Monday, February 21, 2011

Magical? NOT!

(I first posted this last July, but I thought it was worth a second look.  -fbh)

Several months ago I picked up the book entitled, The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion. A quick look at the promo copy told me it was about a widow and her triumph during the first year after her husband died. Additionally, their (adult) daughter was in critical care in a coma. I thought I could learn something from this lady with such severe trials. And, I did. I learned that existentialism is truly sad and hopeless. It's like a heavy sack of sadness on your shoulder. No wonder Jesus provided an alternative and said, "My yoke is easy and My burden is light."

There were interesting insights in The Year of Magical Thinking, though. Secular thinkers noted some social shifts toward mourning as Western culture came through industrialization and our Judeo-Christian foundation began to erode. On page 60 she noted lecturer Philippe Ariès, and wrote the following:
". . . beginning about 1930 there had been in most Western countries and particularly in the United States a revolution in accepted attitudes toward death. ‘Death,’ he wrote, ‘so omnipresent in the past that it was familiar, would be effaced, would disappear. It would become shameful and forbidden.’
The English social anthropologist Geoffrey Gorer, in his 1965 Death, Grief, and Mourning, had described this rejection of public mourning as a result of the increasing pressure of a new
‘ethical duty to enjoy oneself,’ a novel ‘imperative to do nothing which might diminish the enjoyment of others.’
 In both England and the United States, he observed, the contemporary trend was
to treat mourning as morbid self-indulgence, and to give social admiration to the bereaved who hide their grief so fully that no one would guess anything had happened.’”
If you can wade through that professorial prose, did you find such social attitudes true during your mourning process? Were you admired for "being so strong," and chided to "move along," or "get over it already" when you looked a little sad?

Does this information help you understand why people around you urge you to enjoy yourself, or get impatient if the sight of your sorrow is a damper to their personal pleasure? (Think about this in public context, perhaps your work or school culture, not among your close Christian friends whom I assume know you and know your Hope better).

A lot of heady questions today! But sometimes it helps to be a little analytical about this. I look forward to your comments. Here's what we should ponder:
  • When someone says "You're so strong," or in the other extreme, "Are you STILL feeling sad?"--- could it be that they are victims of our Western pleasure-only oriented culture?
  • When you are sort of putting on your game face--shall we say trying to look stronger than you actually feel--are you a victim of our Western pleasure-only oriented culture?
  • Do you feel a little guilty or self-indulgent to give in to mourning?
  • Has the church, or have Christian people adopted the values of our pleasure-seeking world? I'm not saying it's wrong to be happy, nor am I saying depression is healthy, I'm simply wondering if we seek happiness more than we seek truth and honesty.
In the meantime, remember Solomon's words: "The heart of the wise in in the house of mourning. but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure." Eccesiastes 7:4 

Let mourning do its work; it won't last forever and you will gather rich wisdom as you journey through.
I Peter 1:6 says this: "So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while."

(Photo credit:


  1. I recently read this book and felt very much the same way. I didn't feel it was a book about her triumphing over anything (does anyone really do that anyway?). It was just a memoir of her first year...plain and simple. And it seemed like it just ended. I kept waiting for a message but never found one. I didn't find it very hopeful. Not sure if you know but her daughter wound up passing away about a year later. The author has certainly had her share of loss.

  2. I'm so sorry to hear about her daughter, I truly didn't know that. Thank you for letting me know, Wendy.

  3. Ferree,

    This is a good post for those of us who aren't widows yet. I heard somewhere that it takes 2-4 years of hard grieving--I heard that from a grief counselor. I know one never gets over it really. This is another good reminder to all of us to watch what we say. In our effort to do good to others, we might do more harm.

  4. I read that book as well, and I found it depressing in the sense I felt badly for the author! She was truly without hope. I did not identify with very many of the author's experiences, either. The only one that hit home was when she talked about sleeping in their bed after her husband died - knowing that she would never again wake up to him lying there. THAT one hit home. But you're right - and we have said it many times here and on FB - we should not grieve as the world grieves, as those who have no hope. We grieve because we have lost our partner, our helpmate, but we rejoice in our knowledge we will see him again, in that wonderful place that knows no sorrow or pain. Praise God.

  5. Ferree, I so agree with your thoughts on this. Thank you for sharing.
    Accepted in the Beloved,


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