Notes on Grief
I have been away from this space for some time now. Initially I had intended to come here often, build a habit of writing, cultivate a creative practice that might make me feel productive and good. This space was created in the midst of a cascade of personal loss and grief, and the journey I found myself on as I navigated that grief was confusing and non-linear (as grief so often is). My brother, Peter, passed away in June of last year and my dog, my buddy, my companion, a cheery and loving being who had guided me through my 20's and into my 30's, passed away in December just before Christmas.
Loss and grief are never easy, regardless of external circumstances or conditions. It is something that will happen to all of us at some point. Yet, at least in my experience, it is something that makes us feel devastatingly and acutely alone. Grief and trauma are difficult subjects to talk about openly. My journey has included a lot of complex and confusing feelings. I often can't identify anything that will make me feel better, which just makes me feel lost. Do I want to talk or be silent? Do I want to cry or laugh? Do I want to do work or lay in bed and do nothing? Can someone just tell me what to do, what will make me feel happy and good?!? These unidentifiable feelings make my grief incredibly hard to put into words, adding another layer of loneliness to my experience. It feels like something I couldn't talk about even if I tried. Ironically and painfully, the only thing that makes me feel better is talking about it.
Grief has a tricky way of forcing you inside your own head whether you like it or not. It blurs the world around you for a brief time. This is perhaps a necessary coping mechanism, our brains or hearts saying to us "be selfish, look inside, heal, you are important and you must give yourself what you need regardless of the world around you."
But of course, there is a world outside of our own tiny galaxies of loss. This week, my social media feed bombarded me with news and images of the wildfires in Australia and impending war and the dismantling of indigenous sovereignty and the devastating impacts of colonialism and capitalism and all the isms that they birthed. I found myself paralyzed by grief yet again, unsure of what to do to make it better not only for myself this time but for others directly experiencing the trauma of war and ecological collapse. How do we cope when our grief is both internal and external? The personal loss of loved ones combined with the collective loss of species, of nature, of ecosystems, of language, of human cultures. How do we cope under the crushing weight of capitalism, an economy that feeds on our grief, a parasitic organism that can only survive as long as we stay oppressed and sad and wanting more?
I heard the phrase "Radical Futurelessness" on a podcast awhile ago and it resonated with me, stuck itself inside my brain and never left. It bounces around in there, coming to the forefront whenever there is some big news about global tragedies - the Amazon fires, the Australia fires, every time Trump opens his mouth or posts on Twitter, Hawaiians fighting for Mauna Kea, the Wet'suwet'en fighting for sovereignty on their traditional lands, flooding in Indonesia, and on and on and on. Radical futurelessness is a concept that came about during the cold war, when the constant threat of nuclear war created a general fatalistic feeling of - you guessed it - futurelessness in an entire generation. I don't know about you, but I've been feeling a lot of futurelessness lately, which has compounded the grief I already feel. It makes my grief almost too much to bear. I grieve my brother, my dog, the land, the loss of both human and non-human life as a result of climate change and war. I grieve the lives of the children I had so desperately hoped to have, but now cannot bear to bring into a world whose future is so uncertain and bleak.
And this is where my brain is lately. Dwelling on futurelessness, democratic grief, ecological grief, climate grief, and wondering how we might experience all of this in the midst of personal grief. How does the grief we experience individually reckon with and speak to the grief we are experiencing collectively? Both can make us feel confused, hopeless and helpless. Both can make us feel alone. But on an intrinsic level, they are universal experiences. The specific losses that we experience are drastically different, of course. As someone who does not depend on the land for her livelihood, my experience of ecological grief is not as intense or acute as someone who lives closer to the land. My experience of the loss of my brother is not the same as my mother and father's experiences of the loss of their son. But ultimately we are all grieving for something, and I take solace in that solidarity. What do you grieve for? What are your losses? But also what is good and right in your life?
Maybe none of this fits together or makes sense. It feels good to put into words though. To talk about it. To communicate my ideas and tell my story. If therapy has taught me anything (and it has taught me a lot) it's that the antidote to these cycles of anxiety and grief and sadness and regret is whatever combination of human connection and self care works for you. Take a bath, be alone, reflect and heal. Watch a show. Listen to your favorite sad sappy album on repeat. Acknowledge and honor where you are in this moment, be proud of yourself for surviving. But also fucking TALK about it. Tell people whats in your brain! Tell your story and listen to the stories of others, especially others who are in places completely outside of your own world, experiencing different traumas and losses.
I'm still processing my grief, and I probably will for the rest of my life. Other losses will pile up on top of the losses I've already catalogued inside the veins and ventricles of my heart. I'll tuck them away to live inside me, and it will feel painful but also wonderful to hold a space for them and let them mingle with all the love and light I also keep there.
For now, I'll be letting this afternoon sunlight soak into my pores and listening to Julia Jacklin while I do some combination of writing/baking/tidying my home. I might go for a run. I'll tell my sister I love her and go to a movie in the afternoon by myself and eat a large popcorn all to myself, no sharing. I'll water my plants and it will feel good to nourish something, to keep something green and alive and thriving.