As part of our wellness collaboration with Girls Write Now, we asked 3 young writers from their mentorship program to share a piece of work they created about personal loss. Through poems and short stories, these mentees have recorded the bitter, confusing, resilient, and tender parts of their grief. In this mini series, Emma Kushnirsky, Ifeoma Okwuka, and Olivia Kim talk about how their cultural backgrounds have influenced their experiences of loss, and how they’ve used writing to reach new places of understanding.
Q: Tell us about a time that you experienced loss or grief. What has it been like to process that loss?
A: A good few years ago now, I lost my grandmother, and before that my biggest loss was my family dog who’d been with my family for my entire life. “Processing” grief isn’t something I feel I can explain in any way because there are times I don’t know why I’m crying — and that can be completely okay. In terms of grieving deaths, the sudden nonexistence of a person is extremely complicated. A big part of losing my grandma was also reckoning with the ways my family interacts with one another, her influence on everyone, the glue she was for all of us and the connection she provided to a less assimilated Soviet-American-ness, how little and in what a one-sided way I knew her, even after spending lots of time with her. I had to figure out ways to know more once she wasn’t there to talk to. There’s so much I still don’t understand, but an era of my life ended with her and even if I learn Russian now, I never will have spoken her native language with her.
-Emma Kushnirsky, 19, Bronx, NY
Read Emma’s story, Her House Becomes Relic.
A: The day my grandmother died was a tough one. Every year, I’m confronted with the reminder that the woman I loved so much is gone. Her death date remains a critical sequence of numbers within memory: February 24, 2020. It’s a date that I’ve come to associate with bitter feelings of nostalgia and tremendous loss. My grandmother was many things to me: a second mother, mentor, friend, and an epitome of African excellence. I also admired her for many things like her wit, wisdom, refreshing honesty, and dedication to her faith. Processing life after her death was a difficult and painful learning experience. It was an experience which coincided with another major event in my life: the NYC lockdown. Navigating grief in the context of a pandemic taught me the necessity of adaptability and reminded me of how resilient the human spirit can be. It also taught me a valuable lesson on grief. You never really become an expert in grief because every death, metaphorical or physical, presents unique challenges. Losing someone or something can be a disorienting experience. And the best way to approach an experience like it is through patience for yourself and the belief that you have what it takes to heal.
-Ifeoma Okwuka, 18, Bronx, NY
Read Ifeoma’s story, I Like The Look of Freedom On You.
A: During the year of 2014, I lost my grandfather. He had been staying at an elderly home, and while he was relatively old, his death was unexpected to me (as a 6 or 7-year old). I didn’t have time to say goodbye or process what was happening until his funeral. It was the first time I had seen all of my family crying together, and it was the first time that someone close to me had passed. It was only after the funeral that I fully understood that my grandfather was gone. He would never stay in that elderly home again, and I would never visit him there. That feeling of loss was unexpected, and it took me years before I could fully unpack the feelings surrounding that. It’s hard to think that I’ll never fully see him as an older kid, or that he’ll never fully see me as an older man. Even now, it’s difficult to think and talk about because of how young I was when he died, but how much his death impacted my family. We still visit his grave at least twice a year, and whenever I pass by the elderly home on the bus, I’m reminded of him. In that sense, the loss was both easy and hard to accept. To add on, those feelings really influenced how I see my grandmother (his wife), and how grateful I am that she is still with us.
-Olivia Kim, 15, Queens, NY
Read Olivia’s poem, My Grandmother.