For Linda, through grief’s iridescence

[CW: suicide]

Dear Linda, it’s taken me some time to write this after finishing your book, Loss Adjustment. There were so many lingering thoughts and emotions that I had to let them sit, slowly untangling them from each other… Grief is something close to my heart, a little too close. It is precisely because of this that I feel I have to respond to you directly. I could hear your voice and see your heart in this account of how you grappled with Vic’s suicide, of how the circumstances that surrounded your daughter became clearer, bit by aching bit.

I had some reservations about what you wrote, but all of that fell away by the time I arrive at the last page of your book. Do you know that I search for signs of the miraculous in birds as well? The same way you seek the blue flash of kingfishers, I seek the yellow shadow of the black-naped oriole. The same way we scour for the divine or a trace of our beloved during periods of drought and joy. Your voice is unwavering, almost unbearably reflexive throughout the entire book. It does not allow for even a moment’s rest; there is a sense that there is no end to grief. With death as its origin, it cannot cease. How can it? Grief has no view of death or an ending. It may never. But I suspect resolution is never the point of grief, or its myriad processes. As with all else we feel fumbling through the business of living, recognition is perhaps the best we can do — recognition, and the naming of the different faces grief takes on. What comes with these acts of naming is perhaps a little solace, a little anger to bring forth the energy for us to become better with each other. So we may love a little better. Grief and the absurdity of death have no sense to be made. These things can only be felt and lived.

The details of how you tried to continue living, how you searched for an explanation for the circumstances surrounding Vic’s death is excruciating. Loss Adjustment‘s haphazard, desperate motion to seek patterns and logic in the face of none, is something I resonate with deeply.

How does one be compassionate with oneself after a tragic event, especially when there is much confusion and dizzying guilt? What does one do with oneself after immense loss? How can parents, who do not always understand their children’s inner thoughts and struggles, love and care for their children? How do they begin to forgive themselves, or even, how can we listen better to each other and ourselves? There are so many questions that I don’t even know how to begin grappling with them.

When I first read your book, I had my reservations regarding the usage of Vic’s journal entries. It can be hard to honour the dead, and it felt like I shouldn’t have access to something as private as this. A sense of me being intrusive, a slight distaste. But it’s never just about Vic, isn’t it? It is also about the many other Lindas and Vics who are still living, in perhaps similar circumstances. A friend once described writing as casting a call into a thick forest, and the reader as someone who is wandering in the same forest. Words, as a light cast, not as a promise of resolution or solace, but simply an indication of another person having walked, is still walking, in the same forest. An opportunity to be heard and seen by another, among the thick foliage of grief and pain.

I remember a passage written by David Wallace Foster in Infinite Jest, that it is not so much death itself that is desired by those who are suicidal. He writes that it is akin to one being stuck in a burning building, and jumping out of the window to escape the flames. In other words, the act of suicide could paradoxically be an act of self-preservation. I’m thinking of how in Loss Adjustment, the flames in Vic’s building were made unbearable by the social and institutional systems that Vic was living in — her school’s treatment of academic grades and the class discrimination present in the expat community. While you wrote extensively about the dissonance between how the “West” and Singapore process grief and its many proceedings (and this is another reservation I have regarding your book), the specificity of death culture falls far from my mind. Instead, I find myself thinking about ways to circumvent the flames, to enter the building with a fire-suit and ease the fire with our loved ones. What wretched systems we live in that allowed for these flames to rear their ugly heads so irredeemably. These are the lingering thoughts that surface when I conjure your book in my mind, Linda.

You wrote that you sought to “keep her, all her energy, all her positive spirit, alive somehow.” I think of the many people I know and love and lost, and I think of how Vic’s spirit is present in Loss Adjustment. What conversations will arise from your book? What actions will it prompt, from us with our various brushes and encounters with mental illness, in our various capacities? I wonder, I wonder, and I hope.

Here, I invoke words written by bell hooks:

Rarely, if ever, are any of us healed in isolation. Healing is an act of communion.

bell hooks, All About Love

Dear Linda, for articulating all that you’ve been through, for transmuting these experiences and thoughts into a call for conversation, action, thank you. May we continue walking our individual paths in grief, in love, in aching kindness. Do take care; I believe Vic’s positive spirit and gentle kindness to live on in this world, where your words now exist.

Gratefully yours,
Xiao Ting

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