on mourning music

Sometimes, when I walk down Jasper Avenue or along the aisles of the grocery store, I find myself humming. Or whistling.

I don't really do this on purpose; in fact, sometimes I'm kind of embarrassed to hear myself. But in a way, I think of it as a moment with my grandfather.

I know that sounds silly. My grampa passed away 15 years ago.

He was a military man who loved music. He made mixed tapes for everyone in his life -- his family, his neighbours, friends at the local Legion, even waitresses who mentioned in passing a fondness for Edith Piaf. Growing up, we always knew when he was coming home because we could hear him whistle as he made his way down the hill.

I just finished The Year of Magical Thinking, which I technically did not enjoy. I found it depressing, found myself thinking about my grandfather, about loss, about death. I found myself crying randomly, over tiny things.

But today, when we discussed the book in book club, I found myself defending Joan Didion.

At worst, reading her memoir of grief feels voyeuristic, like reading a diary after the writer has given in, completely, to sadness and self-pity.

At its best, however, the book is like a love song with a chorus of questions running through it.

In a way, nothing particularly tragic happened to Didion. Her husband, in his 70s, passed away at the kitchen table. She, at about 70, struggled with grief and loss and a dreadful kind of sadness that made it nearly impossible to truly believe her husband was gone.

That is life.

But it's an interesting idea that a full-blown, all-of-a-sudden tragedy, when a young person gets shot to death for example, draws out our greatest sympathies. We might think of a person wallowing in the day-to-day tragedy of life as self-pitying, or self-indulgent.

As much as I did not enjoy the book, that seems a little unfair.

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