Content Warning – Discussion of death and grief.
“Life changes fast…You sit down to dinner, and life as you know it ends.”
Death and life, the two old friends we all know. One we celebrate, one we fear.
“We are alive, which means death is inevitable” – that one sentence my mum says every time self-pity takes over her. The sentence that is engraved in my mind and heart. No one is forever.
Much like Joan Didion describes herself, my mum has always been the ‘cool customer’. The one that would save her tears for when she was alone, the one that would think rationally, the one that would compose herself at the funeral. For me, this has never been the case. I pity myself, I suffer in public, and I let the world know how much I will miss my person. I cry on the casket.
Years have passed since her forever goodbye. Yet I still seem to feel her presence; in my dreams, when I hear a song I know she would like, when I see the colour yellow… I still reach for her number on my phone. I still believe one day I will wake up and this will have all been a bad dream.
Denial. You think to yourself, this cannot be happening, this is probably a bad dream. They probably got the wrong person. You buy her favourite dessert when you see it at the supermarket. You keep that one sweater because it was her favourite. You don’t delete her number from your phone for when you need to call her again. Because deep in your bones you believe if you call that number, she will pick up.
Anger. It was not her moment. She was too kind. She deserved better. She just needed to fight a bit harder. WHY DIDN’T SHE? WHY DIDN’T THE DOCTORS?… Just why?
Bargaining. The fake sense of hope. Maybe if I had prayed to a God I don’t believe in, this would have never happened. Maybe if I had noticed her fading away. Maybe if…I could have done something…
Depression. I have always been a crier, so when she passed and I didn’t sob night and night again, I felt awful. I believed I wasn’t doing the right thing. I convinced myself this meant I didn’t deserve to feel sad. Because tears are the ultimate sign of sadness, right? Instead, I felt numb. The world went from screaming colours to black and white.
Acceptance. I will be okay, I will.
Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross identifies denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance as the five stages of the grieving cycle. The stages are not linear and don’t all have to be experienced. However, when dealing with grief most of us will go through them all.
Death is hard. We all know that. Grieving is a universal experience. While reading through the pages of A Year of Magical Thinking, I found myself tearing up as the emotions, bottled up for so long inside of me decided to break free. Didion’s description on the night her husband passed reminded me of the nights before the storm, that death is, swept those closer to me away forever.
While reading through her pages, I could smell the fire that was burning the night that John said goodbye. I could also smell the flowers I brought her the last time I visited. It was as if Didion knew exactly what I had felt when I got the news, when I last hugged her.
I have never lost a husband, I never met John Dunne. However, through Didion’s words, I was transported to the dinner that changed the life of the writer. With her narrative, Didion makes you feel close to her, her heart and her grief.
As Nora McInerny says in her 2019 Ted Talk, “we don’t move on, we move forward [from grief].”
Death will hit us all sooner or later. The death of a parent, the death of a child, the death of a friend… The only thing that is left for us to do is to keep their memory alive. Is to move forward with them in our minds. Is to be as cool of a customer as we can possibly be.
Featured Image Credit: Julian Wasser / TIME