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Joan Didion On Death

I walked up to the casket and watched my father lay pressed between the wooden frames. Apart of me believed he would rise from that eternal sleep. For his death didn’t seem real, I seemed to be participating in a cosmic dream. However, he didn’t move, but remained frozen. I wanted to reach for him, but touching him would make this moment real. But it was, I have never, still to this day, loved anyone as much as him.

He was my father. Through his death I learned about his humanness. He was a man. A man that struggled with sadness, despair, and addictions. Since he’s been gone I’ve become a yogi. A man that stands before the people and help them bend, stretch, and twist through pain. Sometimes I wish my father was alive to bend with me. To heal alongside me. I crave my father’s smile. He had the most beautiful smile. I connected with Joan Didion On Death when she spoke on how bad we need to speak with the dead.

My uncle broke my thoughts saying, “He showl does look good doesn’t he.” I said nothing, and sat down next to my grandmother. She is actually my great-grandmother, but my father’s mom died when he was 15. So he started calling her mom which led to me saying grandmother. She asked me, “Did he ever call you?” I said, “No.” And she said, “When I told him to call you he said he wouldn’t know what to say.” He could of said absolutely anything. I know I wasn’t an easy son, but I needed him more than the grass needs the sun. Through that moment I learn the paralyzing effect of shame, guilt, and a little about the potential for redemption. Joan Didion, throughout The Year Of Magical Thinking, speaks on death saying:

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 to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe that their husband is about to return and need his shoes. In the version of grief we imagine, the model will be “healing.” A certain forward movement will prevail. 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 the 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?

Joan Didion On Death

I felt nothing during the car ride to the funeral. As we approach the church my mind filled with ideas on the most appropriate way to act. Whose shoulder would I cry on? How would I be strong for my brother and sister? Was it wrong that I felt absolutely nothing? My hands felt empty so I placed my sister’s between them. We pulled up to the church, and the performance began.

The attendees filled the room as speakers read scriptures while singers supported the verses. I avoided looking at my father the entire time. My father was asleep and everyone was playing an elaborate prank on me. We are planning on burying a man alive. The time came to visit the body, and the ushers came to grabbed me. I believe they confused my desire to be patient with an unwillingness to see the body. So they pulled harder as I resisted. Eventually I rose, and standing over my father I realized this would be my last time seeing him. In this casket around all these people. I ran back to my chair before my mother could rub my back. As I started to cry I realized my father was dead. Joan Didion On Death speaks about the death of a parent saying:

The death of a parent, he wrote, “despite our preparation, indeed, despite our age, dislodges things deep in us, sets off reactions that surprise us and that may cut free memories and feelings that we had thought gone to ground long ago. We might, in that indeterminate period they call mourning, be in a submarine, silent on the ocean’s bed, aware of the depth charges, now near and now far, buffeting us with recollections.

Joan Didion On Death

A few days after the funeral I found myself living life again. But there was a hole, a possibility died. I went to work. Taught yoga class, and continued to build the business. However, there were moments when I couldn’t believe the world continued to move. There were no protests, wars, or scientific studies looking over the reversal of death. Through a wave of tears, forgiving, remembering, and accepting I learned to surrender. Healing doesn’t happen within three bereavement days, but requires a willingness to walk the eternal journey.

We must remember our ancestors, and allow ourselves to experience the pain, the hole, their departure left. But do not succumb to the pain, recognize it and trust it. It’s hard to imagine a life without them being at dinners, weddings, graduations, and all those other gatherings. However, we must learn to live without them. I have yet to figure out how to tell my son that he’ll never get to meet his grandfather. I experience waves of grief dealing with those visions. Joan Didion On Death speaks about the attempt to continue living despite the pain saying:

Grief comes in waves, paroxysms, sudden apprehensions that weaken the knees and blind the eyes and obliterate the dailiness of life. I learned to find equal meaning in the repeated rituals of domestic life. Setting the table. Lighting the candles. Building the fire. Cooking. All those soufflés, all that crème caramel, all those daubes and albóndigas and gumbos. Clean sheets, stacks of clean towels, hurricane lamps for storms, enough water and food to see us through whatever geological event came our way. These fragments I have shored against my ruins, were the words that came to mind then. These fragments mattered to me. I believed in them. That I could find meaning in the intensely personal nature of life as a wife and mother did not seem inconsistent with finding meaning in the vast indifference of geology and the test shots.

Joan Didion On Death

The Year of Magical Thinking talks about the process of grief, loss, and how trauma can affect a healthy mind and soul by leaving it empty of joy, all by delving into the life of Joan Didion who learned to overcome these feelings after her husband died and her daughter fell ill. As she tries to make sense of John’s death and her own changed identity, Didion discovers that grief is not what she expected it to be. Consumed by memories of the years they lived in Los Angeles, shortly after they married and adopted Quintana, Didion feels that she has entered a state of temporary insanity.

Though cool and collected on the surface, she begins to believe that her wishes might have the power to bring John back. To this end, she refuses to give away his clothes and shoes, believing that her husband will need them when he returns to her. She calls this childlike belief that her thoughts and wishes can alter reality “magical thinking.” She finds numerous examples of this behavior in the literature she studies on grief and mourning, which ranges from poems, novels, psychological texts, and even etiquette books. Joan Didion On Death and grief needs to be read diligently and seriously.

Joan Didion On Death

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