WebMD Checkup: Joan Didion
Novelist, journalist, screenwriter, and National Book Award-winning memoirist Joan Didion answers questions about love and loss.
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.
How are you taking care of yourself?
By sheer will, making lists and doing what I need to do and remembering that I
will be useless if I get sick myself.
What kind of support system do you have?
I've been blessed by great close friends and family, people who have stepped
forward without their or my asking. What is fairly useless in this kind of
situation is the friend who says (and I used to be guilty of this myself),
"Let me know if there's anything I can do." In fact, you won't let him
or her know, ever.
You and John walked Central Park every morning. Do you still walk, and
has your route changed?
I still walk in the park, yes. And yes, my route has changed, which sometimes
makes me feel a little loose in the world.
What is the best health advice anyone has ever given you?
Once, a long time ago, before MRIs, when I was having some neurological
symptoms and had received an exclusionary diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, a
friend --- a doctor, someone who had received a similar exclusionary diagnosis
--- advised me to keep regular appointments with a neurologist even in the
absence of symptoms. That way, he said, "You can forget about it." This
worked. The symptoms subsided. I saw a neurologist regularly and never gave it
a thought in between.
What is your best health habit? Your worst?
"Best" and "worst" when it comes to health habits depend on
who's doing the ranking (some might say I had all bad habits), but I would say
my most useful habit is to consult doctors early and fast and, as above, not
fret about it in between.