Rebellious Mourning. The Collective Work of Grief


Like any obedient middle class European citizen, I got used to keep my losses to myself, not even wondering about the healing potential of sharing my grief with others. No doubt we live in a confusing and hostile world where it is hard to not look around and feel completely defenceless. It is not easy either to tell if our thoughts and feelings are genuine or a product of an adverse social environment seeking to turn us into obedient consumers and acquiescent defenders of the status quo. I understand it is hard enough to resist the daily pressure of a patriarchal and capitalist society that seeks restlessly to turn us into commodities. Therefore, when arriving to the point of grieving…when I am forcefully more vulnerable…it seems just like a reasonable adaptive strategy protecting my sadness from the outside and weep indoors, by myself and to myself…. right?

Well, it does not work that way, fortunately this book made me realize. Although it is very convenient (especially for the system) to forget about our social nature, I cannot keep denying (although I catch myself doing it at times) our dependence on others in order to have a healthy mental life and a satisfactory sense of self identity and belonging. Particularly, the book I have between my hands explores and goes deep on the junction of feelings, political empowerment and collective processes. It collects 25 essays about collective grief, and how that grief appears in the middle of resistance, or catalyzes into resistance. A book that feels like a compassionate hug as much as a punch in the face. A collection of essays assuring that experiencing vulnerability has nothing to do with making oneself weak and encourages the reader to position her/himself into a fighting disposition without hiding a bit the anger and sadness that eventually will show up in the process of resisting. From that perspective, mourning is seen as the collective event of acknowledging loss and a powerful weapon to heal socially.

As a matter of fact, it is hard to imagine life separate from loss. It is our very same essence of being mortals what bonds us fatally to the fate of having to constantly mourn the loss of one thing or another. Everything is fleeting and so we are; there it is the big drama that at some point we should face: we are all damned. However, apart from the philosophical implications that reflecting about death and loss has, this compilation of essays get us closer to the political consequences that mourning collectively bring about when resisting the ongoing systematic discriminations, abuses and injustices the system forces on us.

In Rebellious Mourning Cindy Milstein compiles 25 essays from different authors where deep issues related to the need of mourning outside of the box of the individual pain are put forward as well as the absolute verification that the personal, more than ever, is political. Thus, Kai Cheng Thom strikes us with reflections on why the rates of suicide among trans-women are so high. She goes deep in the subject until reaching the possibility of interpreting them as “the ultimate sign of refusing to live in a world that degrades and exploits and rapes us (trans-women) without relent;  (suicide)might be seen as collective struggle, revolutionary violence, turned inward.” Kevin Yuen Kit Lo puts us in an uncomfortable position when asking directly about the true motivation of those activists and volunteers willing to help others apparently unselfishly: “What connection do I have to this faraway land and its people, its suffering? Why do I care? Do I even care? Or was I just desperately trying to get at that feeling, the sadness that might pierce the numbness, the validated anger, the promise of catharsis?”

The interview with the feminist antinuke Mari Matsumoto on the Fukushima nuclear disaster bring about the new and unknown challenges that feminist, anarchist and antinuclear collectives have to face in front of a danger so incomprehensible as radioactive contamination and the pro-nuclear capitalistic state. A new set of mind is required to oppose resistance as well as a feminist logic of relationships based on specific ways of community caring.

Disablism (discriminatory, oppressive or abusive behaviour arising from the belief that disabled people are inferior to others) is touched upon by the hand of A.J. Withers who explores the possibilities of rage and wrath as well as its downsides: “I was angry at disablism, at patriarchy and its cousins, cissism and heterosexism, and at capitalism and the social assistance system. That anger was legitimate. At the same time, my anger didn´t have an impact on those oppressive systems – just on me, and the people around me who I took it out on”. While letting us get into some of his most intimate reflexions on disability, he also discusses the seemingly altruistic system of a “care collective”(a way of organizing care within the members of a community). Understanding rage as a protective shield against the certainty of grief and sorrow is one of the valuable reflexions and turning points that this essay brings about.

Meaningful testimonies on the importance of altars and public spaces to mourn collectively the dead in latino and black neighbourhoods in the United States are also put forward in several essays (For instance, in “Altars for the dead in a land without cementeries”. Fernando Martí). The healing result of mourning collectively as well as its importance for strengthening the bonds and empowering the community resistance are powerful conclusions after reading these chapters. Related to that is the testimony of Budour Hassan explaining the Israeli strategy of not allowing Palestinians to mourn their dead ones collectively because of the potential political insurgence when doing so. “Withholding the bodies of martyrs (by Israel’s regime) and adding conditions, such as only allowing a few family members to take part in the funerals, aim to contain the symbolic power of the martyr, on the one hand, and privatize grief and eradicate its revolutionary force, on the other”.

Lastly, another of the essay that impacted me the most was the one related to the spread of aids among the LGTB community during the 80’s in San Francisco and the analysis of the afterwards gentrification of some neighbourhoods in the city as a consequence of that process, two events apparently unrelated but tightly bound to each other at the end. (“The Gentrification of Aids” by Sarah Schulman) Also, some of the reflections on the male gay community regarding the subject are priceless: ““Although I have spent thirty years of my life writing about the heroism of gay men, I have also come to understand their particular brand of cowardice. There is a destructive impulse inside many white gay men, where they become cruel or childlike or spineless out of a rage about not having the privileges that straight men of our race take for granted. They have grief about not being able to subjugate everyone else at will.”

With the book still burning in my hands, with my own unfulfilled needs of grieving with others and the need to take aside rage in order to allow myself some space for sadness and sorrow, I would love to make one last reflexion: the recurrent slogan “the personal is political” as well as “that you can´t fight city hall is a rumour being spread by city hall”. After all these testimonies, I am positive that as long as we are able to see others doing what someone (the socialization process itself) told us no one did, as long as we are able to take the privacy of our lives to the front stage, we are making a statement against homogeneity, against the uniformity that patriarchy/capitalist system wants us in. We need to fully distrust those discourses that encourage us to keep our feelings in private. We need to show our vulnerabilities to each other in order to grow and resist strong.


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