A few chosen words from Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, a memoir written after the sudden death of her husband and while her daughter is facing some serious health issues.
I’m here. You’re going to be all right.
I’m here. Everything’s fine.
It occurred to me during those weeks that this had been, since the day we brought her home from St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica, my basic promise to her. I would not leave. I would take care of her. She would be all right. It also occurred to me that this was a promise I could not keep. I could not always take care of her. I could not never leave her. She was no longer a child. She was an adult. Things happen in life that mothers could not prevent or fix. (p. 96-97)
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 imagined death. We misconstrue the nature of even those few days or weeks. We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect this shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind.
Nor can we know ahead of the fact (and here lies the heart of the difference between grief as we imagine 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. (p. 188-189)
We are imperfect mortal beings, aware of that mortality even as we push it away, failed by our very complication, so wired that when we mourn our losses we also mourn, for better or for worse, ourselves. As we were. As we are no longer. As we will one day not be at all. (p. 198)
More on The Year of Magical Thinking, in this interview with Terry Gross.