I was asked to contribute to an ongoing dialogue on grief and loss by writing about thanksgiving and gratitude. When I was initially asked to write about gratitude and thanksgiving, I was excited. I’ve practiced a grateful mindfulness for several years now. I sat and pondered this question, took in and reflected upon gratitude and thanksgiving in my own life and in my experiences with grief. I sat with my thoughts, considered my meditation practice. And I struggled. These past weeks, I sat at my desk and words would not come through for me. The draft I had written no longer felt substantial. The message I had put to paper no longer seemed to matter. I realized that right now, in this moment, many of us are grieving. I am grieving.
Mourning the loss of a different future.
Not because my candidate lost, but because regression and exclusion won.
As a darker-skinned Latino with sexual diversity, I struggled to write this piece. To make myself vulnerable and write about what gratitude means to me, when I am now feeling unsafe. I cannot hide my body from those who view it as inferior and something to be suppressed or marginalized. Many of us walked into spaces with family and friends on Thanksgiving and wondered who among them voted to uphold a rhetoric of racism, sexism, disablism, sexual exploitation and chauvinistic nationalism. Some of held anger. Some held pain. All of us have seen the change that has begun to occur across our nation after the results of this election.
How do we mourn possibilities? How do we grieve the loss of how far we thought we had come?
We turn to those who have always existed in the struggle:
▪ Angela Davis, political activist in the ’60s and present-day radical scholar, author of “Freedom is a Constant Struggle,” reminds us that “the road to freedom has always been stalked by death.”
▪ Winona LaDuke, environmentalist and tribal lands activist since the ’80s, urges us to “find the wellspring that keeps us going, that gives us the strength and patience to keep up this struggle for a long time.”
I have worked hard to build relationships with those that want to build a brighter future, and now I share the pain with them of losing the foundation we thought had been cemented. These critical and radical voices remind me that I am not alone, that the loss of possibility has always felt like death and that the fight for justice has always been accompanied with loss.
When I mourn what seems like a darkening future, they remind me of those who have come before me and have continued the struggle for justice and equality. These voices and the voices of those around me remind me that the journey is not over.
Gratitude in loss and in mourning is gratitude for what has come before and what there is to come. A remembrance that I am on a journey that will come with victories and with losses. That I must give myself time to mourn and grieve when the foundation beneath me seems to crumble. Nov. 24 did not mark Thanksgiving as a holiday, but a space for giving thanks to those who stand beside me in ongoing resistance to inequality, and a reminder that the struggle for native lives and indigenous human rights continues. That the struggle to uphold black lives continues. That the fight for equality of gender and sexuality continues.
This Nov. 24, I was reminded that loss and grieving comes from more than just physical deaths. That I can experience loss and grieving at losing what might have been. That I mourn a future that may not come to pass, and that taking time for myself is taking time for others. That taking time for myself is as valuable and necessary as jumping back into the struggle with others. This Nov. 24, I was reminded that I am not alone. That native, black, brown, queer, women and disabled lives stand beside me as I, in the words of Frank Sinatra, take a deep breath, pick myself up, dust myself off and start all over again.
Javier F. Casado Pérez is a doctoral candidate in counselor education and supervision and instructor at Penn State. This column is coordinated by www.ltlwys.org whose mission is to create educational and conversational opportunities for meaningful intergenerational exchanges on loss, grief, growth and transformation.