One of the pleasures of being unemployed at the moment is the opportunity to read. Some years ago, I attempted to read Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking – and got only about 80 pages in to it before I tired of what I felt, at the time, was navel-gazing. Yet, something hooked me in those 80 pages because when I recently found the book on the Library Donations Sale shelf for $1, I bought it.
Joan describes her thoughts and her process during the year following her husband’s death. In similar fashion, as I enter the final 50 pages of her book (sadly, too), I am reconstructing why I passed judgement so soon. Time matters. When I first attempted to read her book, I was incapable of holding her story – I was holding my story and my mother’s story and my siblings’ stories of my father who had recently died.
Joan brilliantly describes the difference between grief and mourning – a distinction not immediately apprehensible and, with the retrospect of my experience, glaringly obvious. Ah, I say to myself. This is why I couldn’t tolerate her ‘self-pity’ – recognizing it was my own self-pity that had filled my cup. I was still somewhere in Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ Stages of Grief – probably Anger. I was still grieving.
Joan’s other brilliant point is the preciousness of time. As she contemplates the events and omens prior to the death of her husband, John, I hear the sadness of a woman who wishes she’d been more present in her life with him. I hear regret – and feel called to anticipate my own.
Anticipating grief and regret squeezes my heart in ways I cannot describe. Perhaps it is the glimmering awareness of how quickly life can change as it readily applies to my own life these last 6 months. With the advent of my WA counseling license and the renting of an office space, I am, by my own hand, about to stir up change in my life again. She calls me to be conscious of what and how I will reorder the priorities of my life now.
Ms. Didion’s gift is a harbinger of the inevitable. She offers us a chance to mourn in advance of grief. She offers a rethink on the demands and costs of life-as-usual from her vantage point: acknowledging both the preciousness and evanescence of time with a reminder to be both aware and appreciative of it.
Life changes fast.
Life changes in the instant.
You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.
The questions of self-pity.