The day after the election, 8pm arrived and I had hardly eaten all day. I’d been busy giving and receiving hugs, physically and virtually, to everyone I knew who was negatively affected by the events of the night before. Everyone was, and still is, a jumble of emotions, stopped dead by their need to question what the future will hold for them.
Strangely, I’m familiar with these emotions, as I imagine many other people might be. I’ve experienced them during times of significant loss, usually in the form of the ending of important relationships and the sudden death of a close friend. These are the other (thankfully very few) times in my life that I’ve felt these emotions, the times when I have been unable to eat and when I’ve had trouble envisioning the future because something so radical and breaking happened that the connection between my present and future was severed.
This time, however, I was experiencing these feelings from a new place, a place that I didn’t think could cause such a deep level of grief. Despite what might be considered to be the obvious cause, what I’m grieving isn’t the loss of the candidate I wanted. I settled for Hillary, who I saw as the lesser of two evils. After processing my unexpected yet familiar emotions over the past few days, I’ve realized that what I’ve been grieving is the loss of a part of myself.
I still don’t know exactly how to go forward. Each day is different. Some are flooded with anger. Some are filled with an overwhelming sadness and fear for all the people this election will negatively affect. Some days are characterized with immense guilt for not “getting it,” for being blinded by my own privilege, for forgetting where I’ve come from, for surrounding myself with such a particular way of life that I’ve completely lost sight of the fringes. Some days it’s just straight up despair.
Whenever I experience a loss, I return to this, to Judith Butler’s thoughts on mourning in Precarious Life:
“Perhaps, rather, one mourns when one accepts that by the loss one undergoes one will be changed, possibly forever. Perhaps mourning has to do with agreeing to undergo a transformation (perhaps one should say submitting to a transformation) the full result of which one cannot know in advance. There is a losing, as we know, but there is also the transformative effect of loss, and this latter cannot be charted or planned.”
While it’s certainly important to capture the momentum we all feel right now and I’m proud to have participated in last Thursday’s protests in Minneapolis, I’m trying to remember that losses need to be mourned. Losses in general, especially ones that run this deep, require a process that includes realization, acceptance, and acknowledgment of what was taken from us. This process is mourning.
I need to mourn that little part of me that died, a part of me that might have been rooted in a naiveté that perhaps I’m shedding, or at least creating a more nuanced relationship with. It’s to be determined.
Last week we lost what I think, for a lot of us, was some amount of progression, either real or perceived. We have to let go of the reality, hopes, and dreams what once had and start anew—but this can only truly come as a result of mourning.
And here’s the kicker: we have to mourn the loss of the Democratic Party as we’ve know it. It has failed too many of the people it claimed to serve.
Without mourning, the ghost of what used to be will hover above us, slightly out of reach, taunting and reminding us. If we don’t mourn, the anger we’ve been feeling this past week will never leave us, and that’s no way to move forward.
This is the power of mourning: its ability to transform. Mourning isn’t weakness—it’s fuel. It’s the boldly direct confrontation of loss, of that which has let us down, of that which we no longer control because it has already happened (or maybe we never did) and to clear it out, creating space for what will come next. To not acknowledge, confront, and process those feelings of loss is to let them fester and grow beneath the skin only to rupture one day, reproducing exactly what caused it.
If we’re really going to move forward from this as a nation, those of us left treading water in the wake of loss are going to have to mourn it, and mourn it fully and properly, before we’re able to change it.
I encourage everyone to do what they can to mourn and to support those around them in their mourning. It’s through this surrender that we will become stronger, both individually and collectively.