Content note: This article includes (non-graphic) discussion of a completed suicide.
One of my closest friends died by suicide.
The days after their death were jarring and bewildering. I carefully tried to drink water, only to involuntarily spit it up while sobbing. I tried to eat, only able to eat soup and beans. (To my horror, the hot Funyuns a friend offered made me nauseous.) I tried to walk, to listen, to breathe, but each moment was saturated with memories: my friend’s tender love for ginger beer; their voice as we sang Lauryn Hill at a party; their small smile in falling sunlight.
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As I slowly regained energy, I was soon able to ground these startling reactions in readings on grief thanks to Psychology Today articles. I learned a sudden loss of appetite was normal. I learned about the “grief spasms” that left me disoriented and exhausted.
Still, this societal understanding felt half-empty.
As my friend and I were both queer, Black, non-binary, and living with suicidal depression, our pain of existing was and is deeply intersectional. However, in the lay constructs of grief I explored, I couldn’t feel a space for the incredible depth of that pain.
In light of this, I centered my processing around a radical question: what does intersectional grief look like in my body? When my depressive reality echoes a blood-filled indictment: “A system cannot fail those it was never meant to protect?” When my mourning becomes a genderqueer brown body suspended in soap water and gospel?
As I grieved, my question rung in the silence. It tremored through the racialized poverty denying my friend the consistent medication, therapy, and self-discovery they sought. It sunk deep — into the salt waters of systemic and intergenerational trauma our black bodies have not forgotten.
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In this silence, I learned Alice Walker’s sorrowful reflection that “there is a special grief felt by the children and grandchildren of those who were forbidden to read, forbidden to explore, forbidden to question or to know.” Walker’s statement gives voice to a construct known in suicide literature as “thwarted belongingness,” or “the extent to which individuals believe their need to belong is met or unmet.” As the space for this special, deep, and intersectional grief is ignored, a sense of thwarted belongingness can impact one’s capacity to hope, to live with pain, and to exist in this world.
As I hold space for this grief, my fledgling hope is to be able to dream another question: what does intersectional growth look like in my body?
In an intimate meditation on religion, Shug from The Color Purple affirms, “I believe God is everything. Everything that is or ever was or ever will be.” As an emerging teenager, I dipped my spirit in this transcendental thought. And in this season of sorrow, I find solace in it. I belong to my ancestors’ daydreams, to a quiet breeze on my skin, to Afrofuturist thoughts of existence and being.
Within this belonging, I find imaginative hope. I sit with my selves in the moments of their deepest trauma, telling them that, despite the pain, my present looks like the salvation they cannot bear to imagine.
And, in the midst of this, a tentative narrative of grief and growing emerges. For now, nurturing a sense of expansive belongingness and radical imagination allows me to breathe the air above this deep pain. It makes existing bittersweet, yet perhaps, possible.
[Featured Image: Photo of a transmasculine person sitting on a bench outside, their head down deep in thought. They have brown skin, short hair with a fade on the sides, and are wearing round wire-rimmed glasses and a heavy black and metallic coat. They’re clasping their hands together in their lap. In the background is a sidewalk, more benches, street lamps, grass, a metal bridge, and other city buildings. Source: The Gender Spectrum Collection]
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