Tuesday, March 10, 2009

for everyone who needs it

I recently read The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, which was pretty good. One of the things that really jumped out at me was that the way that we perceive grief, that we expect it to be a temporary sort of experience. That we will be overwhelmed at first, but that there will be a moment when it all becomes okay in our hearts and minds and we'll be able to move on a bit without being constantly hit behind the knees. Instead, the first few days require you to pull yourself together, draw on reserves of strength, so that you're somehow not as incapacitated as you'd expect. And you can carry on for a period of time and then some small thing will cause you to realize the powerful truth of what is missing and break your heart. And it's not usually all at once, not the crazy woman screaming and clutching at curtains, unable to move forward. Instead it's the slow stomping of your heart and the inability for your brain to reconcile it all together.

From Chapter 17 of The Year of Magical Thinking

"Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death. We misconstrue even the nature of even those few days or weeks. We expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect this shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind. We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe that their husband is about to return and need his shoes. In the version of grief we imagine, the model will be "healing." A certain forward of movement will prevail. The worst days will be the earliest days. We imagine that the moment to most severely test us will be the funeral, after which this hypothetical healing will take place. When we anticipate the funeral we wonder about failing to "get through it," rise to the occasion, exhibit the "strength" that invariably gets mentioned as the correct response to death. We anticipate needing to steel ourselves for the moment: will I be able to greet people, will I be able to leave the scene, will I be able even to get dressed that day? We have no way of knowing that this will not be the issue. We have no way of knowing that the funeral itself will be anodyne, a kind of narcotic regression in which we are wrapped in the care of
others and the gravity and meaning of the occasion. Nor can we know ahead of the fact (and here lies the difference between grief as we imagine it and grief as it is) the unending absence that follows, the void, the very opposite of meaning, the relentless succession of moments during which we will confront the experience of meaninglessness itself."


Miss Bliss said...

Yes...exactly like that!

Sizzle said...

I started that book a year ago. I need to read it.

Angela Apple said...

To be honest I love the idea of the book, but I tried to read it and it was just too much of a bummer for me.

Speaking of beautiful bummers, did you ever read "Paula" by Isabel Allende? Love her, and love this book. It's one of the most beautiful things I've ever read.


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