On the morning of July 23rd, I wake up to news from the previous day announcing Nia Wilson’s violent murder. I am instantly exhausted by the day. Within a few moments, I consume multiple news sources for coverage on all the details that can make sense of this. I am dry-eyed, but my body caves in on itself. I am folding into my bed sheets; swallowed by the ancient breadth of this story. I am emptied except for the dull ache that tempts me to sleep for as long as the world will let me. I give in, shutter my phone, and close my eyes. I think through a list of black femme friends I’ll need to check-in with and then I snooze my way into restless and stolen sleep.
This is the first of many signs that, no, I am in fact not “ok.”
There was a time, when news of the death of a black and/or queer person made its way to the internet, that I would rush to weep long and hard with the grieving masses. I’d attend rituals with groups of friends and we would comfort each other and validate each of our individual and collective grievance. We attended global digital mourning sessions to identify the other folks whose hearts also resembled mangled and abandoned carcasses. We made giant swaths of space for rage too. We grieved, publicly, each black and queer human spirit that had been extinguished. I grieved each murder as if it were my own. And, at protests while shrouded in human bodies on all sides, I sought the people who recognized my fear—fear that my body would soon be the headline. Fear that I would go missing entirely and never be mourned.
There was a time when I consumed stories of our dead, daily, like a ghost looking to retrieve my name in the newspaper. As if I hadn’t died free. As if mourning were a business best done frantically, endlessly.
So, no, I am not new to grief. In fact, I am a healer who believes in public wakes. I trust the sound of wailing, more than the lulls of shushing noises. I know that the grieving expedition is paramount. It is necessary to excavate each precious and painful sound out of the body, or else we risk the effects of slow poison to our psyches. It is important, too, for sadness to be witnessed, especially when our losses are so massive that grief threatens to capsize our most basic ability to function. It’s necessary for grief to move up and out of the body repeatedly so that we might map and track that movement.
On that Monday, the morning after Nia’s death, I eventually wake to the feeling of my own heaviness. My body is laden with something I struggle to capture, but as if by rote, I know that I must eat. I work, I walk outside of my home, and at some point I even message the people I meant to. Yet, something curious is happening to me on the way to grief. It is becoming increasingly hard to remember, let alone practice, the grieving rituals I have meticulously curated over the last twelve years. I know myself to be in pain and I have access to a series of physical and spiritual ways to care for myself and my community. Still, I am unable to anchor myself in the work of my own mourning. My grief is both heavy and slippery—it arrests me and I cannot grasp it. I feel it only as that which seep into every inch of my anatomy, robbing me of equilibrium. I cannot expel it fast enough. This particular death is taking a different shape on my body. I am slow to arrive everywhere and it is painful to recognize my grief in the visage of the people I love.
I am not “ok,” and I am not the only one who, having consumed so much public death in the past seven years, feels like we carry the un-freed ghost of our murdered peoples.
It’s been days of holding this one muted grief which is but a footnote in an American (and global) history of bloodlust. The world expands and contracts with or without my participation. I read and listen to the expression of other people’s experiences of this one little sister’s death, of the many sorts of black-queer-trans deaths, in an attempt to finally hear the piercing sound of my own mourning. But it remains. I am not coming full circle. Neither release nor relief feel imminent. I am part of a grieving community but feel no closer to being able to be witnessed by others who are also in pain. It seems I have lost access to the ability to share my howling dirges. I do not know if this is despair, but I am coming to know this: I am saturated. That which I struggle to name, that which weighs my limbs, is nothing more than the ghost of all the deaths that I have consumed in the last decade.
We are dying much faster than anyone of us can grieve all of these names we must say, all the names we’ve yet to say, all the names we do not know to say.
To my brown and black and trans and queer people for whom death feels much more imminent than it should be, I know this for you too: you do not deserve this mockery of your existence, this violent hunting for your breath. It is unconscionable to be served one’s own death, at one’s own funeral, everyday of the week. And to those of you who’ve confessed your exhaustion and your drying reservoirs of tears know that your brokenness is real and visceral even when you cannot measure it.
Chrissy M. Etienne is a healer and writer who is deeply in love with New York City. When they’re not writing, they can be found cooking their grandmother’s recipes, creating new moon rituals, and life coaching others through difficult decisions.