Fragments of Grief, part 5

Here is the fifth and final fragment that I place beside the others in my experimental essay of living and grieving beside Judith. In the manuscript, I titled this final fragment: There is no conclusion, only another fragment to place beside the others.

There is a more general conception of the human at work here, one in which we are, from the start, given over to the other, one in which we are, from the start, even prior to individuation itself, and by virtue of our embodiment, given over to an other: this makes us vulnerable to violence, but also to another range of touch, a range that includes the eradication of our being at the one end, and the physical support for our lives, at the other (Butler, Undoing Gender 23).

Butler devotes her attention in Precarious Life, Undoing Gender and Frames of War to how the recognition of our vulnerability in the midst of others often results in very violent, yet always failed attempts to deny or conceal it. But, albeit briefly, she offers the possibility of another way of thinking about and responding to our vulnerability as caring for and being in loving proximity to one another.

The night before her big surgery, the one that would determine whether she lived (for how long?) or died (on the operating table?), my mom was scared. She really hated doctors and hospitals. And she didn’t want to die. My oldest sister asked her if she would like to cuddle with her three daughters on the bed. She agreed, and together we–the three daughters and Rosie J, still in my womb—laid beside Mom. We held her as we waited, not knowing what would happen next.

My living and grieving beside my mom Judith and my daughter Rosemary Judith has enabled me, through joy and sadness and life and loss, to bear witness to the potential of this second non-violent meaning of vulnerability and to imagine the ethical potential of grief to be found not so much in what we have lost—a loved one–but in what we have gained—the recognition that we have the potential to love and be loved, to care and be cared for.

My thoughts: Originally I had planned to end this essay with a (somewhat dry and straightforward) conclusion about what I had done in the essay and how I had used Butler. Somehow that just didn’t seem to fit with the rest of the essay. It was too abstract and removed and I didn’t think I had the energy for or the interest in making sense (abstractly or meta-theoretically) of the fragments and their expressions of my living and grieving. I thought of the Butler passage (the one that I use above) and suddenly the story about the bed came to me. The idea of touch and physically being connected seems central to thinking about care (care-giving, care-receiving, caring about, keeping vigil) in relation to living and grieving beside those who are dying (and those who are living in the midst of death and dying). I know I have much more to write about these connections and what they mean for me, both in my struggles to make sense of how I cared/failed to care for my mom and/or my daughter and in my critical efforts to reflect on what care is and could/should be. For now, I will take a break from this project. I will place it beside me as I work through (and on) other ideas about troublemaking, care, blogging, curiosity and feminist virtue ethics.

To be continued…

383 thoughts on “Fragments of Grief, part 5”

  1. Sara,

    I was so moved with this series of blog posts. This is the first chance I had to read these all in one sitting, and it’s appropriate that I am at home visiting my family in Cleveland. I read this as my mom (/best friend) brought me a glass of water, and as my grandparents sat in the living room, becoming every moment of every day more present and upset about the nearness of their death.

    The first thing I want to bring up is just a side note/question, wondering if you’ve ever read or seen the book or movie “A Single Man.” The movie came out just this past year, but it deals exactly with the inability of a gay man to properly grieve his dead lover (and materially to the point that he was forbidden to attend the funeral). It might be worth watching to help you think about some of these themes in relation to Judith Butler’s writing.

    I also want to empathize with your discussion of not being able to grieve during the years prior to her death…You didn’t use this word, but it sounded like you were describing a very liminal space. I understand this a lot because when I was four, my father was hit by a drunk driver, comatose for a year, then came out of it with severe brain damage. He is not the same man I knew, and he is not able to function in a way that I see as livable. He lives with his mom, doesn’t remember much, and can’t interact with me as a father would. I think bringing Butler in to frame victims of brain injury, the terminally ill (especially if the illness impedes things like talking and mobility), and other mental or physical impairments. Clearly this would foray into some literature form Disability Studies, and it might be compelling to put the two in conversation.

    I really appreciate your desire to capture those spontaneous blossomings of joy, when “life interrupted grief.” I like the idea of connecting the singing with your sisters, to the singing with Rosie J. I was also reminded of our class conversation on queer hope/possibility/utopia vs. queer negativity. We watched Gidget and Michael Jackson with Roberta Flak…We brought song into the conversation of hope, and it fit so perfectly. Not sure where I’m going with that, but it’s just to say that I like that theme, because music definitely captures joy. And the idea of “the musical” is doing exactly what you suggested—life interrupting grief, spontaneously. People don’t generally burst out in song in the middle of a conversation unless their on stage, but perhaps we make our lives more like the movies/theater when the status quo just can’t fully symbolize how we’re feeling? Not sure if that made sense!

    Anyway, thanks for writing this. I look forward to seeing whatever new versions you create.

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