The Year of Magical Thinking

by Chris de Serres

This is the type of book you pick up if you’ve felt death in some way.  I bought it a few years ago and it sat on my shelf ever since.  Until the time was right.  Having finished watching the Showtime documentary Time of Death I just couldn’t put the subject of death down.  Just a few months ago my wife Ophelia lay bedridden, feeling and looking deathly ill.  It was a temporary kind of state.  We were pregnant with our second child.  Our first left her almost entirely debilitated and unable to eat.  Her existence was languishing in bed or in a hospital chair being pumped with fluids.  I confess her state was such that occasionally I went into the bedroom just to make sure she was still breathing.  The ability to bring life came with this experience of mortality.

The one bright spot of our experience was the ultrasound.  It was seeing that there was a child there with a heartbeat.  I remember our last doctor’s visit.  I scooped up my 3-year-old daughter Ryan into my arms and brought her to the ultrasound screen so that she could see her sibling.  What we all say was a look of concern on our doctor’s face and a dead space on the screen.  There was no heartbeat, no life.  We were shocked.  We grieved.  We still are in a state of mourning.

Like every book I buy, I at least read the first few pages of Magical Thinking.  It hooked me.  It devastated me.  That’s why I couldn’t get rid of it.  It’s nearly New Years.  Joan’s daughter lies in a coma.  Her husband dies suddenly shortly after a hospital visit.  Her daughter rises out of a coma again and again, and Joan must tell her again and again that daddy is gone.

It’s hard to imagine what you would think and how you would behave if those that matter most to you were swept away quickly.  There is alot of irrationality to grieving.  Just think for a moment.  How often  during the course of a day do you ask for your partners thoughts or feelings?  That valve of shared connection shuts off.  Every memory needs to be revisited.  Every item they possessed before they pass over becomes a relic.  Every action you take to move past their death feels like betrayal.

There are moments in the book that haunt me.  How his writing a note in faded graphite foreshadowed his fading out of existence.  We search for anything in the past that foreshadowed this.  As if death leaves it’s signature trail.  When she uses his dictionary to look up a word, only to regret having turned the page from last where he left it.

We avoid all the restaurants and social places that solidified our union so viscerally.  We obsess.  We memorialize.  We engage in magical thinking that maybe if we just go to sleep and wake up, that this person will appear and reality was only a bad dream.

We achieve success in life and remind ourselves that we wouldn’t have them without their influence.  We are hit with hard times and ask ourselves what would they have done or said to us in this time?  Sometimes we imagine they are like Obi-Won Kenobi, hovering above us and providing us some sign of guidance.  Just a sign is all we need and hope for.

Yet, there is no resolution great enough that can eclipse death.  We are here.  They are gone.

It’s a reality that feels impossible to unpack.  Our shock.  Our grief.  Our mourning.  Our own life hangs in the balance of what to do next.

I haven’t finished Magical Thinking, yet I get a real sense of disorientation and a fruitless search for answers.  I am struck of the ordinary nature of the day in which death impacts us.  There are no meteors striking earth.  There is no apocalypse to witness.  It happens in an ordinary day.  The day that destroys us.

For those of us who are left behind, what does existence look and feel like?  What is the signature trail of life after death?