After Didion – an experiment in grief

An experiment in thinking about and writing about grief. What can I learn from Didion’s account of the sudden loss of her husband? I typed out text I found in Didion’s work, The Year Of Magical Thinking, and rewrote it to make it relevant to what I am exploring – the death of a significant friend in the wake of the loss of a romantic relationship. I am interested in why Didion wrote a memoir of her grief and I recall how, when I experienced my first heartbreak, I felt bereaved and angry at those who thought that the loss felt due to heartbreak wasn’t as serious as losing someone to physical death. Before I had experienced my first heartbreak, I remember not being sympathetic enough to a friend when he told me about his. Before I had experienced death, I had no idea what that might actually feel like.

After Joan Didion

In outline.

It is now, as I begin to write this, the evening of May 12, 2017.

Five months and seventeen days ago, at approximately five o’clock on the morning of November 25, 2016, my friend and guardian angel, Noel Christopher Giff, appeared to (or did) experience, in the cold hospital bed where I had left him sleeping over a day ago, an X that caused his death. I had said to him, left him a note, even, “See you tomorrow, Chris! Love you!” On the 24th, I was on a friend’s sofa, watching a documentary about climbing Shark’s Fin, the unclimbable four thousand foot peak of Mount Meru, in the Himalayas. I watched these mountaineers risk their lives, break bones, lose loved ones. I had chosen to take the day off. To celebrate the birth of a friend and Thanksgiving. To practice kind self care. To stop crying. My heart had been breaking for most of the year, after I had unintentionally (of course) fallen in love with a man, A, who was married. He, in turn, had spent most of the year in turmoil, after his father died needlessly in hospital. What had seemed a simple cold turned into a raging infection which lasted months. Wait. Which old man am I thinking of? Chris never left the St Barts. He told me he wanted to go home to die. The doctors didn’t listen to me. They were too tired. Two women stood around speaking tired words while Chris held his cock and a bed pan, lying in his piss. For many minutes, two women discussed what we would do tomorrow. Tomorrow, Chris, we would die a little, so let’s lie back and try a little. This is my attempt to make sense of the period that will follow – weeks, months, years, now – that might cut loose fixed ideas I’ve had about love, about life, about probability and luck, about good fortune and bad, about angels and spirits, about marriage and devotion, children and legacy, about memory, about grief, about the ways in which people do and do not deal with the fact that life ends, about the ways in which we do and do not follow joy, about the shallowness of sanity, culture, civilization and safety, about Y itself. I have been a meaning-maker since year Z. I have been a writer since nought. Meaning resides nowhere. We construct it.

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