Med Humanities 34:35-39 doi:10.1136/jmh.2008.000271
  • Original article

The year of magical thinking: Joan Didion and the dialectic of grief

  1. F Brennan1,
  2. M Dash2
  1. 1
    Calvary Hospital, Sydney, Australia
  2. 2
    Calvary Hospital Bereavement Counseling Service, Calvary Hospital, Sydney, Australia
  1. Frank Brennan, Department of Palliative Care, Calvary Hospital, Sydney, Australia; fpbrennan{at}
  • Accepted 26 February 2008


Joan Didion is a prominent American writer. In late 2003, while her only child lay critically ill, her husband, John, died suddenly. Theirs was a marriage of great intimacy and love. Grief enveloped her. Eventually she began to write an account of the first 12 months of her bereavement and the vigil for her child: The year of magical thinking. Raw, insightful and challenging, it is a rich, generous and graceful document. Didion draws on the literature of grief, personal and professional. Here, those readings are examined and reflections are made on the singular, unique grief of the author in the context of current theories on bereavement.


  • Competing interests: None declared.