Tuesday, September 27, 2005

On grief - New York Times Magazine

We all know, or will know, a bit of the feeling. The call about the parent who's died. The brother missing. This story is well told and worth reading.
NYT Magazine: After Life - New York Times (Joan Didion)

Nine months and five days ago, at approximately 9 o'clock on the evening of December 30, 2003, my husband, John Gregory Dunne, appeared to (or did) experience, at the table where he and I had just sat down to dinner in the living room of our apartment in New York, a sudden massive coronary event that caused his death. Our only child, Quintana, then 37, had been for the previous five nights unconscious in an intensive-care unit at Beth Israel Medical Center's Singer Division, at that time a hospital on East End Avenue (it closed in August 2004), more commonly known as 'Beth Israel North' or 'the old Doctors' Hospital,' where what had seemed a case of December flu sufficiently severe to take her to an emergency room on Christmas morning had exploded into pneumonia and septic shock. This is my attempt to make sense of the period that followed, weeks and then months that cut loose any fixed idea I had ever had about death, about illness, about probability and luck, about good fortune and bad, about marriage and children and memory, about grief, about the ways in which people do and do not deal with the fact that life ends, about the shallowness of sanity, about life itself....

...Grief is different. 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." Erich Lindemann, who was chief of psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital in the 1940's and interviewed many family members of those killed in the 1942 Cocoanut Grove fire, defined the phenomenon with absolute specificity in a famous 1944 study: "sensations of somatic distress occurring in waves lasting from 20 minutes to an hour at a time, a feeling of tightness in the throat, choking with shortness of breath, need for sighing and an empty feeling in the abdomen, lack of muscular power and an intense subjective distress described as tension or mental pain.
The essay does not discuss what happened to Quintana. Unfortunately, Google tells us. Per Wikipedia: "[Quintana] Michaels died of complications from acute pancreatitis on August 26, 2005, in New York City at age 39." About 20 months after her sepsis admission. I wonder if she ever went home.

There's an old expression that goes something like "count no man fortunate before his death". It is a truism in psychology that pessimists make more accurate judgments about life and control. Perhaps there are no optimists and pessimists -- but rather the more and the less delusional ...

For what it's worth, I have for some years paused at various times, and thought "this is the blessed moment, it will be forever as it is now, safe in the past".

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