I have three things to write about, and they don't exactly go together, so I'm going to write about them in three parts.
On Wednesday at lunch, I started Joan Didion's memoir The Year of Magical Thinking. I finished it at 10:30 at night. The memoir is about the year after her husband died, and I didn't notice till I was halfway through that there were some blue letters in the otherwise black-lettered title: J O H N, her husband's name. For some reason that made me sadder than anything else.
It perhaps goes without saying that Didion's writing is almost perfect. The way she describes grief pretty much is: the way irrationality becomes your state of being, the way other people simply cannot understand. Didion doesn't offer comfort or wishful thinking; she doesn't believe in God or an afterlife. But for some reason I felt better...more informed, maybe?...about death after reading the book. I'll let it speak for itself for a couple of passages.
One of the ideas she talks about is, basically, that every death is sudden:
In each of those long illnesses the possibility of death had been in the picture....Yet having seen the picture in no way deflected, when it came, the swift empty loss of the actual event....Each of them had been in the last instant alive, and then dead. (p. 149)
She also talks about the absolute void of no longer having someone around:
I am a writer. Imagining what someone would say comes as naturally as breathing. Yet on each occasion these pleas for his presence served only to reinforce my awareness of the final silence that separated us....We imagined we knew everything the other thought, even when we did not necessarily want to know it, but in fact, I have come to see, we knew not the smallest fraction of what there was to know. (p. 196)
Finally, the way she starts the ending to the book is perfect.
I know why we try to keep the dead alive: we try to keep them alive in order to keep them with us.
I also know that if we are to live ourselves there comes a point at which we must relinquish the dead, let them go, keep them dead.
Let them become the photograph on the table.
Let them become the name on the trust accounts.
Let go of them in the water.
Knowing this does not make it any easier to let go of him in the water.
All excerpts from The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. New York: Vintage Books, 2006.
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