In it, Didion describes - in detail - the last moments of her husband's life, and the year following, with flashbacks to their married life. They had an unusual marriage: both writers, they worked from their home in separate offices, editing one another's work, sharing most everything in their lives, including their love for their only child, a daughter, Quintana Roo. At the time of John's death, Quintana was a newly-married woman, in a coma in an intensive care unit near their home in New York City.
"Magical thinking" refers to the state of mind within her, of which Didion became aware, which was not rational, but not really insane, either. She quotes Freud, and Melanie Klein, who wrote, "The mourner is in fact ill, but because this state of mind is common and seems so natural to us, we do not call mourning an illness....To put my conclusion more precisely: I should say that in mourning the subject goes through a modified and transitory manic-depressive state and overcomes it." Grief, an illness. It certainly feels that way, with its ups, downs, and waves of deep sadness that make normal actions, interactions and reactions seem impossible, at times.
One of the most interesting points that Didion makes is that the survivor often spends the year following the death of a loved one mentally re-viewing the last year of life they shared, day by day. She writes, "All year I have been keeping time by last year's calendar: what were we doing on this day last year, where did we have dinner, is it the day a year ago we flew to Honolulu after Quintana's wedding, is it the day a year ago we flew back from Paris, is it the day. I realized today for the first time that my memory of this day a year ago is a memory that does not involve John. This day a year ago was December 31, 2003. John did not see this day a year ago. John was dead....
"I know why we try to keep the dead alive: we try to keep them alive in order to keep them with us.
"I also know that if we are to live ourselves there comes a point at which we must relinquish the dead, let them go, keep them dead. Let them become the photograph on the table....Let go of them in the water. Knowing this does not make it any easier to let go of him in the water."
Our future becomes the past, she says, because we have no future with the one who has died; we have only the past with them. I was stunned to read this, and oddly comforted, because that is precisely what I have been feeling. I go day by day, or week by week, looking into the past year, and thinking about what we were doing a year ago...or back to the happier days of two years ago, or more. And I need to say here that a year ago, things were going downhill, and that they only got worse as July went on. The next month and a half are going to be awful, in terms of looking back.
I don't need to hear anyone tell me, "Then don't look back." If you say that, or think it, you do not understand. What I have left of Katie is our past, and last year's events are still raw and fresh, and they need to be processed, however they arise.
I have been re-reading my journal from this time last year, and I can see the fatigue and near-desperation in my thoughts about Katie's condition, and the rest of us. We were so concerned about her mental and physical well-being. It was extremely stressful and worrying, with moments of joy and gratitude sprinkled in (when she was able to enjoy some aspect of her "old" life at home). A very tenuous recovery, very brief, -- and shattered, totally, with her last scan, and the diagnosis, which came finally on the 2oth of July. A new tumor, as large as the first, had grown in 2 months' time; it was inoperable. The doctor's advice: go home and start Hospice care.
You may find that my postings dip into the darker side, while we go through the difficult "anniversaries" of July and August, and you may read (or choose not to read) with that knowledge in mind.
On a lighter note, I have checked out another book that I am enjoying, called "The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters." The Mitford family of Great Britain was a fascinating group of individuals. They had six daughters and a son, and of those daughters, four became writers...wonderful writers, but some of their best writing was among themselves, in their personal correspondence. The sisters were poles apart politically, and included a Fascist, a Communist, a Nazi and a Duchess (by marriage). Their lives are interesting because they intersect with a great deal of the history of the 20th century; they knew many of the great writers, politicians and social figures of their day. If you find this interesting, two other good books about them are "The House of Mitford" and "The Sisters."