Alanah Davis: The Cultural Benefit of Good Grief

Graphic by Alanah Nichole Davis.

Let me start off by saying that I’m not a grief counselor, a licensed social worker, an ordained minister, or a rabbi, but I do know a thing or 10 about loss. In my time here on Earth, I’ve lost toys like Duncan Yo-Yo’s (an old favorite), thoughts, pets like goldfish, and even humans like my father.

When we lost my father…not to the woods or anything like lost makes it sound. But he went on to see what the end was going to be, as old Baptists would call it, or Death in layman’s terms. Anyway, when we lost my father, or when any of us as Christians has a person close to them pass away, we traditionally hold a burial. Many cultures, religions, beliefs, and even atheists themselves have practiced traditions for when someone or something transitions from the earth.

In Judaism by tradition, Jewish law requires that the deceased be buried within 24 hours of death. It’s customary for a Jewish funeral service and burial to be arranged promptly for people who loved that person to pay respect to the dead and their family. 

In some instances, people opt for cremation, which is the most inexpensive means of burial in which the body is reduced to ashes and placed in an urn or another container. The ashes can be buried, interred in a columbarium (which apparently is like a library for dead bodies) or you can scatter your loved one at a beach as we see in movies.

I apologize if I’m at all clunky with my words — it’s just death that makes me uncomfortable. I believe it makes us all uncomfortable, maybe some more than others. I sat at my mother’s dining table the other night trying to get through one episode of “Your Honor” featuring Bryan Cranston, where (spoiler alert) there was a horrific scene in which they depict with much gore a young boy taking his last breaths after a motorbike accident. Despite this, like many TV shows, being fictional, I still had that feeling in the pit of my stomach, a dry throat, and a need for water to wash my trauma down with my meal. 

Alanah Nichole Davis

Whether real or imagined we’ve all been ingesting, subject to, and dealing with copious amounts of loss, which presents us with grief — or as it’s defined by Webster’s dictionary, “deep and poignant distress caused by or as if by bereavement”…but what’s bereavement? Webster’s says bereavement is “the state or fact of being bereaved or deprived of something or someone”…OK one more, but what’s deprived? According to Webster’s, it’s, “suffering a severe and damaging lack of basic material and cultural benefits.”

BINGO! There they were, the words I had been looking for to define what I felt I lacked in not being able to lay my racing thoughts to rest or even wrap my head around the deaths of folks I may have never known who may have lost there lives to COVID-19, the numbers they used online and in the news to define their lives.

Burial is a cultural benefit. A funeral or burial is a cultural benefit. Even cremation and heartfelt Pacific Ocean ash scatter is a cultural benefit. We sit presumably on Zoom calls away from one another missing social interaction. We’re apart but not too far when we are together, masked both inside and out. Grieving the loss of something we lost almost a year to the date now, our old normal. 

In this capitalistic society we’ve built we are driven to work at no end. I’ve Googled, “Will millennials have Social Security benefits?” one time too many and held in tears on video chats two times too many. I’m grieving, crying, and staying under my blanket when a lot of us are, and that’s just it. In the late 1960’s, a Swiss-American author by the name of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross published a book called “On Death and Dying” and in it, she coined the five stages of grief, which are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and last and certainly not in my wheelhouse most days, acceptance.

I miss my father — much like the loss any of us faces with a departed family member, friend, job, opportunity, or old way of life. It’s someone or something that definitively and by the laws of God, science, life, death, or physics whichever you choose to believe, isn’t coming back. We didn’t even really get to say goodbye, take a few days off or scatter the ashes or having beers with friends. It’s been almost a year and sometimes it feels like just yesterday that not only the dangerous stores in the ‘hood but the stores in white neighborhoods got plexiglass to protect the public safety of the store clerks. Maybe time doesn’t heal wounds like we thought it did?

Any of us who may have lost someone during this time or others can probably attest that the emotions that come with grief are like one of my beloved butterfly Duncan yo-yos in the 90s. Sometimes you’re down and you come right back up, like a cool around-the-world trick, and other days you’re down, and you stay down in that depression phase. Sometimes you light up with acceptance and others you can’t even put your finger on or gain control of the yo-yo or the grief. Much like my childhood memory of my favorite toys or scaled bubble-blowing pets we should all try finding solace in the, dare I say it, nostalgia of the days of old? 

We can’t physically bury what we’ve lost of old times but we can commemorate those times much like with tombstones or in a columbarium. Find an object that might remind you of whatever you might be missing or have lost and find a special place for it or a drawer if you don’t want to be constantly reminded. Look at it, cry about it and talk to others about it (with consent) when needed. I would say, because this has proved helpful for me, get an actual licensed therapist.

At this point, as we approach a year of pandemic- and civil unrest-related grief we may have worn the ears of those closest to us. And hey, maybe they’re dealing with grief, too? It’s OK to grieve. We don’t all share the same culture, beliefs, or ideas about the best way to bury someone or something but we are all human and subject to grief.

Let’s not deny ourselves the chance at good grief using anecdotal quotes like, “Time heals all.” Sometimes we have to be a bit more intentional about how we are processing, going through the stages of, and coping with grief. If you’ve been in denial about your grief and are just realizing how much you’ve been ingesting and holding in, I invite you to a deep breath in through your nose and out through your mouth. I also cobbled a little list of 5 resources if you need them. Grieve Well!

  1. Go to whatsyourgrief.com and follow their online community on Instagram. They are a community of ugly cries, Netflix binges, laughter and creative coping. 
  2. I love this New York Times article about grief and the benefit of nostalgia. 
  3. Hit up 211 or the NAMI HelpLine if you want help finding free and affordable mental healthcare in your area.
  4. Grab a copy of “My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies” by Resmaa Menakem
  5. The CDC summed up what we all might be feeling too.

 

Alanah Davis
Alanah Davis is a Baltimore-based artist, community advocate, social change and arts consultant. She is an M.A. candidate in Social Design at Maryland Institute College of Art.