All posts filed under: Grief and Loss

Spectacles of death

Reflections on motherhood and weapons systems, public death in Syria, and the spectacle of dying in a Greek hospital

Grief elves

I have carried grief in my bones for so many years that I do not notice its weight unless it becomes acute. I do not hear its noise unless it shouts at me.

Accompaniment

I know that Easter and fathers and pre-exam jitters and saudade layer atop each other. I know that grief sneaks up on you when you are trying to pack ‘the canon’ into your head (and I know enough about feminist inquiry to question what counts as the canon, to know it has earned the quotes around it). I know how to tell grief apart by its taste. This is not the cutting, surprise grief, the kind that has made you nauseous before. It is the sweet, quiet accompaniment.

In Northern Ireland, unaccompanied by grief

If you asked me what one of the greatest paradoxes is in processing my work in the humanitarian sector so far, it is that the settings of the disaster or violence are often stunningly beautiful places. There is a dissonance to interviewing people who experienced wartime sexual violence one day only to make finding a waterfall your greatest driving force the day after that. Ancient ruins and modern ones, side by side. Giraffes and refugees. Crystal clear beaches next to injustice. The urge is there to shout from a hilltop atop I perched that Colombia (or Egypt, or Syria, or Uganda) is unequivocally beautiful – if it weren’t for the critical voice that remains in my head and remembers to ask “for whom?” I have never quite known how to process the beauty or our hunt for it in those environments. Can one truly apologize for beauty? How can we take it in, draw hope from it, without romanticizing what is at the foreground? Is this beauty accessible to all and, if not, what are …

Relearning how to walk

“Limping is in the mind.” This was one of my physical therapist’s pronouncements earlier this month. I find physical therapy a deeply frustrating process. Progress is slow, so slow that it is impossible to tell the difference from one session to the next, requiring that you keep showing up only on the faith that ‘this’ is helping. I am re-learning how to walk. Having no memory of the first time I learned how to walk, given that I was about a year and a half old and such a chubby baby that I took longer than my peers to conquer this milestone, this is an unnatural process the second time around. The physical capabilities are slowly returning: I can lean on my left ankle and foot without wincing in pain. I have left the orthopedic boot behind, and I spent a whole afternoon on my knees scrubbing the grey-ish, rubbery marks that my days on crutches had imprinted on our wood floors. But, I am told, limping is in the mind. I remember that in …

Healing and failing expectations of sunniness

This is the second post in a series of reflections on grief, inspired by recent loss, injury, and an abundance of pain. Part I is available here. “I’m sure you are starting to feel better… aren’t you?” “Look at you! You are getting so good on your crutches!” “Are you… feeling happier yet?” Forty days after the death of a loved one in Greece, we conduct a service called μνημόσυνο — a ‘mnemosyne’. In Greek mythology, Mnemosyne was a titaness who was the daughter of Gaia and Uranus, quite literally the daughter of Earth and Sky. At a mnemosyne, we remember the person we lost and begin to let go of a layer of the grief. In traditional circles, mourners wear black until that first mnemosyne, 40 days after the loss. For some, that is the permissible return of color into life. For others, particularly in rural areas, it is not unusual to wear black and keep the grieving rituals for a full year. Well-versed in the traditions of my homeland as I may be, …

When grief becomes the teacher

My world is rife with loss right now. From a broken foot and ankle to a family emergency to the memories of grief revisited, I am swimming in pain.  In no particular order — because that is what grief does to me, it disrupts order and my capacity for it — here are some of the lessons that have emerged from the past month, written with the awareness that there may not be lessons at all in these processes, with the acknowledgment that perhaps we look for lessons so we can hold on to our faith that there is something to be learned, something salvageable to all this. “The art of losing isn’t hard to master,” claims Elizabeth Bishop in her famous poem One Art. What she quietly neglects to share is that there are no prizes for the mastery of grief and loss. I once heard someone describe Joan Didion, one of my favorite authors, as “the high priestess of grief.” I remember thinking to myself, “what a dubious title! Would anyone really want that ‘honor?’” …

Field notes from Colombia: Narratives

In one of my favorite TEDx talks, Chimamanda Adichie cautions against the dangers of a single story. As she narrates, we are “impressionable and vulnerable in the face of a story,” a disarming property of storytelling that I have come to cherish. However, she goes on to point out that this is a risky vulnerability when certain narratives emerge, become dominant, and overwhelm the others. In Adichie’s words: “But to insist on only these negative stories is to flatten my experience and to overlook the many other stories that formed me. The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” Colombia is rife with single narratives of the type Adichie describes – and, almost paradoxically, they exist side by side. There is the image of Colombia as the land of Pablo Escobar, the guerilla, the paramilitaries. It is the Colombia of guns and bombs, an image that nests most frequently in the heads of those …

Boston: Stories of compassion in the wake of tragedy

Earlier today, explosions rocked the Boston Marathon, resulting in deaths, injuries, and widespread fear through the city I now call home. I have never quite known what to say in the wake of a tragedy and my inclination has always been to say very little and, instead, to watch, to hope, to hold humans in my heart. As phone calls and text messages started pouring in, the irony was not lost on us or on most of our friends that we have had to do this before: The shock after a bombing, the cycle of calling and texting, the confusion, the indignation at injustice. The brain has a way of linking these experiences together and every image of the blasts in Boston calls back the sounds of blasts in Uganda and Gaza and Bogotá and Jerusalem. We are safe, and blessed with love — and, as we heal, we count those blessings. Boston is a home so full of compassion that the Red Cross blood banks are full, only hours after the events transpired. Boston …

Surprise grief

He loved balconies. Before glaucoma struck, he would solve equations on napkins in his favorite chair overlooking the city. Outdoor lunches still taste like factoredquadratics to me. One can, apparently, inherit a love of patios. My International Baccalaureate exams smelled like sunscreen and sounded like pinecones crackling in the heat. So did the SATs and the GREs and every subsequent acronym tied to rites of passage. I associate balconies and porches and patios with squinting and deep learning, with note-taking and striving, and with grief for a fatherly presence that is long gone. It is hardly surprising, then, that when an Uncommon email landed in my inbox from Lisa, extolling the “magical, unexplainable power of the front porch,” it felt like the universe winking at me — and with it, all my past selves, all the grief pulling me in. There is no badge of honor to mastering grief, nor is there a committee of admissions that will verify that everything you learned on porches and patios about it suffices to welcome you into the …