Grieving is a process. My father passed away almost two years ago (22.5 months to be exact), and during this time, I have become all too familiar with the wavering emotions and pains of loss. When I first arrived to Albania this time around, I stayed with a very close friend for a few days, a friend whose mother was very ill. Two years ago I spent several days with this friend and her family in their village and they treated me like I was their own. Sadly my friend’s mom died three weeks ago, and my friend has now been thrust into this deep, dark forest of grief. I have spent many years studying anthropology, many years trying to analyze and think about this term ‘culture’. For a good amount of the time I have focused on the unique aspects that define a place. Many of my more recent writings have pointed to specifics of everyday life in Albania, and a search for the things that shape life in this particular place. Sitting now with my friend, however, I am fixated upon the familiarities and similarities of grief.
Grief is heavy. Its massive weight can inundate us. A person’s face, smell, and laugh can linger. We remember their touch. We see them in dreams. We hear their calls. As a social anthropologist, I have been taught not to generalize. I feel like we are always looking for complexities. So of course I feel obligated to mention that there are those societies which handle death and grief much different than in the United States. Everyone in the world does not process loss the same. But what I am seeing and experiencing here with my friend has me thinking about human interaction, connection, and the tender spaces of melancholia.
After my dad passed away I joined a group for individuals who had experienced the loss of a parent. On the very first day I just cried. And cried. And cried. Huge tears. The kind that drop from the eyes of a four-year-old who has just fallen from a bike. Tears that I remembered being wiped away by the person I longed for the most. The group lasted about two months, and I ended up crying every time that we met. But by the end I had also begun sharing words, something that I could not do at the first session. The pain was very raw then, and in many ways, is still raw now. But sharing those words helped.
Everyone does not benefit from this type of sharing, but a few days ago I met my friend for lunch and she began to share with me. I told her about the group I participated in and her face lit up slightly. Though hesitant at first, she said that perhaps she too could use something like that. “But this is not our tradition in Albania,” she quickly reminded me. My friend might be correct, in that I have never heard of this practice, this type of group therapy here in Albania, whether for grief recovery or any other matter. Since meeting with her, I have reached out to friends here as to the types of outlets available, and while there is such a thing as individual counseling, it is not very popular. People here do have their ways of coping. I have already joined my friend’s family for mourning events, and there will be more as her mother is remembered in the next coming months, and later years.
I return now though, to the idea of group discussion. I guess I am supposed to have some type of conclusion here, to wrap up this post. But honestly I do not really have one, other than wanting to begin a conversation about loss, and about the ways that we mourn and grieve. We all process even if we do so differently. While my friend was quick to inform me that group discussion is not commonly practiced here, she did admit that she liked the notion. Are there those out there who know of such practices here in Albania? Are there other people who like the idea? What about the notion of cultural relativism? I seriously mean that question, as many people who I have asked so far have said, “We do not do that in Albania.” And yes, this is probably true. But my friends here, just like me and others I know, have feelings that are real. We all respond. We all experience. We all react. We are all human.
I do not have any other way to end but to say that I welcome your thoughts.