Grief Beyond Language
October 27 2023
blog Series: 

Etymologically, the word “grief” derives from the Latin word “gravare,” meaning “to make heavy.” Like gravity, Palestinian grief is a constant, scientific fact, a physical force that holds us down as the earth continues to spin on its axis. Yet for us, time has stood still. The last three weeks feel infinite, carrying the burden of all the victims from the last 75 years. Often repeated, there seem to be no words that can convey this grief. In fact, we realize the irony of even writing about it. The entire premise of this essay has already fallen apart before we begin because writing about Palestine’s grief exposes the limits of language itself. But we will try anyway.

We grieve our children, those whose potential could not be contained by the prison they were trapped in. The children who aspired to create and imagine things that would outlive them but who were instead victims to a racist, colonial logic that long preceded them; a logic that had marked them for death long before they were even born. There is no allegory and no poem, no chant and no comparison that can revive them or encapsulate losing each and every one of them. Yet still, we rewrite and edit sentences to make senseless brutality more eloquent, reading words out loud as if they were an incantation for their resurrection.

We grieve our women, the matriarchs and caretakers of our land, at whose feet heaven lies, the ones who reared our children and freedom fighters and were still freedom fighters themselves. Our women deserve to love and be loved. While they currently sift through rubble with their bare hands and search makeshift morgues in the hopes to uncover life that they had originally bestowed, we search for the perfect word in a thesaurus to describe their nightmare. They are our martyrs who refuse to capitulate to Zionist terror but instead stand tall, steadfast against monstrous, shameless theft. We write as though this page could be a shield. Instead, it is a single paper rose on a mass grave, only symbolic, a metaphor, utterly and shatteringly useless.

We grieve our men, those whose deaths have been obscured to make space for the overwhelming loss of our children. The ones clinging to their offspring in death, marked by others as violent savages and thus undeserving of our tears. The ones who fasted so their families could eat, who photographed their own murder so the world could refuse to care. We refuse to withhold our mourning until we can prove their innocence. These sentences cannot assemble a bulldozer that can break through the walls of their captivity or dig them graves to rest in. Instead, these sentences flatten multi-faceted, contradictory, peculiar lives in the vapid category of “men” that denies them their names and unique histories and ignores that they are devastatingly people without a future.

We mourn, nahzanu نحزن, we bereave, nata’lamu نتألم, we grieve the Palestinians not in Palestine, in exile, in diaspora, whose eyes are glued to the Telegram obituaries, whose lives were predestined for heartbreak. The ones who have been forced to consume images of their our suffering, murder, genocide across decades, in death and in life. The ones who have resisted not just by learning about their immense, beautiful history, culture, struggle but also keeping it alive in a world hellbent on hiding it, denying it, exterminating it. Firing bullets into the notion that when our old die, we would ever dare forget. We grieve how scattered we are, how life has halted for us, while the earth continues to spin on its axis (repetition). Moving and breathing while the words on this page sit like a corpse draped in white, fixed, frozen, cold, insignificant.

We grieve the people in Palestine yet to be grieved that will have been murdered by the time we publish this essay, who will have perished by the time you finish reading it. The ones who foresaw their martyrdom and wrote their own eulogies. Is there a word for grieving in advance? Is writing about those still alive in the past tense prophetic of their death or is it simply the grim reality? When they are buried, do we write another meandering essay, or do we copy and paste what has already been written? How many more times until language collapses underneath the weight of homes, hospitals, and schools? We not only repeat the words “we grieve,” we even repeat the sentence structure and syntax; each paragraph reads like the last until they are indistinguishable from one another. We grieve, we grieve, we grieve, we grieve, we…

As wildfires rage beneath the sky where missiles fly, family trees have been set ablaze! Entire families and ancestral lines of Palestine have been wiped out! The loss of entire lineages of resistance to displacement, who lived on their land for centuries and millennia gone with a single strike is incomprehensible! We are rageful at our inadequacy! Writing as though a single strike of this pen could bring back the generations and generations and generations and generations and generations and generations that had tilled the soil, watered the graves, and tended to those also gone! Families that have not just been fragmented and forever changed, but entirely eradicated — ended! No amount of grief, no paragraphs of prose, no sophisticated analogy can pull centuries of ancestry from beneath the rubble and within the flames! Ending every sentence with an exclamation point cannot convey how the heart breaks! WRITING THIS IN A SHOUT CAN’T EITHER!

We grieve all of Palestine. We grieve the parts of Her no one speaks about. We grieve the many things there are to grieve that these pages have no space for: our ancestors, our homes, our sick, our injured, our land. The list is endless — it grows while the grief drains us of the energy to write even when every single victim requires entire bodies of work. We have repeated ad nauseam the word grieve” that it has been stripped of its meaning. From the beginning we were aware that writing on this is deeply flawed: language cannot communicate what the mind cannot process. Maybe we do not need to write. Maybe we weaponize our chants as eulogy, turn our marching into prayer, transform the streets into a funeral procession.

Editor's note: The struckthrough words that appear in this piece are intentional, presenting the difficulty in choosing words when writing about grief. 

About The Author: 

Nicki Kattoura is a Palestinian writer and editor. His writing has appeared in Mondoweiss. 

Nada Abuasi is a Palestinian creative writer and artist. She is a master’s student in Communications, Culture, and Media.

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