When I was young we had no choice but to gather quickly & often after a loved one passed. There was no social media or cell phones or google sheets or cash apps or texting. Our peoples would gather immediately to assess the situation. Make sure that those mourning were not falling ill. That grief did not pull anyone else across to the Spirit realm. Make sure that the weight didn’t break a family, especially if life had already been squeezing them.
Our elders would gather resources and divide responsibilities.
When we were children, we were all stuffed into one room, unsupervised with no bedtime. A big slumber party with all our cousins, blood & chosen. As young teens the “girls” and “boys” were divided. The daughters were deployed serving coffee & tea, short eats and meals, gently tending to those too sad to eat “at least try a mutton roll?” We learned our rank in the kitchen. Assessed: who would make the better wives.
I’m not sure what the sons did…. Were they being recruited into swallowing sorrow? Learning to loosen the muscles gripping the ache with sips of arrack? Were you blessed with a man who taught you that grief includes unpredictable tears and laughter? Forgiveness and fissures? Shameless song and dance? Irreverence and scolding? Were you shown how to move through the pain with care, tenderness, connection, and love. Or were you shown how to numb and ignore it, welling up the weighted layers, floating silence?
It was a mix for us deemed to the feminine sphere. Swallowing, welling, silencing, weighing our own feelings, maneuvering in order to float others. And there were also those who showed us how to wail, cry, scream, sing sorrow at the top of their lungs. There were people of both ways that healed and people of both ways that harmed. Both capable of shattering tight orders into starry spaces and simultaneously magnetizing worlds, solar systems away.
In my later teens I loosened loins gripped by patriarchy through clandestine frequency at the dance clubs. Here was a place for my body & spirit to be free. Allow myself to ease into my intergalactic ways– unbound by the gender and cultural norms of humanity at this point in history. It is where I learned Gay, Queer, & Trans culture. Back then we had to gather in person. I didn’t have an email address, yet. There was no craigslist or grindr or tinder. There were personals in print newspapers. The club was a quicker way to meet people. Even if you weren’t into dancing, folks went to the club, because that’s where you’d go to be yourself, be free. And that vibration attracted other free-thinkers & freedom-seekers. We were a mix of cultures, experiences, ages, genders, orientations all dancing, mixing, fighting, loving, and exchanging with each other.
Our club elders in the their 40’s experienced the free love of the 70’s and survived the worst of the AIDS crisis. They had learned how to grieve together. Like my Tamil elders in the diaspora mourning loved ones at home, ravaged by escalating war, our peoples knew the roles– what needed to be done. Phone tree the news, taking note of how it hit. Make sure that all loved ones were notified. Liason between blood and chosen, if such an opening was possible. Coordination of tasks. Those responsible ensuring remains and belongings are attended respectfully. Those in charge of ceremony and ritual. Those who ensured those in deep grief were okay. It was a given that if you were in the life, that your blood families would not know how to honor you when you transitioned. Even straight people got that. Chosen family would make sure that our Souls were given the proper support and respect.
Sometimes early at the club was the best place and time to meet and figure things out. Who has our beloved’s keys and can get the sex toys out before Grammy comes to help attend to belongings? Folks hailing from all over merged the best of their ancestral ways of grieving, breathing life into collective wisdoms and ceremonies. There would be rituals, potlucks, stories, poetry, home visits, and dance parties lifting up our new ancestors and caring for the ones they left behind. Us young ones, we learned their names. We offered our dollars and fives to the collection. Witnessed our elders mourn, remember, celebrate, and honor.
In addition to mourning my beloved Andre. I’m also mourning the erosion of a simple ancient practice of gathering in the midst of loss. I’m mourning a New York gripped by capitalism. Once upon a time in New York City, ancient peoples from all over the world came together, reuniting with their separated tribes to counsel, tell story, make magic, and live freedom—especially in the face of the violent & subjugating….
I finally got to speak to someone who knew Andre & I’s relationship when we were young. She said that she imagined me so devastated that I couldn’t get out of bed. That it must have been one giant slumber party of crying, cuddling, and comfort. On the contrary, the week after Andre passed not one person in New York even offered to come over and give me a hug. I wavered through the world, unable to collapse. Much needed to be done. The roles once divided by many were suddenly all mine. Wailer, care-giver, coordinator, liason, gatherer. A friend recovering from a traumatic brain injury, living over five hours away, left her partner alone with their toddler to come see me 6 days after I received the news. She was the first to come visit my home.
New York— BROOKLYN, I almost broke up with y’all over that. I thought there must be some place in the world where I would be better attended to during my time of need. I thought to myself, New York, I don’t really need to tell Y’ALL that Andre is my brother, do I? That I am mourning the loss of a family member? After-all, y’all witnessed us for 18 out of 20 year relationship. Now, don’t let those words hit you like poison. We’re all hurting enuf. I get it. I love you. And even tho culturally I experienced that first week as neglect, I know that y’all love me, too. Let my truth be an invitation. For us to resist these corrupt forces not only by fighting, by not only preserving what so quickly eroded— but also deepening & evolving what it means to be community.