Illustration by Soofiya
“Before the pandemic began I was already mourning a relative and so all the news of death in the past few months has really taken its toll on me. As things reopen I have mixed feelings – I’m looking forward to getting back some parts of my life but I also have no idea how to hold or process this grief.”
I’m so grateful for this question and for the acknowledgement of this huge and sometimes crippling thing that affects all of us, especially now, yet is spoken about so little. Grief can feel scary and nebulous, while also being so sharply painful. And I’ll admit I almost chose a different question to respond to this month because for a moment it all felt too big. The more conversations I have about it though, I realise that there don’t have to be answers or even the semblance of answers. There is immense healing to be found in acknowledging and naming the things that hurt and the parts of us that are in need, even if we don’t understand them completely.
It would seem grief dances to its own rhythm, crashing against our chests, smothering us in the night, lying quiet but heavy in our hearts. Sometimes grief itself feels like a death and other times it’s more gentle, lilting, made of yearning and remembrance, smell and light. Grief is teeth grinding, nightmares, numbness, panic attacks, depression and insomnia. It’s creativity, connection and hope. It demands attention and doesn’t leave or transform until it’s ready to. Grief gives no fucks about linear time or capitalist notions of productivity, corporate wellness or respectability and for that we admire her. It comes when we lose something, when we miss each other, when we lack or yearn for connection. Grief recognises that something is missing, be it a person, an animal, an object, a relationship, a friendship, an experience, a desire. We can grieve things that never have been and we can grieve things that haven’t happened yet or might never happen. We can grieve parts of ourselves. Acknowledging the absence of something we need is healthy. The fact that we have no space to do so is not.
“To be queer is to live in a state of perpetual grief, be that grieving biological family who couldn’t love us properly, grieving the freedom to be ourselves without fear, or grieving the erasure of our love”
To be alive in 2020 is to be contending with an avalanche of grief. This grief is complicated, layered and multi-faceted, especially for queer and transgender Black people and people of colour. We are grieving the world as we knew it, even if we largely hated it there. For those of us with family who do not have the luxury of working from home during a pandemic, for those of us who are at much higher risk of contracting Covid-19, and for those of us who have lost someone to it, there is grief.
There is Black grief, felt ancestrally and viscerally, through the continued murder of Black people and the recent noisy reckoning with anti-Blackness. There is the grief of steeling ourselves against the next report of a Black trans woman who has been murdered or the next story about a QTIBPOC activist who could no longer keep fighting. To be queer is to live in a state of perpetual grief, be that grieving biological family who couldn’t love us properly, grieving the freedom to be ourselves without fear, or grieving the erasure of our love. Those of us who have lived lives characterised by struggles with mental health, abuse and addiction carry grief continually. And for those of us who have nearly died at the hands of it, we grieve ourselves long after we survive. To be alive is to grieve, because actually nothing is as it could be – there is so much to miss.
Grief manifests in many different ways and what’s soothing for some may be annoying for others. There seems to be a consensus though, that there is nowhere near enough space or support to hold it. For many, navigating grief during quarantine has been extremely distressing. You may have been forced apart from family or friends and left with no-one to reflect or understand what you’re feeling. For some, lockdown may have provided some needed quiet to be still with personal loss exacerbated by the vicarious trauma of collective grief. Whatever your experience, it makes so much sense to feel vulnerable and uncertain as the government tries to distract us from mass death with half price Nandos.
It remains clear that the single and only concern of those with power is their maintenance of it by any means necessary. Grief, and the stillness necessary to allow it to move through us, is not considered productive within capitalism, and therefore any attempts we make to push against that and tend to our grief is radical and nourishing (despite any guilt we may be encouraged to feel for it). The lack of acknowledgment of grief is a tool of civil control used to gaslight the masses into believing there is nothing missing, but we know better. Living in the UK, we are surrounded by people who have become dissociated from empathy so they can uphold wealth and white supremacy before all else. We are not the same – our grief, and everything that comes with it, is so valid.
“Is there a creative practice you can pour yourself into to help you release? Is it helpful to speak with friends and family? Which ones? Do you need to enforce boundaries with others?”
Trying to grieve while also living in a white supremacist capitalist transphobic hetero-patriarchy is hard because we rarely feel or are safe enough to actually let the grief happen. It can feel as though once we fully acknowledge it and open ourselves to that healing work, we might become too vulnerable to survive in the world. What if we drown in the emotion, with no-one to help keep us afloat? You know your body and your circumstances better than anyone else and while it might not always seem like it, you know what you need and when it’s safe for you to try and get it. Perhaps you can start small; naming the way grief manifests for you day-to-day and gently exploring it rather than thinking of it as something to tackle or cure. Grief is continuous, and through centering gentleness, rest and Black liberation, we will find and establish ways to honour it. We grieve for our ancestors who couldn’t.
In the meantime, take the time to ask yourself what feels soothing for you. Is there a creative practice you can pour yourself into to help you release? Is it helpful to speak with friends and family? Which ones? Do you need to enforce boundaries with others? Would it help to speak with a therapist? Does it feel good to receive attention and pleasure, and if so how can you get it? Is there music that feels good to listen to or food that feels particularly good to eat? Do you have a safe space to cry? Are there any rituals that feel helpful to you? Grief lives in our bodies, what can you be doing to nurture yours? Are you resting enough?
It is said that grief is love with nowhere to go, and while I’m not usually one to hammer a cliche, the idea that you can’t have love or life without grief feels helpful to me. Remember though, that your love will always have somewhere to go while you exist.
A huge thank you to everyone who shared their experiences of grief with me to help inform this column.
If there are any queeries you would like answered in a future column, email them to [email protected] with the subject line “Queeries”. They will be anonymised.