a fingerprint like grief

Manila, 26 April—An essay by David Kessler on Lithub makes this distinction between mourning and grief:

Grief is what’s going on inside of us, while mourning is what we do on the outside.

Kessler, a grief expert, is probably most familiar in relation to the stages of grief (with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross). In his Lithub essay from November 2019, way before the COVID-19 crisis, Kessler also says that people grieve in unique ways—that each person’s grief is unique, like a fingerprint. “Over many years of grief work, I’ve come to realize that if I’ve seen one person in grief, I’ve only seen that one person in grief,” he says. 

A season of loss is upon us. Friends are losing their mothers, their fathers, their grandparents, their husbands. And it all feels doubly unfair for them to suffer such a loss at this time, when we all must be apart. We cannot hold wakes and condole with the bereaved the way we traditionally do.

To think that as it was, in the pre-COVID-19 ‘hyperbusy world’, Kessler points out that grief has already been “minimized and sanitized”.

You get three days off work after a loved one dies and then everyone expects you to carry on like nothing happened. There are fewer and fewer opportunities for those around you to bear witness to your pain, and this can be very isolating.

Today, isolation is a component of the “new normal”, and even those who have not lost loved ones are struggling with various forms of grief. The season of loss is upon everyone—many are also mourning lost jobs, livelihoods, traditions. The new normal is uncertain and always shifting and, most of the time, dependent on some madman’s ramblings. Suffice it to say this is not the future we’d hoped for when we wished for better days in the dying hours of 2019.

But how can we be there for each other when it truly matters? Surely, technology has enabled a lot of ‘togetherness’ despite the mandatory social distancing and the community quarantine. Truth be told, I’m still figuring it out; it’s a work in progress. But regardless of the circumstances, Kessler’s reminders are timeless. I am passing them on to whoever may need them at this time.

Some grieve with darkness, some with light, some with both, depending on where they are in the cycle of grief. It would be a mistake to conclude that one is better than the other or that there’s a right way to grieve. There are just different ways to grieve, different feelings evoked by loss. 

However you’re grieving right now, I see you, dark or light.

Additional readings

Media rec

  • Florence + the Machine’s Light of Love

  • Taylor Swift’s Soon You’ll Get Better

Virtual hugs, xo,

K