By Ferozan Nasiri, AYEDI Outreach Director
“I became more comfortable when I stopped talking about grief like it goes away. It’s kind of an endless room with endless windows, and the view outside is just better out of some windows than it is out of others.”
— Hanif Abdurraqib
One day, while waiting in line at a local food bank to pick up hamper bags for a client, I was on the phone with a Program Coordinator for a Mixed Loss Bereavement Group discussing some of the reasons I wanted to join. While speaking to her, I looked ahead and tried to read the faces, body language, and expressions of the people waiting in line with me. A mixture of deep sadness and empathy overcame me. Maybe it was the questions I was being asked, such as who I lost recently, how I have been grieving, and whether I have someone to talk to. Or maybe it was the feeling of frustration over the impact of COVID-19 on the most vulnerable in the Scarborough community, the result of which I was now witnessing while waiting in line. Maybe it was both. At the time, I did not know why I felt a sense of shame answering the questions. Looking back now, through openly talking about my grief and bereavement from the different parts of my personal and family life, I realized that it never really left me.
For a very long time, I felt like grief would eventually leave me. But that is not true. It never leaves a person, and in fact, we are never finished with grief. It comes in different forms, different places, different memories, and different faces. This strange and languishing experience stays inside of you as though it somehow belongs there for no explained reason. I have accepted that grief is always waiting to happen.
I have never quite figured out how to hone, master, and heal from the pain that arises from a person you love no longer being in this dunya (world). I guess that is why I felt embarrassed and ashamed talking about it with the Program Coordinator. It has been four years since one of my dearest friends passed away. I still remember, just like yesterday, our outings at the Bluffs, driving down Lawrence Avenue East past our curfews, and the silly videos and messages that only we knew the meaning behind sent from our Blackberry phones.
An article sent by a friend talked about a researcher studying the way of life in a northern Indigenous village of Australia. In one interaction, someone talked about how the night a person dies, everyone in the town moves a piece of furniture into their yards. The following day, the suffering individual or family would wake up and look outside to see that everything has changed since their loved one passed away – not just for them, but for everyone. The simple act of moving a piece of furniture to the yard is a tangible way to show that a person’s death matters, and the loss is made to feel visible. An individual’s grief becomes part of the collective and public memory.
This act of moving a piece of furniture to the yard stood out to me. Metaphorically, I see this sometimes with some of the Afghan families I support – the way they speak about their grief and its connection to our community’s collective memory, especially when they share stories about their family and ancestral history or experiences of immigration and resettlement. In almost all the conversations I’ve had with them, grief and loss are always brought up, but quickly moved on from.
On the tenth of every month, while living in China, I would go to the local flower shop and buy a bouquet of red roses, my late friend’s favourite flower. I would drive down to a small ravine area, plant the roses (to the best of my ability because, unfortunately, some of the stems would cut open while planting), and sit down for 10 to 15 minutes. All of these moments were (and still are) part of the internal work of grief and mourning that I was not prepared for.
I think about these moments a lot because not only was it about the struggle of being or feeling alone in my grief, but the patience that transfigured was also telling. This newfound patience that I slowly recognize within myself represents the strength and beauty of the love I have for my friend, family, and community; a strength and beauty that has only increased after the passing of loved ones. The grief that sits with me today represents how I continue to experience and feel the depth of the love my friend and I had for one another – it is proportionate, and unescapable.