“Grief” by Joan Didion

In “Grief” Joan Didion writes fluidly of how easy it is to fall into the depths of despair grief lead us into. A guiding hand that we take unconsciously. Didion writes, “Nor can we know ahead of the fact (and here lies the heart of the difference between grief as we imagine it 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” (930). I find this line to be so unbearably relatable. People don’t understand grief until they are hit and demanded to bear its weight.

However, Didion also turns to geology as a metaphor to describe her strength as she endures the loss of her husband. Specifically, the strength of earthquakes and of their mercilessness or their unbiased effect on everything. “…constant changing of the earth,..No one was watching me” (930).(That entire section)

It is because of such events, mainly the earthquakes, that she needed to have fragments of her past life. “Clean sheets, stacks of clean towels, hurricane lamps for storms, enough water and food to see us through whatever geological event came our way. These fragments I shored against my ruins, were words that came to mind then. These fragments mattered to me. I believed in them” (931).  These seemingly mundane items were in fact the glue that held together Didion’s memory of the past chapter of her life; life before it was shattered by the natural disaster, Grief. The earthquake that was an 8.3, whose aftershocks were felt for days,even months after the initial hit.

Didion even hypothesizes a possible death that includes her dying with her husband; death by a landslide. Didion has become so comfortable with geology and natural disasters that she even prefers her death and that of her husband to be caused by one, rather than accept the death of her husband in a normal way, (most likely because she can’t bear the pain of life without her husband. “The entire point slipping into the sea around us was the kind of conclusion I anticipated. I did not anticipate cardiac arrest at the dinner table” (931).

Side-note:

I just realized I find it odd that Didion didn’t once mention the love she felt for her husband, his memory when she described grief  she felt because of his death. She writes about the weight of it, and the unimaginable strength it takes to get through it, but never about love she felt for the man she married. I just find it odd, because if I just lost my husband, despite my grief I would like to believe I would try to remember all the memories of my husband, why I fell in love with him, our wedding day, etc. Am I the only one that feels this way? Perhaps, but I can accept that. I just thought I should make this point.

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One thought on ““Grief” by Joan Didion

  1. I like your description of the way grief hits us. We don’t understand it; we are simply forced to “bear its weight.” I also like how you mentioned that certain inanimate objects were the glue that held Didon’s past life together; this was a very descriptive and easily understandable way of phrasing the idea.

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