How will we mourn our dead?
Dispatches from the Left
Flickasam via Flickr
Mass death has been normalized
You are going to die. This is not a threat (or an accusation). It is a simple fact. You are going to die, and I am going to die, and everyone alive on Earth in this moment will, eventually, die. Everything that we do, the love we fall into and the children that we have, the friendships that we nurture, all of these things we do in spite of the fact that we will die, and the people we love will die as well. In between we do what we can to make our lives and the lives of others richer, fuller, more meaningful. We write poetry and learn to play the harmonica and we stand in front of paintings and wonder if we are feeling the right things, if we are making the meaning we were meant to make. We splurge on threads of saffron to add to seafood paella that we feed to our loves. We wake up early to catch the sunrise and we run in the wet sand at the beach and we do whatever we can do to snatch meaning from a life that sometimes feels like a gift and sometimes like a terrifying wilderness.
We understand (sometimes abstractly, sometimes in anguish and all too well) that death will come, and we do what we can to prevent it. We nourish one another. Some of us throw ourselves into raising awareness of rare diseases, some of us fundraise for cures, others among us devote our lives to medicine, to education. We advocate to get police off the streets and out of schools and to ensure lifesaving care for trans kids and to improve maternal mortality rates. We do what we can to give one another as much life as we can, as much time as we can. We do these things because our lives and the lives of others are precious to us. They are everything. There is nothing else. And when we are out of time, when the end comes in spite of it all, in spite of our deepest desires, in spite of the depth and the breadth of our love for each other, we mourn.
But how will we mourn the COVID dead? How do we, as a community, make sense of 27,325 deaths in this country, of the 630 deaths that happened here, in the province we call home? And how do we mourn those who have died and continue to die from drug toxicity? How do we mourn deaths that keep coming? How do we mourn needless death? How do we mourn death that we might have done something to stop? How do we mourn deaths that were caused by our neighbours, by our leaders? How do we mourn precious lives lost when the fact that they were lost is proof that to some, they weren’t that precious at all?
I am filled with grief and rage and it has been hard, so hard, to find an outlet for it because everyone I know is in mourning. It’s hard to give ourselves permission to rage and to mourn and to ask others to bear witness to our rage and our mourning when so many are suffering similarly, or even more acutely, than we are. This is not sustainable. The way we are living, the way we are bearing the liberties that those who hold power are taking with our lives, with the lives of our loves, is not sustainable. I have nothing more than that, only to say that you deserve more. You deserve more care. You deserve more love. You deserve more respect. You deserve a government that will spend whatever it needs to spend to ensure that you do not die needlessly before your time. You deserve time and space to mourn everything that has been carelessly taken, and I am sorry that I don’t know when the time will come when you can do that. Your life is precious, and the lives of your children and your elders are precious and I am so sorry that they have not been treated that way. I’m sorry that all the things you have done to make meaning, all the saffron you have bought and the paella you have made and the footprints you have left and the people that you have loved have been treated as less than they are worth.
The mass death we are experiencing is unnecessary, but it is not without cause, and the cause is racial capitalism. We are living in a social and economic system that extracts what it can from the bodies of the people, particularly racialized people, and then discards them. We are experiencing mass death because it is profitable for those in power to allow us to die. It is not the result of carelessness from elected officials. It is not due to ignorance. We are experiencing mass death because those who hold power in our society: the wealthy and the white, have consciously, knowingly, intentionally made decisions that lead to mass death because our human lives mean less to them than their profits. Every time someone in this province dies of COVID or an overdose, that death was the result of decisions that those with political power made with full awareness that their decision would lead to the loss of precious lives. We are suffering because we have been made to suffer. None of this had to happen.
I ask how will we mourn our dead because mourning our dead makes us human. Mourning our dead affirms that their lives - and ours - were and are worth living, worth every sunrise, every inconvenience, every hurt. Mourning our dead is a refusal to accept their loss as a necessary sacrifice. It’s hard, when the losses are relentless and so, so unnecessary, when the fight is so urgent, to take time to mourn, but mourning is worthwhile. We must make space in our lives - and in the fight - to grieve and to bear witness to the grief of others. We can’t let ourselves become numb to the enormity of these losses. Each unnecessary death is catastrophic, each death is the end of a universe, each death leaves an unfathomable hole in the lives of those who loved the one now gone. For their sake and for our own, let us ask how will we mourn our dead? And what are we willing to do, what are we willing to demand, what are we willing to seize so we won’t lose even one more?
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