Joan Didion Wrote About Grief Like No One Else Could

Joan Didion understood the world with words. These were what made her famous: her precise, cool prose and smooth, spare sentences. In the wake of her death, however, she was a strong woman. husband’s fatal heart attack in 2003Her relationship with words was transformed. “This is a case in which I need more than words to find the meaning,”She wrote it in her 2005 memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking. “This is a case in which I need whatever it is I think or believe to be penetrable, if only for myself.”
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Didion, who passed away Dec. 23, at the age of 87, was also the author.Five novelsThere are many works of nonfiction, including Slouching Towards Bethlehem The White Album Screenplays, and many more. Her stories were a source of inspiration and she was an accomplished storyteller. The foreword to the Last book that she published before her passing, Please allow me to explain what I meanHilton Als is a writer described Didion as “The granite is a specific carver..” She both dissected the ordinariness of the everyday for its complexities, and broke down the most foreign of situations into familiar, accessible parts. Didion looked at the ways we process loss and its limitations. We can now look to Didion’s words for guidance as we mourn her passing.

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“Grief has no distance. Grief comes in waves, paroxysms, sudden apprehensions that weaken the knees and blind the eyes and obliterate the dailiness of life,” Didion wrote in The Year of Magical Thinking. It was also a finalist at the Pulitzer Prize.She chronicled her grieving process for the death of her husband, and was a trusted companion to the writer. John Gregory Dunne,Just over a year before their 40th Wedding Anniversary,. (Dunne was writing TIME’s first meeting.Dunne’s death was announced by the couple’s adopted daughter, QuintanaWas? unconsciousIn the ICU patient with pneumonia and severe septichock. Didion’s experience with loss continued: A Little more a year and a half after Dunne’s death, Quintana was 39 years old when she died.. This writer looked at the second, more severe loss she suffered. 2011 memoir, Blue Nights, A new type of grief is described while a painful examination of death and aging is done.

“This book is called ‘Blue Nights’ because at the time I began it I found my mind turning increasingly to illness, to the end of promise, the dwindling of the days, the inevitability of the fading, the dying of the brightness,” she wrote. “Blue nights are the opposite of the dying of the brightness, but they are also its warning.”

Joan Didion
CSU Archives/Everett CollectionJoan Didion, circa 1977

Though both books were rooted in Didion’s agonizing personal tragedies, they were not ones of self-pity or despair. They sought to discover how memories inform grief and death, instead. This is the title The Year of Magical Thinking comes from Didion’s experiences reckoning with the finality of death, and the disillusion that exists in its aftermath. In one poignant scene, Didion becomes fixated on her husband’s shoes while going through his clothes.

I was unable to give the remainder of his shoes away. After a while, I realized the reason. He would still need his shoes to go home. Although the realization of this fact did not eliminate it, it didn’t change my mind. I have still not tried to determine (say, by giving away the shoes) if the thought has lost its power.”

Didion explained how she believed she would be able to bring back her husband, even when she was fully aware that he was not gone. “Magical Thinking is an act of consummate literary bravery, a writer known for her clarity narrating the loss of that clarity, allowing us to watch her mind as it becomes clouded with grief,” the author Lev Grossman Commented in a review TIME, 2005. “But the book also reproduces, in its formal progression from those first raw, frenzied impressions to a more composed account of mourning, Didion’s recovery. She literally wrote herself back to sanity.”

The Year of Magical Thinking was Didion’s Book 13. It was completed by her in 88 days during the year after Dunne’s death. Didion received no feedback from Dunne for a writing project, which was the first in over 40 years. Although she wrote the book quickly, she said it was difficult for her to finish because the book “We kept in touch with him.

Sometimes described as an accessory to the book. Blue Nights is another gutting look at a writer grasping for words to describe a loss—this time, of a beloved child. Although it is just as honest as the previous one, Blue Nights The rawest exploration of grief with Didion moving through fragmented childhood memories is this film. They range from scenes in the movies of Quintana’s adoption Her reunion with her familyYou can find more information here Quintana’s first tooth was lost as a child. In Blue Nights, the magical thinking that once consumed Didion is gone, instead replaced with her reflections on memory and rumination on growing older and the ways her daughter’s death made her face her own mortality. “When I started writing, I thought it was going to be about attitudes to raising children,” Didion told The Guardian. “Then it became clear to me that, willy-nilly, it was going to be personal. I can’t imagine what I thought it was going to be, if it wasn’t personal.”

Both have a raw emotional weight The Year of Magical Thinking Blue Nights provided an unflinching look inside Didion’s otherwise steely, sophisticated exterior. In letting her guard down, she allowed readers into her grieving process—and provided a roadmap for others navigating their own pain. “It is clear to me why we keep the dead alive. We want them to be with us.,” Didion wrote in The Year of Magical Thinking. “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.”


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