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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

One should always pay attention to what Annie says:

In my lat post I thanked Annie for reminding me of why I do this--any of "this". In her post on her blog (link here), she had mentioned reading The Year of Magical Thinking By Joan Didion. I had been reading Fixed Ideas, Didion's brilliant explication on the matters surrounding the anti-intellectualism movement's use of 9-11-01 to keep people "not thinking" and was enjoying Didion's ability to keep the personal political and the political in personal view. I am in awe of Didion.

So, one night, at the bookstore, before my lovely honey gave me my lovely Kindle, I had nothing to read and some down-time, and went looking through the shelves. I came across Didion's "Year" and decided to pick it up. To use my teenaged daughter's terms, O-M-G! (I text such things, but actually pronounce the words when speaking.)

The Year of Magical Thinking should be required reading for everyone. The only caveat I can have in saying that is that not everyone will be ready to read it a any given age, but before one gets to the age of loss, one MUST read this book. The age of loss, I am certain, is different for all. I had a best friend in grade school who lost her mother when we were 13. Her understanding of loss began at too tender an age. I have friends who have never lost a loved one, who wander forth in a magical bubble of good health and a general sense of immortality. I envy them in some ways, but not completely.

I know those I have lost have changed my life. I also know the ways in which they died affected my life for better or worse, and I think in some cases, loss is healthy--not happy, mind you, but healthy. My grandmother had basically had enough. I am fairly certain her death was simply a matter of her feeling she was done. My uncle died after a long, drawn out illness. And yet, my loss of him was the "best" loss I've been able to experience. He gave me the gift of telling me he no longer wanted to fight the cancer. He gave me the gift of time. We had no idea of how long he would live after stopping treatment.

Elie told me on the phone that he had decided not to try the next round of experimental treatments, that he was tired, that he was through with fighting, and that he had lived a good life. I wrote him a rather long letter telling him just how much he meant to me. Reminding him of moments when he had touched my life and brought a positive light into it. Telling him in so many words how much I loved him and how much his life had impacted mine for the better. Because regardless of what, if anything, happens "after" life, I wanted him to know his impact in life had been great. I thought I was telling him how much I loved him for his sake. Boy was I wrong.

I was in London when Elie died. I received the phone call in London. I landed in Florida three hours before his funeral in New York (we Jews don't wait around to bury). I was unable to be there to talk to my aunt Judy, to share her grief and try to be of help.

But Joan Didion, and aunt Judy, made clear to me some things I would not have otherwise understood. My letter to my uncle Elie was a letter to my aunt Judy as well. My getting the chance to say goodbye was a gift to me and to Judy. I got closure, but, Judy told me, she and Elie also got a gift in knowing how their lives made mine better. "You were there before the funeral," Judy told me. That was the better thing to do.

And Joan Didion confirmed this for me. Her deep, honest, difficult grappling with grief delayed, grief doubled, helped me see that Judy and Elie benefited more from my presence before the funeral than either would have from my presence at. I do not pretend to know what a spouse goes through in cases like Joan's or Judy's. I can only know what the two have taught me. And they have taught me a great deal and taught me well.

I return, often, to the decision to send Elie a letter. It may well be one of the best decisions I have ever made. Uncle Elie told me, after I left the US Naval Academy that I was not a failure, that I would find my way, that I would become who I was meant to be, and that my purpose in life would be a great one. He believed in me more than I did. He made clear to me that there was hope. I cherish his memory and try to keep him in mind when I think I can't--because he said I can, and he meant it.

Joan Didion and Judy Cassorla are two of my heroes. I am in awe of their strength.

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