Friday, December 23, 2011

Magical Thinking

We are at the boat until tomorrow. The weather is warm so everyone is out and about in tee shirts.  It feels great to be back on board after a couple of months of sanding and painting.  I have missed spending time on her just relaxing instead of working.  I know that being totally land based is not what I want to do. I am drawn to the water and feel most content here.

Tomorrow we are having the parents and caregivers over for lunch. They seemed happy to be coming over. We will have the Christmas dinner early and have another one on Christmas day. I feel much better knowing that they will be coming over. Somehow it is comforting us to have them be present. This is all the family there is.  But it is okay.

I have been reading a couple of books that by many standards would be sad--The Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights by Joan Didion. Neither has been gut wrenching for me because somehow her narrative feels so distant and her writing so emotionless.  Perhaps I could identify most with her desire for seclusion when the apartment was filled with people after the death of her husband. Just knowing someone was there would be enough but having to interact would be difficult.  She writes something here that seemed so true: 

"The worst days will be the earliest days. We imagine that the moment to most severely test us will be the funeral, after which this hypothetical healing will take place. When we anticipate the funeral we wonder about failing to "get through it," rise to the occasion, exhibit the "strength" that invariably gets mentioned as the correct response to death. We anticipate needing to steel ourselves then for the moment: will I be able to greet people, will I be able to leave the scene, will I be able even to get dressed that day? We have no way of knowing that this will not be the issue. 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 was 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.” --Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking

The void is something that I have feared as long as I can remember. But I see that the fear of loss is not something so huge to me at the moment. I lived through my parents deaths. I have gotten through the deaths of friends and beloved animals. There are days when we each are brought to our knees. Yet, something within still seeks the positive, the light, if you will. I feel hopeful that all will be basically okay as long as I am willing to seek that light. 


  1. I am plodding through Magical Thinking. Thinking about the daughter in ICU, wondering if she's an alcoholic. (based on an article from "The Fix")

    For some reason she is annoying me. Not in how she is grieving - we all grieve differently but she seems to be holding a lot back. My position is if you're going to write about emotions then let it all out. Otherwise write about something you know, LOL.

    Anyway I thought of something someone said to me about 35 years ago - about going through difficult times. I'm paraphrasing but she said "it's like walking through a dark tunnel - you cannot see anything, not even your hands. You have no choice but to keep walking. Eventually you might see a tiny flicker of light - and you'll turn towards that light. You'll stumble alright but you keep walking. As time goes by the light will keep gettting brighter and one day you'll be out of the tunnel."

    I've never forgotten it for some reason.

    Merry Christmas Syd.

  2. Syd - that is great you are having C's parents and their caregivers over for lunch tomorrow. They will all appreciate it more than you and C will ever know. I am so thankful you and C and work past the feelings of pain and loss and do this.

    I read The Year of Magical Thinking and felt like Joan Didion was so methodical in her grief. The book rocked me to my core.

    Merry Christmas. Thank you so much for your honesty and the beautiful writing in your posts.

  3. I'm so glad the parents are coming over. That will be nice for all of you.

  4. I appreciated The Year of Magical Thinking. Also Blue Nights, for its picture of denial in action. That's the way I was, as the family member of alcoholics: I could look red in the face and call it green. ... Didion is a brilliant writer and one of my heroes.

    I am upstairs this morning reading your blog in bed, next to my son, who is reading one of the music magazines we put in his stocking. It's a beautiful sunny day and I'm glad to know you through your blog. much love, /G

  5. Hi Syd. Reading this post reminded me of my grandmother's funeral. The service was held in a very small chapel at the cemetary, and at one point three or four young kids (possibly children of cemetary employees) started playing outside the door. I was standing near the door and until that moment I had been meditating on death as a part of the cyce of life. When I heard the children playing outside the emotion hit me like a ton of bricks because it solidified exactly what I was thinking - here was the other side of the cycle, the two coming together at just the right moment.

    When I read the last sentence of your post I realized that what helps me though the loss (not only my gma's loss, but mortality in general) is the knowledge of that cycle. I think the hard part is that we're not always able to witness the two parts coming together as clearly as I did at that moment. But it's there whether I can see it or not, all I have to do is have faith in that.

    Having said that ... I've recently written a book to try and give back to the recovery community. I've also started up a blog ( and I'm trying to get started on the web. While researching self-publishing I read a good peice of advice about guest-blogging and I was wondering if you'd be interested in doing a trade (I'll write something for your blog, you write something for mine)? Let me know.

    Thanks, ~Steve

  6. We moved in Oct and just getting around to unpacking books and found Magical Thinking. I just finished reading it again for the 3rd or 4th time. The first read moved me so deeply. And this one did the same.

    I read a Poets & Writers interview with Didion about Blue Nights. She talked about her daughter having many ailments including being Bi-Polar.

    Didion's grief, to me, was more than she could bear. It seemed like her writing was the only way she could keep going. Which to me, was a gift to us all. I don't know how it could get more emotional. Her constant fight to rationalize the irrational. The way she kept thinking she should save things for her husband, as if he were coming back, was just heart wrenching.

    I heard her on Terry Gross the year it came out, and they cut away b/c they'd found out she had won the National Book of the Year Award. Gross congratulated her and asked her how that felt. Didion said she appreciated it "but you see. . . I have no one to share it with now." I'll never forget that.


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