Grief is different. Grief has no distance. Grief comes in waves, paroxysms. Sudden apprehensions that weaken the knees and blind the eyes and obliterate the dailiness of life. Virtually everyone who has ever experienced grief mentions this phenomenon of ‘waves’.
Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking.
When it comes to grief and moving with it — there is no one way, no linear path or magical equation — there is no soothing balm or chicken soup for the grieving soul. Instead, there are waves upon waves of overwhelming and undoing feeling.
The kind that envelops the body and consumes the senses. The kind that quickens the heartbeat, shallows the breath and blinds the eyes. I thought I had come to know grief intimately at the age of 17 but what I had yet to learn is that for each encounter with it, “Grief when it comes, is nothing we expect it to be.”
As I have expressed before, 2021 was a Weighted year, one that felt like several lifetimes compounded into 365 days. Perhaps this is why it felt so heavy? Or perhaps, its heaviness was merely a symptom of the waves — upon waves — of the collective and individual loss and grief we were all faced with.
Or maybe, it was a product of this Moment of Stillness that allowed room enough for pause so that the neglected debris of our previous Woundings could come up to the surface to be sifted through. As Hallie Haller so poetically wrote in Let the Weak Things Break, “Quiet speaks something out of you, that you might have chosen to ignore.”
During one of our sessions last year, my therapist spoke about Woundings and their workings.
She spoke about how as children, there may be Woundings we experience but are unable to process or give language to, how we may even internalise them as testaments to our own (un)worthiness. How we may bump up against people or situations in our adult life that awaken the wound’s lulled pain.
I think of a conversation shared with one of my Dearly Beloveds, Kopano Maroga, about the labouring to be seen (and perhaps loved?) that came with being one of the only Black kids at the white model C schools we attended, and about the weight that comes with our (self)worth being tied to our palatability and production, to how much we can give — how much can be extracted from us— by what and whichever spaces and faces we were tethered to.
The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground…The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously an image of life’s most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant. What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness? (Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being).
For far too much of last year, I had believed my Grief to be wrapped up in someone else and the loss of the futures we had dreamt up together, possibly still floating through the air, not here but somewhere out there. However, “Hindsight is twenty-twenty. So, it’s clearer now than it was then,” that this Grief is a river that flows beyond the loss of that person and our dreamt up — now impossible — futures.
It’s a river of Grief with many mouths. Mouths of the father, the mother and the wounded child — mouths of inherited loss that have been flowing in transmuted forms into many parts of my life for a long time now.
With that understanding, there also came a realisation that this Grief needs new monuments to hold it, to heal it, to help me move with it.
That monument cannot be the rest of my unfolding life, nor can it be lovers disappeared into in an effort to come alive again. I don’t quite know what those monuments are, their shape or capacity.
But what I do know now, is that I’m open wide to the discovering and am remembering that music has always been one of them. So, below is an offering in the form of a playlist for moving with Grief.
“Undone” by Zsela: “If I were to tell you the faces I put on, the grins and sins and innocence, would you run with me?”
“Solid Ground” by Michael Kiwanuka: “I know I’m here and I don’t belong, I’m on my knees today…Hanging around on the edge of the world.”
“Mad” by Solange: “You got the right to be mad but when you carry it along, you’d find it only getting in the way. They say you gotta let it go.”
“Hallelujah” by Jeff Buckley: “Remember when I moved in you and the Holy Dove was moving too and every breath we drew was ‘Hallelujah.'”
“Drinking” by Zsela: “Watch you fall to watch you start again, while we’re waiting for the rain, I can’t keep from crying.”
“My Little Love” by Adele: “I’m holding on (barely) mama’s got a lot to learn (it’s heavy). I’m holding on (catch me).”
“Alright” by Ego Ella May: “I’m alright and that’s most I have said in a while with a genuine smile. Training the mind got me feeling so light, I ain’t even trying to get ‘fake deep.'”
“Closer” by Goapele: “Sometimes it feels like I’ll never go past here, sometimes it feels like I’m stuck forever but I’m going higher, closer to my dreams. I’m going higher and higher, I can almost reach.”