By Kevin Burke, LSW
Joan Didion died at the age of 87 in her Manhattan home on December 23, 2021. Author Jonathon Van Maren describes Didion as one of the great American pioneers of creative non-fiction, along with Tom Wolfe, Hunter S. Thompson, and Truman Capote.
Van Maren shares in American Conservative of Didion’s writing about the cultural revolution that swept across California like a wildfire in the late ‘60s. Unlike many of her contemporaries, Didion had a keen eye that gazed beyond the glitzy surface of this still unfolding revolution and stared into the abyss – while taking careful notes.
“Slouching Towards Bethlehem“…is a chilling collection chronicling the disorder of those heady, drug-fueled days when, as she would put it later, it seemed as if America’s social contract was falling apart before her eyes, as she took careful notes…But it is her writing about abortion that is perhaps the most haunting.
One of Didion’s stories features Maria, a woman pressured to abort by her partner. Didion writes of Maria’s traumatic triggers to her abortion loss:
She could not read newspapers because certain stories leapt at her from the page: the four-year-olds in the abandoned refrigerator, the tea party with Purex, the infant in the driveway, rattlesnake in the playpen, the peril, the unspeakable peril, in the everyday.
Van Maren reveals that Didion’s intimate, and insightful writing on the topic may have arisen from her own personal experience of abortion loss. If the personal abortion speculation about Didion is accurate, it makes perfect sense within the context of abortion related trauma and complicated grief.
An integral part of emotional and spiritual healing after abortion, is safely working through the painful feelings and memories of the event, so you can share your story. This enables women and men to develop a cohesive narrative out of the pain and chaos, the fragments of life often shattered in the aftermath – pain that, like the darkness that lurked beneath the cultural revolution of the 60’s, can for a time be submerged in hyper-activity, activism, or drowned in addiction.
But in time, the center no longer holds, and the truth cries out for release. For those that embrace the call to reconciliation and healing, this is a blessed moment. For others, the denial becomes a lifestyle, often accompanied by symptoms that bring physical, emotional, spiritual and relational suffering.
Perhaps Didion’s haunting writing on abortion in the lives of her characters, was in-part, a vehicle to share her own suffering, and work through some of her own pain and grief.
Make sure to read Jonathan Van Maren’s excellent article, Didion On The Death Of Children. Many of you, after reading, will be drawn to explore Didion’s writing.
If Joan Didion suffered abortion loss as a young woman, I pray that in death she will encounter, and embrace, the great mercy and forgiveness of God.
An original song about a couple reflecting back to an experience of abortion loss in their youth: