Quintana went into the hospital with what appeared to be the flu on Christmas 2003, just five months after she married. By the time Dunne died five days later, Quintana's illness was spiraling into pneumonia, a whole body infection and a pulmonary embolism. She was hospitalized again with arterial bleeding a few months later at UCLA Medical Center.
"The shock of it was that this time, she had a lot of strength," Didion said. "Her husband and I assumed she'd overcome it."
"One thing I sort of learned over the course of this is, even at the very cutting edge of medicine, it's kind of a crapshoot," she said.
Quintana's husband, Michael, a musician, was already a widower and a father when they married in July 2003, said Didion's brother-in-law, Dominick Dunne. Dunne said Michael was a "wonderful husband to her" after she became ill, helping her get into cars and helping with her wheelchair, which he said she had been using for about a year.
At the Easter lunch, he said, "it was extremely hard for her to walk. But she did it. Our eyes filled with tears at that moment, because what we saw was that was what her life was going to be."
Didion's book was not altered to reflect her daughter's death. By that time, it was "all but bound," she said, and it may not have been possible to rework it.
"I'm not sure I would have anyway," Didion said. "If I had been writing it at the time she died, that would have become part of it. It was about a specific period of going crazy and getting over it."
Now she must cope with something all parents find it difficult to accept: a child dying first.
"And yet they do all the time," she said, sighing. "In my case I worried so constantly since she was a baby and a small child. I was kind of obsessive and overprotective. Once she was grown up, you're kind of past that."
But the realization of a parent's worst fears has stunned her. "You're sleepwalking," she said. "You forget things too." She waves away the idea of grief counseling -- "Therapy is nothing I really want at the moment."
Under other circumstances, Didion might have shared this terrible burden with Dunne. The two shared much else: writing film scripts together, editing each other's pieces. When Didion wrote her famous Life magazine column about going with her family to Hawaii "in lieu of filing for divorce," Dunne edited it and drove her to cable it.
"I never had to finish sentences because he would finish them for me," Didion said. When people asked if they were ever divided by rivalry, "I never got why. What was good for him was good for me. What was good for me was good for him. I don't understand what school of marriage they're thinking about."
"They were, in the best sense of the word, enmeshed in each other's lives," said Times media critic Tim Rutten, another friend. "As writers and people, they were one of those rare couples in which both people really appreciated in the other the things they appreciated in themselves."
The impulse to tell her late husband things still occurs to Didion, all day long. "It's always something minor. Some bit of information. Some interesting development. I think it hits people forever."
"When John died it was the first time in my life I couldn't control anything," she said. Before, "I had these delusions of control."
In her book, Didion describes how she resisted giving away Dunne's shoes and other personal things because he needed them to come back, one of the impulses that made her feel "a little crazy" after he died. His study is still a jumble of books and papers.
"What made me feel crazy was I realized I expected him to come back, and I was guided by that belief," she said. "I felt exposed all the time and paranoid. There were a lot of things I realized were a little deranged."
At the 2004 Democratic National Convention, which she covered for the New York Review of Books, "I thought there was a bomb at Fleet Center in Boston," she says. "I had to get out. I couldn't stay there. I don't know why. But it was crazy."