Didion’s reading on grieving and loss should be required reading for everyone who dies. That is to say, everyone.
Examination of personal grief is often shoved out of sight and out of mind. It’s a scary boy in the basement who we attempt to defeat by not looking at it directly, or using prescriptions as missile strikes. The loss of civilian lives we encounter, our own.
“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.”
So begins the book. Didion is making dinner one December evening when John Dunne, her husband, creative and romantic partner of 45 years dies of a sudden heart attack.
In the wake of John’s death, she finds herself alone, old and caught up as many of us should be in the frustration of no longer having a loved one in our lives to talk to, made amends with, question or rely on.
She inquires for us into medical literature, spiritual guidance and the company of friends as to how to solve this problem. The problem of grieving. What do we do with ourselves when we find ourselves unable to function because of a loss? For Didion, the answer lies somewhere between letting it go and seeking control through knowledge.
The book captures the portrait of their marriage. Two artists who working as partners as individually, as novelists. Who loved a child together. Who fought and reconciled and wondered as people who make their lives together do.
Didion is a quick thinker and the book moves swiftly. It’s only about 240 pages. Go out, read it. We might not all experience death in the relatively comfortable socio-economic net that Didion does. We won’t all have our New York Times obituaries arranged, bills paid for, work easily to be put on hold and friends flying from around the country to comfort us. She doesn’t have to deal with the economic frustrations that a lot of people also deal with when death happens.
Despite that, I would still recommend her book to anyone, because no matter what your circumstance, (as she examines in her book, even animals) grieving hits us all equally hard.