metropolis m

S*an D. Henry-Smith, selection from the series, Isle, 2022.

What is grief like? We asked Staci Bu Shea to edit a series of writings from individuals who have faced the loss of someone deeply important to them. Read Staci’s introduction to the series here.

Published every Thursday through the early weeks of summer, each writer offers a glimpse into how they shape and are shaped by grief. To accompany us through this series are the photographs of S*an D. Henry-Smith, an artist and poet whom Staci admires and whose works capture transitory feelings of a vibrant present. Below, Dina Mimi weaves through waking life and dreams and draws connections between individual and collective grief among different kinds of death.

S*an D. Henry-Smith, first frost, 2022; a patch of tall grass covered in a layer of frost. It's dark and the illuminated frozen blades are bent, draped and folded. The grass looks blueish-green.

I

I have been lying in bed for a few days in mazes of fever and sweat, drowned in heavy dreams and flashes. A few nights before, I had sleep paralysis. I was standing with an old friend on a very tall ladder, reaching the top of the closet to find my photos, memories and clothes from when I was a child. The area was filled with dust and dirt as if buried.

Everyone in the room was busy and dressed for an occasion. I didn’t want to go down so I started throwing everything down the ladder. My father asked me what I was doing. I replied that I was looking for the photo of you and me hugging in overalls, but then I couldn’t go down the ladder. The whole scene became wavy and everyone disappeared. I realized I was asleep and I couldn’t wake up. I hoped someone would wake me up so I ground my teeth loudly, yet no one heard me.

I woke up heavy and sad. My only thoughts were on Gaza and you. I fear the truth of having lost you and all those lives in Gaza. Every morning I have to remind myself that what’s happening back home is real, it is not a dream. I thought I reached the numbness stage, but I wasn’t anywhere near numb. Sometimes I think of those who have left us before this genocide, I think they are fortunate to be spared this ongoing brutality.

This picture is of you and I, it was in my first ever film in Ramallah, 2017 [ID: a black and white film still of two figures next to each other in front of a table, both blurry but one is more clearly formed, and the other is in motion and abstracted]

II

The worst kind of silence, which carries all the heaviness of the heart, is the silence of the car ride after having said goodbye to your loved ones. On 24 December I had to say goodbye to you, my favourite cousin. Even though I knew it was the morphine, I was so happy to see a glimpse of a smile on your face.

You will live forever in my heart along with all the screams, laughter, love and playfulness we had together. To the blurry sky, and blurry realities that couldn’t bear you or embrace your soul softly. I truly hope you are in a better place now, better than this one.

III

The day started in the martyr’s cemetery in Biereh, walking to the family graves to visit my cousin and grandparents, and then passing through the martyrs of the 1970s, the first and second Intifada. I remembered the two times I was at a martyr’s funeral.

The first time my father and I noticed a procession of people carrying their children on their shoulders. One child was sitting on the shoulders and the other child was lying on a thin piece of fabric. Everyone was chanting and saying goodbye to the child carried in cloth who was killed at dawn. We parked the car on the side of the road and joined the procession. There was a loud shout from everyone asking a six-year-old boy to say his final goodbye to his brother, so they could bury him. The dead child’s body was filled with flowers and blood, and the six-year-old realized his brother’s death only at the moment of burial. And the boy made the loudest scream and we all knew then, that his last kiss wasn’t counted. After the burial, my father and I didn’t say a word or exchange eye contact. I cried in silence and walked back towards the house. My father did too.

