Ice Friday: Joan Didion Confronts Mortality

Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking faces the harrowing absence of death with systematically beautiful language.

On most surface levels I seemed rational. To the average observer I would have appeared to understand that death was irreversible. I had authorized the autopsy. I had arranged for cremation. I had seen the ashes placed in the wall and the marble plate replaced and the service held. I had done it. I had acknowledged that my husband was dead. P1000848I had done this in as public a way as I could conceive.Yet my thinking on this point remained suspiciously fluid. I happened to meet a prominent academic theologian who spoke of ritual itself as a form of faith. My reaction was unexpressed but negative, vehement, excessive even in me.

Later I realized that my immediate thought had been that I did the ritual. I did it all. And it still didn’t bring him back. Bringing him back had been through those months my hidden focus, a magic trick. P1000829By late summer, I was beginning to see this clearly. “Seeing it clearly” did not yet allow me to give away the clothes he would need.

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