Journaling On Death
I don’t know if these tears in my eyes, this feeling at the back of my throat, are symptoms of grief for my own personal loss, or if they are in reaction to the news about the latest mass shooting. All I know is that grief takes up space and needs time. If we don’t give it space, it will take what it needs. Stealing my sleep so I lie awake at night, stealing my air so I sigh and struggle to fill my lungs, stealing my appetite so I’m not hungry.
I’m thinking about the people who have lost family to Covid, to opioid overdose, to war, to suicide, to racism, mass shootings… in the last year. Anyone who experienced serious or fatal illness or medical crisis over the past two years was forced to endure the added stress and pain of isolation, as Covid restrictions prevented loved ones from visiting or accompanying them. Thinking about the families who have endured so much loss and death that they have hardly had time to grieve one loved one before they’re grieving another, and another. The injustice, the patterns of inequity perpetuating.
My nana died today. I was at work, getting ready for my afternoon class when I got the text from my mom. When I left the school at the end of the day, it was raining. The first spring rain that was really rain, not slushy snow or sleet. The air smelled fresh and alive. And the heavy sky mirrored my heavy heart. I always sigh a lot when grieving a recent loss. Lungs demanding that extra gulp of oxygen.
Her name was Joy. I’ve written about her a lot in my journaling and in personal reflections on family history, but never her name in the past tense before. She was a huge part of my life. She loved to tell the story of the first time she held me and looked into my eyes as a newborn.
When we went to visit her in the home on Saturday afternoon, the day she started telling everyone she was dying, the TV was on as usual, in the background. The banner scrolling at the bottom of the screen announced breaking news. A mass shooting in Buffalo NY. Hate crime. A White shooter in a Black neighbourhood. 13 shot, 10 dead. Death comes in many forms. My nana’s death was peaceful. My mom said she left the window open so she could slip out when she needed to.
Nana traveled 99 cycles around the sun and today, the Earth is turning without her consciousness on board. Matter and energy spinning with the Universe.
The next day
Listening to the Code Switch podcast while doing dishes, the host, Gene Demby, talked about the shooting in Buffalo. He named and described the people who had been killed. Humanized them and paid tribute to their lives and the Black community and the Black owned grocery store where the shooting happened. My eyes filled and tears fell into the dishwater. I couldn’t see the dishes or if they were clean as I scrubbed. Housework and dog walks have a soundtrack of world events and wide-ranging commentary as podcasts help to take my mind off my own life.
In my heart, the very personal loss of my dear nana, my lifelong champion, witness to my first word and fan of my childhood artwork… rubs up against the devastating losses of yet more Black lives at the hands of a racist White man. I hold the personal loss close, but it overlaps with the other losses like the ripples of rocks disrupting the surface of water. Also, the unfathomable losses of entire species, entire forests, entire worlds. Like waves crashing over the coral reefs, my own grief crashes over the calcified nodules of daily routine. The life sustaining structures that give form and function to my time. Boiling water for tea, feeding the dog, feeding the guinea pig, eating breakfast, brushing my teeth, packing my lunch, putting on my jacket, grabbing my keys, driving to work.
Today I am taking time off. I got up this morning, doing my usual routine, on track to get to work at 7 am but grief hit me and I couldn’t picture being with my students in any sort of authentic, realistic way. As I went through the motions of packing my lunch, walking to the car I was on autopilot. I drove too fast. The world became hyper real and slow motion. A thousand things flew through my mind, or was it the same 5 things on repeat…I pictured standing at the front of the room in a trance, or breaking down in tears when a student pushed boundaries. When I arrived at the building, I rushed to make sub plans and got everything ready at the last minute before the bell. The admin staff were understanding. They said not to worry, someone would cover.
This society is afraid of death. Tries to live forever. Wants to divorce itself from bodies, to be abstract entities, infinitely consuming resources and accumulating capital. If we die, we can no longer consume and drive the market. We are all born, some give birth, we all die. The cyclical, circular pattern disrupts the linear flow of a teleological system. But teleology is a false construct, an abstract idea that can only function on a small, sample scale such as one lifetime that starts and ends. Or on a massive scale such as the lifetime of a star. The sun will eventually burn out and cease to power the life that exists on our unique, wonderful planet. But if we see lifetimes as a chain of being, the pattern of generations, of communities, we see the cyclical nature of time. When we die, we are recycled. We compost. We give back.
This society is afraid of grief. Afraid to slow down, to stop, to be still. Taking time to be with each other in life and end of life is a luxury we can’t afford. Until we find we can’t afford not to.