On December 22, 2003, Joan Didion’s and John Gregory Dunne’s daughter Quintana Roo Dunne is admitted to the Beth Israel Hospital in New York due to a flu and high fever. Over the next few days her condition worsens into a full-body infection that necessitates intensive treatment. On December 30, after seeing their daughter in the hospital, Joan and John return home to have dinner. John collapses of a sudden heart attack and is taken to the hospital, but he does not survive.
Over the next few months Joan struggles to cope with the grief over her husband’s death and to go through with the proper procedures of mourning. John’s funeral is held on March 23, 2004, so that Quintana can attend after having made some recovery. On March 25, 2004, Quintana flies with her husband Gerry to California. She sustains a life-threatening brain hemorrhage from a fall on the airport tarmac and goes under operation at the UCLA Medical Center. In April she is transferred to the Rusk Institute in New York. Joan cares for her during these times while continuing to cope with John’s death by recalling old memories with him and reading literary works and medical literature.
In July, Joan reports at the Democratic and Republican conventions, the first writing job she has done since John’s death. In October, she begins to write The Year of Magical Thinking. She writes at the end of the book that it is December 31, 2004, exactly a year and a day since John’s death. She says that she has finally let go of him.