Joyce Carol Oates says grief is chaotic

Joyce Carol Oates says that no one writes about the crazy and chaotic part of grief.

That’s what Oates decided to do in her new book  The Widow’s Story. The author of more than 50 novels and many volumes of poetry, short stories and nonfiction, she talked about her book and her grief when her husband died at a lecture on February 26, 2011, at Arts & Letters Live in Dallas.

After her husband died, Oates says she identified with Alice in Alice and Wonderland because “everything seemed to disintegrate….I felt like I was in a Kafka story in a Marx Brothers movie.”

She had taken her husband, Raymond Smith, to the emergency room of the Princeton Medical Center one February morning in 2008. The doctor diagnosed him with pneumonia, and both Oates and her husband expected him to be released in a day or two. But, in less than a week, Smith died from an infection that he had acquired at the hospital.

Joyce soon found herself sitting on her bed late at night writing pages and pages of journal entries about her husband and his death in long hand. “The attempt to make sense out of something senseless is very human,” she explains.

During the day, this prolific writer couldn’t read. She couldn’t concentrate, and she couldn’t plan her next novel. “I had lost the ability to plan something,” she says.

“I would put on the television and watch some lurid, horrible things.”

Of course, Joyce Carol Oates survived. However, at the end of her book, she concludes, “Of the widow’s countless death-duties, there is really just one that matters: On the first anniversary of her husband’s death, the widow should think, ‘I kept myself alive.’”

The Widow’s Story is a gentle reminder that grief is hard work and it takes time. If someone you love has died, give yourself time to grieve. If you know someone who is grieving, remember to give him or her support for much longer than just a week or two after the death.

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