A guide through grief


The Year Of Mag­i­cal Think­ing might strike peo­ple as bit of a downer at first glance, ac­tor Cathy Downes says.

‘‘Lovely ti­tle, but it’s about death and dy­ing. I don’t think I’ll go there.’’

But writer Joan Did­ion’s ac­count of her in­ner tur­moil af­ter her hus­band’s death is more about cop­ing with her grief and emerg­ing from the other end, she said.

‘‘Ev­ery per­son on the planet is go­ing to go through it or has gone through it,’’ she said.

‘‘Grief is a place that none of us know un­til we get there.

‘‘We are all go­ing to die, we are all go­ing to lose some­body. It’s not about death and dy­ing. It’s about how we live.’’

Did­ion, a jour­nal­ist and au­thor, had been deal­ing with the se­ri­ous ill­ness of her daugh­ter, Quin­tana, when her hus­band died sud­denly of a heart at­tack.

Her re­ac­tion at the time was con­sid­ered cool, but as her book and play re­veals, her ap­par­ent calm­ness was her cop­ing mech­a­nism.

‘‘Joan, like many of us, had to feel ab­so­lutely in con­trol of the sit­u­a­tion, even af­ter her hus­band had died,’’ Downes said.

‘‘ She was manag­ing the sit­u­a­tion, cross-check­ing all the doc­tor’s re­ports, get­ting an au­topsy done. . . It was her way of manag­ing.’’

While Did­ion seemed to be manag­ing the sit­u­a­tion, she was un­able to even throw out her hus­band’s shoes.

‘‘ What pro­foundly struck me on delv­ing into the play was how pow­er­ful the mind is and how trite the in­tel­lec­tual level is,’’ Downes said.

For a year Did­ion couldn’t write, but then be­gan to keep notes for the ben­e­fit of Quin­tana, still in a coma.

Did­ion’s de­tached, pro­fes­sional anal­y­sis of her own emo­tional tur­moil and dis­torted ra­tio­nal­ity be­came The Year of Mag­i­cal Think­ing, first a book and then a play.

‘‘[The play is about] what you hold on to, what you are un­able to hold on to . . . and how you learn to let go of the past and move into the fu­ture,’’ Downes said.

Af­ter Did­ion fin­ished the book, Quin­tana also died.

Did­ion re­alised what she was go­ing through was harm­ful to her­self and to oth­ers, and de­vel­oped the book into a very dif­fer­ent play.

The Year Of Mag­i­cal Think­ing, di­rected by Su­san Wil­son, is on at Circa The­atre un­til Septem­ber 8. Visit www.circa.co.nz or call 801 7992.


Self an­a­lyst: Cather­ine Downes plays au­thor Joan Did­ion in her dark­est hours.

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