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Book review: The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

Bay Health Festivals began as a series of events and activities designed to provoke conversations and reflection on the topic of death and dying.

Throughout our lives we will inevitably face the deaths of those we love, as well as live with the knowledge that family and friends will grieve us when our own lives end.

But although we will all encounter death and grief throughout our lives, they’re topics we’re not very good at talking about.

Joan Didion wrote The Year of Magical Thinking following the sudden death of her husband (the writer John Gregory Dunne) and the serious illness of their daughter, Quintana Roo Dunne.

In the book, the author examines and deconstructs her response to the loss of her husband and, in particular, the ‘magical thinking’ that led her to believe that he could somehow return.

It's an absorbing read, as Didion examines her response to her husband’s death and the interconnected memories, ideas and emotions she experiences in the year that follows.

She writes: “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 an imagined death.”

Didion describes how she resisted discussing the possibility of her husband’s death, and admits “we were equally incapable of imagining the reality of life without the other” - perhaps a lesson for all of us in the value of talking to each other about life after we’re gone.

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