One of my favorite books, that happens to be about grief, is The Year of Magical Thinking (2005) by Joan Didion. I found this book at the thrift store, and when I finally took it off my shelf in the basement to move it upstairs to my nightstand, I ended up cracking it open just for a sneak peek. I didn’t go upstairs with it until I had read for at least an hour. I got lost in the narrative of her experiences with the sudden death of her husband.
If you aren’t familiar with Didion, you should be. And if you aren’t yet thirty, perhaps wait until you are. I tried Didion in my twenties and didn’t appreciate her. Now that I’m a tiny bit older, I do. But if you’re an experienced and mature twenty-something, then go for it. Don’t let my experience with one of the greatest American essayists stop you.
But today’s post is about a book that reminded me of The Year of Magical Thinking and one that was recommended by another great book blogger. Check out Rosemary and Reading Glasses, and thanks to Carolyn for introducing me to this memoir about grief, Comfort: A Journey Through Grief (2009) by Ann Hood.
Comfort is Hood’s experience with losing her five-year-old daughter to a virulent strain of strep. One day, her tiny daughter was dancing and eating dinner in the backyard with the family. The next, she was in the hospital in and out of consciousness; then she died. It is a parent’s worst nightmare, and one that I felt viscerally through reading the book.
The book is an exploration of the grieving process and seemed to be composed of smaller essays about Hood’s experiences with losing her daughter. I cried through it. It’s hard not to. Part of me wanted to be cynical and hard and not shed tears for a suburban child who happened to die of illness when so many other children around the globe die in car bombings or from starvation or neglect or infanticide, etc., etc. Yet, this portrayal of a mother’s love and loss is moving, and I found myself thinking about the tragedy in my own terms. How would I react if one of my daughters died?
Reading books like this (and I mean emotionally charged books, fiction or nonfiction) can really affect me. I mope for days afterward thinking about the hardships of the protagonist and internalizing those to an unhealthy degree. I find that I can take on those emotions and live them out, even if I have no cause to do so based in reality. I did this a little bit with Hood’s book, but in a good way. I took those emotions that seemed to overwhelm and I channeled them into hugging my daughters a little tighter and in being a little more patient with them. I could not imagine losing either one of them at a young age to illness or any other cause. The grief would be unbearable.
Hood’s grief seemed to be so as well, and she described it in terms of never going away, but instead settling in a way that eventually became manageable. She found comfort through many things, including time, knitting, food, memories, and a new daughter.
Hug your children a little longer today. I know I will.