The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
While this is a book for adults, it’s also a book about grief—the psychology of it, the sense of loss of not just the loved one, but of oneself as well, of the life that has been lived together. It’s a beautiful study of the meaning of memory and of the magical thinking of the title—how completely we forgo logic in order to continue to believe, on some unconscious level, that the beloved will be back. (Didion can’t give her deceased husband’s shoes to the Goodwill because he might need them.)
I read The Year of Magical Thinking recently because it seemed to me that we, members of the Chaffey family, have had many good people to grieve this year. Perhaps I’m imagining that this is truer this year than in others, but it’s come to the point where I dread opening an email with someone’s name in the subject line. (“Oh, God, I hope nothing happened to him!”)
I know, too, that many of our students are experiencing losses that kids their age shouldn’t have to deal with. I remember when I taught English, before standardized testing was all the focus, I used to keep journals back and forth with students. They would write about their lives, and I would write back. One year, a student’s mother died, and he would often write of how unreal that seemed to him, that he just couldn’t stop thinking about her, dreaming about her coming back. So—I think this adult book about grief might also be helpful for students, who sometimes suffer more than we know.
I often don’t like the publisher’s blurb for a book—it’s overblown or doesn’t capture what it should—but the blurb for The Year of Magical Thinking is a good one:
“Several days before Christmas 2003, John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion saw their only daughter, Quintana, fall ill with what seemed at first flu, then pneumonia, then complete septic shock. She was put into an induced coma and placed on life support. Days later – the night before New Year’s Eve – the Dunnes were just sitting down to dinner after visiting the hospital when John Gregory Dunne suffered a massive and fatal coronary. . . . Four weeks later, their daughter pulled through. Two months after that, arriving at LAX, she collapsed and underwent six hours of brain surgery at UCLA Medical Center to relieve a massive hematoma. This … book is Didion’s attempt to make sense of the ‘weeks and then months that cut loose any fixed idea I ever had about death, about illness . . . about marriage and children and memory . . . about the shallowness of sanity, about life itself.’”