Immigrant Mourning

Sunday, January 8, 2012

How does one feel sadness properly?

This week opens for me with a very recent death and a very raw period of mourning. As much as I believe that death is a natural inevitable process, it still shakes you to the core when it comes close. It's almost enough to make me want to write clich├ęd sentences moralizing about those who have passed on and those who remain here with us. Almost.

But more than that, I feel very strongly that I must talk about the experience of being in mourning as an immigrant. I am part of the satellite family that lives several time zones away, and I am apart not only from our larger family, but from my own small family as well. Though it is never easy to drop everything and deal with a family emergency, we don't even have the option to return home. We can only orbit around, waiting for a time to return to them. We grieve alone.

I find it odd that this aspect of the immigrant experience is understated. Intellectually, I know that it is overshadowed by the rhetoric of the American dream and the opportunities of entering a new life, forging an individual path, and participating in capitalism, but my heart is focused elsewhere. It shows me the profound loss that is involved in moving halfway across the globe for so-called opportunities. The inevitable missing of births and deaths, the broken families, and the hard edge of being alone - my heart takes in these feelings and tries to blunt them so that I can be sad in a proper manner. So that I don't tie in my individual sadness with the infrastructure that contributes to it. So that I can still feel good about the place that I live in, have been adopted into, even as I yearn to be with my family and take rest.

Months back, during Thanksgiving, I wrote a piece on gratitude for Dear Sugar and I talked about returning to Bangladesh for the first time last year. I wrote:

"I am grateful for that empty place at the table. I am thankful that sometimes people need not know each other to care for them. We are contributing to the stockpile of love in the universe – whether that’s through writing advice columns or finding gratitude in the hardest moments. What we manifest is who we ultimately become."

I am caring and I am loving from afar. I cannot reach that empty place at the table, and neither can many of my family members. But it is there.

How does one feel sadness properly? I want to address this question in my posts this week. Look out for some more writing on sadness and mourning in the next few days. And thank you, as always, for reading.