Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, a memoir about the year after her husband died, inspired the writers in our group of bereaved mothers to write about a vortex in our own lives, a sudden spiraling into memory and grief that grabbed us when we did not expect it.

Didion and her husband had been visiting her daughter Quintana in hospital and returned home the night before New Year’s Eve in 2003. While having dinner, her husband, John Gregory Dunne, collapsed with a heart attack and died. “Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends,” she said. We all knew that experience first-hand. We read on.

“Grief is different [from mourning]. Grief has no distance. Grief comes in waves, paroxysms, sudden apprehensions that weaken the knees and blind the eyes and obliterate the dailiness of life. Virtually everyone who has ever experienced grief mentions this phenomenon of ‘waves,'” Didion wrote. We knew that too, writing at the ocean’s edge where the rhythm of the sea brought us close to grief and hope.

Didion’s daughter Quintana Roo, died in August 2005 just as the memoir about her husband’s death was about to be published. Now Didion’s Blue Nights is due out November 1. It is the memoir about her daughter’s death. I have already preordered it.                                                                                                                   ~Kay Windsor

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