Researching Grief

Tonight, I've spent hours reading articles about grief in preparation for a paper I'm writing in one of my college classes. In the paper, I intend to argue against an end to grief, against closure, healing, and "moving on." In these early stages of research, I feel excited about the potentialities of the project and where they might lead me. Already, I've found sources that echo my own ideas about grief--how it can be a productive emotion, fueling political action; how ways of grieving are often socially regulated and medicalized, which can be very damaging to those struggling with loss; how messy and open-ended grief is for many people. Writing about something as personal as grief in an academic language might seem daunting or undesirable but, in fact, it's invigorating to situate my own experiences within a larger theoretical framework. This is when academic writing can feel vital and necessary and full of possibilities because it allows me the time to go deeper into a subject that already obsesses me.

At this time in my life, as I stand on the cusp of graduation and confront the vastness of the future, this paper gives me something to cling to; it is a stabilizing force. For the first time in a long time, as I perused various articles on grief, I thought to myself "I enjoy this." And it's odd to say such a thing when you enjoy reading about loss and mourning and the worst things that can happen to people, but it's the truth. I feel a sense of connection to the material. I'm curious. I want to learn more. I want to maybe even dedicate my life to this inquiry, spend my days and nights lost in research about how we grieve and how we cope and how we survive or don't survive life-shattering loss.

 I don't know what any of this means. I have no plans to go to graduate school right now. I need to graduate and find a job and help pay bills because my family is struggling financially. I don't have many options. So I file all this away in the back of my head for another time in the future when I can pursue this passion more fully and maybe become a grief counselor. I just want to remember this night. I want to remember how enriched and connected and alive I feel. I want to remember this sense of meaning and possibility.


I am full of ache

I write in starts and stops, in sputterings of language.

I keep thinking about Yves Klein's work "The Void." The empty blue room, the visual, tangible representation of what I feel--vastness, smallness, a lack. Once you touch the void, you cease to be as you were. I touched it. I've never come back from it.

If he were alive, I would not have this life. So how do I accept this life? How do I not think of what could have been?

My roommates talk about their dads. They don't know mine is dead.

When I think of my father, my chest literally aches. It can't hold all the grief.

Writing as a womb, as a wound.

My mother, father, and I--the three of us were torn apart. We are gone. We will never be whole again.

I think of him constantly, relentlessly.

Grief is merciless.

The truth I cannot speak: I do not care about anything. I simply do not care.

I am pretending, unconsciously. I am surviving, and maybe that always involves some kind of acting. You can't be who you are. No one wants the real you, whatever that is. But I do know the real me. The me when I'm writing and reading and watching films and immersing myself in art, poetry, and music. That is me, and it is utterly untranslatable and unknowable.

Four years of college and I have no friends, no plans, no future, no way out, no escape.

An end gives us hope. But there is no end to the grief, the fear, the hardship, the indifference. So there is no hope.

The deepest, most dreadful thoughts come at night, in the dark. Thoughts about death, grief, and longing.

I cry for my father every night.

Loss came too early, erasing my dreams, my hopes, my illusions of safety and innocence.

I love a dead man more than a living man. No living man can compare.

Speaking exhausts me. Writing exhausts me. Every word I do write is a miracle.

I have no one to call daddy.

Birth (the film)--> about the endlessness of grief

A mystery at the heart of life: how do we die? how do we vanish from ourselves?

I want to make a film that consists only of shadows on the wall at night.

Time annihilates.

Surrender to the past.

Writing is my soul. I must never forget that.

I resist sense. I can't "make sense" of anything. My writing cannot do that. My writing is debris, the aftermath of an explosion.

I can't stop thinking of Au Hasard Balthazar, of Balthazar, at the end, lying in a field and dying, finally destroyed by the world, finally free from it.

My worst fear happened. I can't make anyone understand that. The worst happened. It was annihilating. I cannot come back from it.

I will love you until I can no longer love.

Mandy Cano Villalobos - Voces ("Voices") (2008)

Voces (“Voices”) addresses the mass femicide in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico. An ongoing act of mourning and protest, I silently sit to the side of the gallery, embroidering the names of individual murder victims into white blouses. Beginning with the first documented victims in 1993, every woman is commemorated with pink thread, referencing the pink crosses that have been erected and painted throughout the city by those who mourn the dead. As the shirts fill the center of the room, memorial shrines and missing person posters line the walls.
Mandy Cano Villalobos
thanks to Lustik 

Paul Fusco - Women In Mourning and Outrage (1999 - 2000)

In 1999, four white policemen fired 41 bullets at a young Muslim Guinean immigrant in the Bronx. 19 hit their mark. The killing prompted outrage both within and outside New York when information emerged indicating that the murdered Amadou Diallo was unarmed at the time and did not threaten the officers. The killing was viewed by many as police brutality stemming from a culture of racial profiling. 
Prosecutors brought six alternative charges against each of the cops; none of them stuck - not the counts of murder, the two of manslaughter, not homicide nor reckless endangerment. All officers were acquitted after the trial was moved to an Albany, New York court, as a result of a City appellate's court ruling that pre-trial publicity had made a fair trial in New York City impossible. 
Diallo's death, the change of venue, and the verdict each sparked massive demonstrations against police brutality and racial profiling, resulting in more than 1,700 arrests. Charges against the protestors were later dropped. 
No New York City police officer has ever been convicted of murder for actions in the line of duty. A grand jury charged a New York officer with murder only once before, in 1992, but the charges were reduced and the officer was acquitted.
Magnum Photos
with thanks to Burnéd Shoés

