Dear President Trump,
Our brother-in-law’s (BIL) niece suggested we read Joan Didion’s memoir “The Year of Magical Thinking.” It’s Didion’s account of her life during the year following her husband, John Dunne’s sudden death from cardiac arrest. Her ability to capture the sense of loss and of being lost following a close loved one’s death is incredible.
There’s an especially resonant passage describing a doctor’s visit – she is asked how she is and shocks herself by bursting into tears. She manages to tell him that she “does not see any up sides to this situation.” The doctor misinterprets her statement and comments that it’s understandable that she can’t yet see the light at the end of the tunnel. She generously talks about how she sees how he could go there, but that really what she means is that she can’t find the silver lining or light at the end of the tunnel in the situation because neither exist. I immediately knew exactly what she meant by it.
Her husband’s death, our BIL’s death, our baby’s death, your brother Fred’s death – there are no upsides to any of these shitty losses. The world isn’t somehow better for these losses and it is arguably worse for them. Additionally, while some (though clearly not all) of us who’ve endured such losses may have become more sensitive and empathetic, surely there are other, less devastating, ways to achieve sensitivity and empathy. And of course every minute of every day there are hundreds (thousands?) of people experiencing shitty losses that have no upsides – it’s the human condition. We might manage to make some sort of lemonade by saying our person did not die in vain because we are going to marshal a crusade to limit such occurrences in the future (Mothers Against Drunk Driving is a good example of this sort of thing), but I’d wager that most of us would still trade our person’s life for whatever incremental improvement we might be able to muster. I suppose the collective silver lining we might still glean is that if we let them, these shitty losses can clarify for us that we really do all have more in common with each other than we have in disagreement, as John McCain reminded us in his lovely farewell letter.
May we be safe from shitty losses as long as possible.
May we be willing to help each other through them.
May we be reassured that magical thinking in the face of shitty loss is normal.
May we eventually make peace with shitty losses and with ourselves.