The second time was for my 17-year-old neighbour who was also killed at dawn, but by an Israeli sniper in the West Bank. I was awakened by my older brother. I panicked and quickly went down the hill to join the funeral. I spent three days mourning and sitting with the family. Grieving wasn’t easy but it was symbolic and empowering. Mothers of other martyrs gathered at the funeral to pay their condolences and to comfort the bereaved mother and grandmother of my martyred neighbour. “Our children are all now together, don’t you worry.” The grandmother’s words still ring in my ears: “He was my soul, and now he is gone.” The songs of martyrs never stopped for three days. The mother kept fainting every day. Those two funerals and burials were different from “normal” funerals. My cousin was also considered a martyr in Islam. The one who dies in a plague, one who dies of intestinal ailments, one who dies of drowning, one who dies under a collapsed building, and one who dies as a martyr in jihad are considered martyrs along with 21 different deaths.*

IV

In a dream, all my loved ones, dead and alive, were united in one room. I found you between two seated people. We were all in the basement, eating Ka’ak el Eid. You told me to let your father know that you are feeling much better now and that you are healthier. I said, “Oh, I thought you were dead.” You laughed and replied: “Now I’m better,” and gave me a handful of black pearls. When I woke up, I called my uncle to relay your message.

V

At your funeral, an elderly woman came to read the Quran and to pray for a merciful and light journey of your soul. She started the prayer by reminding us that at least you were gone with your family by your side, as a whole body and not shattered, your remains weren’t left to be picked from trees. She continued with how some families aren’t even informed about their beloved’s death, or even able to grieve. She said: “May Gaza be relieved, Oh God, grant victory to our people in Gaza. May Gaza be calm, may Gaza be patient, and may the people of Gaza have a steadfast heart and the ability, the patience, to ease their hearts. To the heartache of Sudan, Oh Allah, to the women of Sudan, to the men, to all of the people of Sudan, to all the people who are lost and never found, may your hearts be at ease. May you be able to see the light again, and may you all live in times where the suffering is over.” Then she directed her prayer to you: “May his spirit be held in the palm of God.” Here I realized that collectivity is a practice. It is in everything one does, in eating, in spending, in prayers and even in dreams. I understood that our pains, lives and deaths are connected, and how fearing death is the worst, but fearing life is death.

And we do not fear living.

VI

It was when your wife left the room to go back to her empty house, it was this separation that ripped all our hearts. Closing the funeral, we all stood up, none of us could move. Bodies were trembling, your wife and your mom hugged, and then your mother just fell on the chair, and then we all did, one after the other. This perhaps was one of the saddest moments of witnessing departure, realizing you were truly gone. It was not when we all kissed your cheeks, saying goodbye to your body. It was when your widowed wife left the funeral that made your departure feel real.

VII

Now emit a long, deep, audible breath, expressing this sadness

*
1. The one who passes away due to plague.
2. The one who passes away due to drowning.
3. The one who passes away in pleurisy.
4. The one who passes away due to an abdominal disease.
5. The one who passes away due to being burnt.
6. The one who passes away due to being crushed under something.
7. The woman who dies in the state of ’Jum’. It refers to the woman who passes away pregnant or passes away due to the amniotic sac not coming out at the time of delivery, or passes away within forty (40) days after giving birth to a child. Such a woman is a martyr as per ruling. A few scholars have stated that it refers to an unmarried woman who dies without getting married.
8. The one who passes away in the state of travelling.
9. The one who dies due to the ulceration of the lungs (a disease that forms wounds on the lungs and blood oozes out of the mouth).
10. The one who passes away by falling from a riding animal or due to epilepsy.
11. The one who passes away with a fever.
12. The one who is killed while protecting the right of their Wealth.
13. The one who is mutilated by a beast.
14. The one who is imprisoned by a king (i.e. ruler) unjustly and dies.
15. The one who is beaten and so dies due to it.
16. The one who passes away due to the bite of a harmful injurious animal (e.g. snake, etc.).
17. The one who passes away while seeking knowledge (student).
18. The one who is killed while protecting the right of Their land.
19. The one who is killed while protecting the right of their beliefs.
20. The one who is killed while protecting the right of Their life.
21. The one who is killed while protecting the rights of their Family.

Dina Mimi

is kunstenaar en filmmaker / is an artist and a filmmaker.

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