Jesca Hoop - Angel Mom

Today on my birthday
you were home when I arrived
You were standing in the doorway
When I pulled into the drive
And excitement came over me
And I rushed out of the car
And I jumped up to be
carried in your arms

I haven't felt that way since I was a child
A grown woman jumping up and down like I was a child

The dream went dark when I awoke
And I remember that you are gone
And I struggle to fall back asleep
And I remember that you are gone
And my grief was deep and my joy was happy
'cause you visited me from beyond on my birthday
you visited me from beyond

 I haven't felt that way since I was a child
A grown woman jumping up and down like I was a child

My love, my love is missing
My love is far gone and where we'll find her
My heart, my heart is rambling
My heart is far gone and where we'll find her

Do you hear me?
I feel somehow you are here
for when I talk to you I intensely feel you are listening
My only wish: I wish that I could hear your voice angel mom

Later that day driving in my car
we turned on the radio
We were watching the graveyard
stones pass by and the songs they come and go
and the DJ played a song called "Enemy"
it was a song you knew I wrote on my birthday
You're telling me that you know

I haven't felt that way since I was a child
A grown woman jumping up and down like I was a child

My love, my love is missing
My love is far gone and where we'll find her
My heart, my heart is rambling
My heart is far gone and where we'll find her

My love, my love is missing
My love is far gone and where we'll find her
My heart, my heart is rambling
My heart is far gone and where we'll find her

Do you hear me?
I feel somehow you are here
for when I talk to you I intensely feel you are listening
My only wish: I wish that I could hear your voice angel mom

Damien Jurado - I Had No Intentions

He motioned to me from across the street
His arms waving madly "Come over to me"
And I saw the panic as he approached
We both ran quickly to the house
Where the windows were shot out

He lay there bleeding on the floor
My mother beside him screaming "Dear Lord
Someone shot my boy"

I held his hand till the ambulance came
Then onto a stretcher they took him away
I followed close from the car behind
The lights and the sirens both dull in my mind
November 9

Killed by a bullet from a jealous gun
It rattled his eyelids and pierced through his lungs
The damage is now done

He was seen by her lover the night before
Swearing to kill him outside her door
To her defense my brother walked out
Raising his fists and screaming "Get out
It's me she's with now!"

Hotel hospital the tears burned my eyes
I slipped into nighttime and deep into dying
Without even trying.


I created a little booklet about winter. It features my own writing, along with images, quotes, and music. You can download the pdf for free:


Sun Kil Moon - Carissa

Oh Carissa, when I first saw you, you were a lovely child.
And the last time I saw you, you were fifteen and pregnant and running wild.
I remember wondering, could there be a light at the end of your tunnel?
But I left Ohio then and pretty much forgotten all about you.
I guess you were there some years ago at a family funeral.
But you were one of so many relatives I didn't know which one was you.
Yesterday morning I woke up to so many 330 area code calls.
I called my mom back and she was in tears and asked had I spoke to my father.
Carissa burned to death last night in a freak accident fire
In her yard in Bruster her daughter came home from a party and found her.
Same way as my uncle who was her grandfather.
An aerosol can blew up in the trash, goddamn, what were the odds?
She was just getting ready to go to her midnight shift as an RN is Rosworth.
And she vanished up in flames like that but there had to be more to her life's worth.
Everyone's grieving out of their minds, making arrangements and taking drugs.
But I'm flying out there tomorrow because I need to give and get some hugs.
Cause I got questions that I'd like to get answered.
I may never get them, but Carissa gotta know how did it happen.
Carissa was thirty-five, you don't just raise two kids and take out your trash and die.
She was my second cousin, I didn't know her well at all
But it don't mean that I wasn't meant to find some poetry, to make some sense of this,
to find a deeper meaning in a senseless tragedy
oh Carissa I'll sing your name across every sea.
Were you doing someone else's chores for them?
Were you just killing time, finding things to do all by your lonesome?
Was it even you who mistakenly put flammables in the trash.
Was it your kids just being kids. If so, oh, the guilt they will carry around forever.
Well I'm going out there to get a look at the landscapes,
To get a look at those I'm connected by blood and see how it all may have shaped me.
Well I'm going out there though I'm not really needed.
I'm just so broken up about it, how is it that this sad history repeated?
I'll return to Ohio, to the place I was born.
Gonna see where I hung with my cousins and played with them in the snow.
Fist in their palms, gonna see how they've grown.
Visit some graves and say hey I've missed you.
Gonna find out as much as I can about my little second cousin Carissa.
Gonna go to Ohio, where I was born.
Got a 10:45 am flight, I'm leaving tomorrow morning.
Gonna see my aunts and uncles, my parents and sisters.
Mostly I'm going to pay my respects to my little second cousin Carissa.
Going to Ohio where I feel I belong.
Ask those who know the most about Carissa for it is her life and death that I'm helplessly drawn.
Carissa was thirty-five, raised kids since she was fifteen years old and suddenly died.
Next to an old brick fire pit, oh there's gotta be more than that to it.
She was only my second cousin but it don't mean that I'm not here for her
or that I wasn't meant to give her life poetry, make sure her name is known across every city.