The Power of Mourning
My first real experience of grieving a tragedy in community
When I was 17 my friend Ashley Bruser died. Following a period of deep depression and getting kicked out of our high school, she overdosed. I wasn’t extremely close with her, but we were friends, and my best friends were her best friends.
Ashley died on a Saturday night in spring. Sunday was a blur of poorly organized phone calls.
Sunday night we gathered on the grass outside of the dorm she had lived in, held each other in a circle and sang club songs she had loved, shouting angrily and tearfully into the night.
That Monday everyone from the dorm (plus a few who lived in town and happened to hear of it) wore fishnets, an homage to Bruser’s signature look. No one thought to include some of her closest friends in this gesture, although quite a few people who didn’t get along with her in life made quite a show of it.
That Tuesday, two of her best friends wore fishnets, moved by the previous day's memorial. They were taken aside, and told that the tights were against the dress code—that there was a special exception made for one day only. Fishnets were to be taken off immediately.
To recap: the very people who kicked Ashley out of school for being too "dark" and troubled told her best friends that the uniform was more important than their mourning process. These teenagers could only mourn their friend—who had died barely three days earlier—in ways that were prescribed by the very institution that had failed us all so thoroughly.
Our mourning was starting to challenge the status quo, and that was dangerous.
Attacks on our community
Obviously the mass shooting at an Orlando nightclub and the overdose of a teenager are not the same. Still, I am struck by the similarities. Those in power are already trying to contain this; they want to tap into our human need for ritual, for feelings of empathy and strength, and use it to shift the focus—to distract us from the part they have played in this tragedy. We must remain in charge of our own messaging, and our own mourning.
Dealing with loss takes many forms. It can happen alone, among friends and family, or among community members you barely know. Mourning is not pretty, or poetic, or quietly respectable. It does not fit within your rules.
Tonight we wear fishnets. We passionately kiss our lovers in the streets. We hide under blankets and cry. We hug our children and teach them not to hate. We gather, and sing, and shout angrily and tearfully into the night.
My heart goes out to everyone hurting. My heart goes out to every single member of our community, but particularly the most vulnerable and disenfranchised.
And it is not enough.