Last year, after her passing, I found I was often only understood by authors of books about grieving. One of the first books I read was Joan Didion’s “The Year of Magical Thinking,” of course. I borrowed it from the university library, who gives you a due date a year later. I remember marveling at the date. A year with the year of magical thinking.
I grew attached to the book. Though I read it very quickly, I had no plans of returning it until its due date. It became a security blanket of sorts, a book that comforted me to see at my nightstand, a reference for those moments when I felt no one else understood me. I felt like a year was the symbolic amount of time for acceptable grieving. I gave myself a year. I knew that when that year was up, I would be ready to return the book.
Well, the library has recalled it. A month early. As a way to call me out, call my bluff, to say “we know you are ready. we know you can do this. you are already doing it.” Still feels like being short-changed, but even that is fitting. And it still feels unfair, because I didn’t get to return it on my own terms…also fitting and appropriate, I suppose.
So I had eleven months 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 do not expect this shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind…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 heart of 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.”