, wives walk out, divorces happen, but these husbands and wives leave behind them webs of intact associations, however acrimonious. Only the survivors of a death are truly left alone.”

Didion, J. The Year of Magical Thinking, p. 193

One response to “Grief.”

  1. […] handful of days before her death I wrote about her etchings on my soul regarding grief, loss and the unravelling of time. Timely, to feel I must finish that work before the sun set that […]


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