Between January and February this year, I ate Japanese food for 35 consecutive days in Singapore. Using food, place, and other materialities as placeholders for my sister, I was trying to reprogramme my body out of grief. Continue reading Reprogramming my body out of grief.
Today, I am 28 years 7 months and 23 days old.
Today, my sister would have been 23 years 10 months and 23 days old.
Instead, she will always be 23 years 5 months and 5 days old.
Tonight, at a party, I met someone from my sister’s universe.
When a mutual friend interrupted our conversation, I introduced him as some one who had taught my sister, as some one who had known my sister. Some one else who overheard us asked how old my sister is; I said she would have been 24 this year.
And then I felt so ashamed of myself.
Where do young people go to when they grief? Do they cry alone in their bedrooms? Do they logon to the internet? How do young people in grief find each other? Do they phone a friend? Do they enter a counselling centre? Do they search through hashtags and websites?
Death has never been more public than in the age of the internet. Alongside waves of #RIP[insertcelebrity] tributes and #[nameofvictim] police shooting activism proliferating on social media are viral posts of everyday people approaching grief and documenting their experience on the internet: recounting a person’s final days, parting words and gratitude from the deathbed, captures of assisted suicide and “right to die parties”, and families commemorating the deceased.
These experiences of death and loss have been augmented and prolonged with the growth of social media use. More specifically, the ways in which a social media platform is structured and the dominant culture of its users has allowed people in grief to process their loss in innovative ways – new spaces of affect are created, new paralanguage vocabularies are innovated, and new transient networks of care are formulated.
It is now 0017hrs and I am typing in this space while weeping like shit because I feel so full of sad. But I know I will be okay in the morning because I have a work meeting to get to, then I have to teach two classes, then I have to e-lecture, then I have to get a revise-and-resubmit in.
This means that I will weep like shit while purging all my sad now, then weep and toss and turn in bed for hours on end. But when the sun rises, I will get up from bed and wash up and dress up and head to work and kick butt and impress people in life and do my work day with maximum work ethic and maximum brain. Because this is what I do.
Days like this, I really take comfort in the fact that I know how to get the sad out of my body. I got really lucky figuring out what my coping mechanisms are early on in my teenage years. I know what I need to do and how to do the things that recalibrate my heart and head, so that I can get back on track with life and be a functional human person. But getting into this space and being articulate about it is quite the effort. Even though I try very hard not to come to here too often, some times my head needs to do what my heart needs for itself.
There must be hundreds of guides on the internet about grief and etiquette in digital spaces. This is not one of them. This is a rant to get all the bad feelings out of my body so that I can feel better inside and go to sleep. This is about how I am upset over some one who is deep-liking my old Facebook posts about my sister’s demise.
I’ve had a super emotionally heavy day.
To make space for my semester-long stay here, I started clearing out some of my sister’s things.
I can’t really place a finger on how I hierarchized these material objects, but I started with the most “distant” thing.
I tore up all her medical documents and discarded her old medication. I associate none of these things with the memory of my sister.
Then I threw out her old shoes but kept the pretty ones and the ones with sentimental value, like her first pair of highcut converse.
I accumulated enough strength from hanging around the “distant” shoe rack by the doorway and moved into her bedroom.
There were too many categories of objects with intensive affective value: Books, hand drawn art, boxes of photographs, clothes…
So I started with the category most distant to me: Makeup.
I grouped her lipsticks and blushers and foundation and eye things into separate piles on the floor.
I stared at them for a long while, agonizing over what to do.
I have no use for makeup, but wanted to keep all these things because they belonged to my sister.
They were beginning to dry and crack, but I couldn’t bear to discard the objects that have been in intimate contact with my sister’s face.
I ended up discarding her contact lenses and solution – I have never used these myself and feel they are the most distant to me.
I packed everything else into a canvas bag and put it back nicely among her things.
I left her three hair brushes on the dresser: I couldn’t bear to move them from their place because there were still old stands of her hair entangled.
By then my heart felt so heavy and my eyes so full that I decided it was enough for one day/day one.
Perhaps in the morning, when I go to shower, I will finally discard her toothbrush.
I will use tonight’s sleep to muster strength for that.
It has been such a heavy day. I feel too depressed to finish all my overdue work. But I keep reminding myself that I am a resilient person.
I am a resilient person.