Nov 16 2005
Joan Didion, who suddenly lost her husband a couple years ago to a heart attack, has a new book out called “The Year of Magical Thinking.” It’s about grief — the reporting of her own grief after her husband died. I want to read it. It’s gotten favorable reviews, and Didion is always a treat.
Grief is ill-recognized in this culture. I don’t mean that we should force people into grief, as some cultures do; I don’t think the culture of moving on is bad. What I mean is that few people seem to be equipped with the tools to face grief (perhaps they can’t be taught, but perhaps they can). I’ve had a few close friends who lost someone dear to them, who were unable to talk about the experience, unable to process, unable to know what to feel, in part because our society is so awkward with the concept of mourning and honoring — in part because we have such a Hallmark culture. And Hallmark doesn’t cut it.
We think of grief as the province of old ladies wearing black, stooped over and lighting candles, or of middle-aged people, lined and drawn inexpressably. But it’s not so. I am in my twenties; I’ve lost two close family members, had one friend that committed suicide, and have, as I said, close friends that I have helped deal with their own pain. And my life is not morbid, or unusual. Perhaps it’s even better than usual. But I’ve seen the same thing over and over: people not knowing what to say, what to do. Do you know how to take care of someone close who loses someone they love?
I have some ideas on how, although clearly not all the answers. Although people are similar in their needs and feelings (guilt, anger, pain, relief, life and sex, back to intense pain — the English word ‘sadness’ does not encompass all of this, perhaps there is nothing that does) we all cope in our own ways. But at any rate, Didion has published this book, this unusual book that deals with this the way few things do, and I want to read it.
From the interview with Didion that I read:
“We’re not supposed to grieve. We’re supposed to be strong, but you’re crazy as a loon, which you don’t even realize at the time.”
And ain’t that the truth. When I lost my mother, it’s only through the grace of providence that I didn’t injure myself as well; I am sure that my actions afterwards in any other context would have gotten me medicated. Perhaps I should have been then, but I’m glad I wasn’t, because now I have that emotional experience to draw on, and it’s as Didion says: I was crazy. And craziness can bring a kind of understanding.
I would like to hear other people’s thoughts on grief. I’d like to, someday, collect techniques and strength to help other people who have to go through what I went through, who don’t have as loving a family or as good a group of friends. I’m not being morbid here; I’m in a really good mood tonight. But this is something I’ve thought about a lot.
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