When my brother passed away in 2018, I believed that to be my first real encounter with grief. I had lost grandparents and elderly relatives, and I had supported close friends through moments of their loss as well, but none of those – nor all of them combined – felt remotely close to what that summer had felt like, and so I believed that to be my first real encounter.
It felt like meeting a new roommate I had no choice but to put up with, despite how badly I did not want her there. Flinging her shit all over the place and leaving my room an entire mess all the time, keeping me up till all hours of the night with her incessant chatter, a nosy roommate that insisted on following me everywhere and attracting all the attention so that I couldn’t have one conversation where she wasn’t brought up. Grief’s company is consuming and overwhelming, and yet I expected nothing less.
However, it wasn’t until I started to live with Grief on a daily basis that I realized we had met before. So many times. She was there at my grandfather’s funeral but she hadn’t stayed over at ours. She came to the vigil we held for the APS attack victims, and she was there at a Shia procession bombing in Muharram as friends of friends and family of family lost their lives. She was even walking along the street that day when I buried my cat in a little spot across my house. Sometimes she’d call, sometimes she’d show up, sometimes she’d linger in the sidelines. We’d met before, but we’d never spoken, so I assumed I didn’t know Grief until then. But that’s not true for any of us.
Until I was immersed in it, I didn’t realize how much I had grieved before. But because it wasn’t ‘my loss’ personally every time, I never felt worthy enough to take ownership of it. My cat meant the world to me, but after her burial I went back to studying for my History test the next day. My grandfather’s loss was a far bigger loss for my mother, so in my head it belonged to her. As much as my heart hurt after tragedy upon tragedy, the victims of those bombings and attacks and shootings weren’t people I had known personally, so how could I understand what grieving them would be like? How could I make their loss about me? And while in some ways the basic sentiment is true, I’ve only just come to realize that that grief was just as valid and real.
Second-hand grief, disenfranchised grief, collective grief, residual grief, and so many more, are all different types of grief. All valid, painful types of grief. The world we live in today is plagued with loss – the global pandemic, the ongoing epidemic of mental health, genocide against innocent civilians, children murdered, entire regions silenced. Many of us may be privileged to be once-removed, twice-removed, or even completely removed from these tragedies, but as a citizen of this world, we’re making acquaintances with Grief too. We see her lurking in our bedrooms and butting in on our conversations, and we shut her up because our pain is nowhere near comparable to those who do not have the luxury to be removed.
Taking ownership of our grief does not and should not take away from their grief. Given the state of the world, we should be grieving. Not all grief looks the same nor does all grief feel the same, and it goes without saying, that not everyone is equally affected across the spectrum. Today there are more people every single day getting accustomed to their new roommate – or perhaps a whole family of squatters – and as someone who loves them, you feel the pain too. As they mourn their losses, you mourn loss too. Grief has so many faces and perhaps in this long, complicated life we live, we might meet all of them or most of them, but they’re each as real as the other. The type of grief one is acquainted to may differ depending on how far-removed one is, but the validity does not.
As we each forge ahead during increasingly difficult days, I pray we’re each able to accept whatever kind of roommate knocks on our door, and I pray she doesn’t overstay her visit. Sending each of you so much love.