Your best-selling book The Year of Magical Thinking chronicles your grief
following the loss of your husband, John. What surprised you most about
I did not expect the degree of derangement-both physiological and mental. An
example of the latter: Two weeks after John died, when I filled out a hospital
form for the autopsy report, I gave not my own address but that of an apartment
in which we had lived for the first four or five months of our marriage, in
Is there something "magical" about one year when it comes to
What seems to happen at the end of a year is that the death becomes less
immediate, something that happened in another year. You no longer think,
"On this day a year ago we did this or that," because on this day a
year ago he or she was dead. This difference is painful at first. You don't
want to let the immediacy go.
By Helen Kirwan-Taylor
Many years ago I had a falling-out with a girlfriend that proved so painful, I can hardly talk about it today. My friend (let's call her Mary) was a colorful television personality and had the world at her feet. She was engaged to a handsome European, and her face was plastered across the newspapers. I was working for 60 Minutes at the time, and we often met for lunch. Then one day her show was canceled and she asked me - casually, as though it didn't really matter...
During this same year, you served as a remarkable advocate and caregiver
for your gravely ill daughter, Quintana. What advice would you give to someone
newly advocating for a loved one in a hospital?
All I can say about the many months when Quintana was hospitalized is that it
was a full-time job-both for her husband and for me-keeping track, locating the
right specialists, making sure that they were on-scene and integrated with the
house staff, and (not least) making sure that she was as reassured and
comfortable as possible under the circumstances. Familiar faces can make a
difference, not only to the patient but to the staff.
The Internet armed you with medical information. How did it shape your
The Internet was my first resource for information. It gave me the fuller
explanations I needed to understand what the doctors were saying, it gave me
the questions, it gave me the vocabulary, it gave me the range of
What qualities do you value most in a physician?
Knowledge, skill, empathy, and affiliation with a major teaching hospital. I
tend to trust doctors. If I don't, I change doctors.
You are one of America's preeminent literary voices. Are there words to
describe your recent loss of Quintana?
Quintana died on August 26, 2005. Since Christmas 2003 she had been through
(and survived) several life-threatening crises, most of which could be seen as
sequelae of the initial septic shock. There are still no words for me to
describe her loss.
What insight can you offer to someone newly grieving now?
The only advice there is for someone undergoing grief is to let it happen, to
not be afraid of experiencing it. It's normal; it's part of life. We get
through it, even though it doesn't seem possible.