A Most Eloquent Take on Grief
“Life changes fast.
Life changes in the instant.
You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.
The question of self-pity.”
These were the first words Joan Didion wrote after it happened, as she tells us in the first line after these words in her amazing book, The Year of Magical Thinking.
The “it” in the follow-up words to the first words refers to her husband, John Dunne’s, death.
That these words appear at the very start of this remarkable homage to grief is important, as they are repeated in various renditions throughout the book.
Joan Didion’s husband, with whom she had shared most moments of most of her adult life, had died of a massive heart attack, just as they had sat down to dinner, and hence, the reference to life changing in an instant.
Owning My Own Grief
My own mother’s death, though extraordinarily premature, did not happen in an instant. We had not just sat down to dinner when life as I knew it ended.
In fact, my mother was sick for much of my teenage years, and lost her valiant fight against breast cancer a mere two weeks after I turned 18.
Joan Didion struggled to come to terms with getting through the remainder of her years without the man with whom she had spent most of her life.
I, on the other hand, have spent most of my life without my mother–sometimes coming to terms with that fact better than at other times.
Joan Didion’s Way With Words
Joan Didion is the author of five novels, and one of America’s most celebrated authors. She is so skilled a writer that she makes it safe for us to look up close and personal at a subject as potentially overwhelming as grief.
It’s almost if we’re all taking this journey through the first year after Joan Didion’s husband died–together.
The Power of Day
Days play a vital role in the story of the year following the death of Joan Didion’s husband.
We learn, for instance, of the importance of the day an editor came to dinner in so far as her husband was alive on that day. Holidays are merely a few of the other powerful ways in which Ms. Didion used the concept of days to help her make sense of the reality of her life partner leaving her just as they were sitting down to dinner.
With eloquence and grace, defiance and acceptance, Ms. Didion deftly tells us–and surely herself– how she ultimately came to terms with her husband’s death.