Grieving a Dying World(view)

The Death of the Buddha (Parinirvana). “This panel shows the Buddha surrounded by lay and monastic mourners expressing their grief. These reactions are contrasted with the calm of the monk Subhadra, seated facing the Buddha’s corpse, who alone comprehends the true meaning of the Buddha’s death.” (Via

I go to see my dying grandmother, through my dying country, listening to a dead man on the stereo. Then I come home to write about dying, in general. When do I mourn? It’s difficult to be a writer who lives in his pages, who has to wander out into his own hallucinations. At some point, they start intruding on reality. I’m trying to construct a coherent worldview, but if you gaze long enough into the abyss, the abyss gazes back. At some point, if you write about the end of the world long enough, it really starts ending. This is cursed knowledge. I envy my Achchi in that sense. She’s still quite capable of love, but her mind is going.

My Achchi is 99 and two months away from 100. She’s asleep so I sit next to her in bed and thumb through the Bible. Something about the complicated marriage of David’s grandmother. Not exactly helpful. Achchi wakes up and puts her hands on my face. “You wonderful wonderful person. Who are you?” What a greeting, at the ending. I explain the answer but it’s irrelevant. She loves me as a generic grandson or something, and with her whole heart. What a blessing to grow old like her, everything is leaving her mind except love. Achchi says she’ll be dead in a few days but she’s been telling me that for years. Someday the Good Lord will call her home. At this point, she welcomes it. I think the mental exertion tires her out and she politely tells me to go.

My aunt is staying in the next room. Nanda has late-stage Parkinson’s, whatever that means, I basically refuse to look it up. Nanda can’t move, can’t speak, can only look. I used to make her laugh but not anymore. I have no idea what’s going on behind her eyes, or if she understands me at all. When I could make her laugh this was bearable, but now I find it very difficult. I talk about kids and family and I don’t know. I tell her it’s hard to come there. It’s true. I could tell her anything, really. She can’t tell a living soul. I look at the walls and a decoration still says Happy Christmas! It feels like one long year, these long years, and not a good one.

This is the house I grew up in and the only person doing well in this house is the dog. This dog everybody called Satan wandered in off the streets and Achchi took her in. My children insisted that she was kind, pointy-out tooth aside, and not to be called Satan, and now we found that she is and so she isn’t. As Achchi was fading she stuffed the dog with biscuits and Nestomalt and all sorts of inappropriate foods. Now that Achchi is out of commission, the dog isn’t getting stuffed like a house guest and has lost weight. The bitch looks much better now. Anyways, I take my leave of everyone. The dog jumps up on its hind legs for a belly scratch. Good dog.

Then I drive back through a city where no one can afford gas or electricity or eggs or, increasingly, vegetables. And where I have all of the above and more. I am the other side of the carnage that, when ‘averaged out’, makes economists’ numbers look good. But it’s not good. I can see in my people’s eyes, in their open poverty, in the beggars selling incense, in the children playing on the street corner while their parents sell coconuts. This thing they call a ‘recovery,’ it’s a funeral. Sri Lanka—like so many countries in the region, in the world—has been couped in one final indignity of imperialism. Squeezing the last blood out of a stone.

Then what do I return to, in my literal writer’s cave, hidden behind the bookshelf? There is no work to escape into, the dying is the work. A dying Gaza, a dying Empire, a dying world. Achchi said everyone has to die sometime and it’s true. But does everything have to die also? Thermodynamically, I know this is true, but as a creature with a beating heart, it just doesn’t feel that good.

Someone asked me if I was grieving once and I’d never thought about it. Since Din Anna was murdered just over a year ago, we’ve been on a sprint to just get the (murdering) government to not frame him for it. We were fighting for his death so hard we didn’t have time to mourn it. Now that the government has backed off we can I guess, but the emotions are all backed up. It’s there, somewhere, that grief, floating around. I can see it behind everyone’s eyes. It must be in mine also. I honestly don’t look.

In the same way, it feels like we never stopped fighting after COVID. Millions of people died and we’re supposed to just forget about it but I can’t. It’s not even over. There is no concept, in the news cycle, that people stay dead forever and that their absence just changes the world. Nobody goes back to check on those grieving people, they just find new death to talk about. But it all adds up. There is no concept of anything after the news cycle, like human lifetimes and human families, which don’t just ‘go back to normal’. We all got personally wounded by COVID and those wounds haven’t healed. Indeed, the blows keep coming. If we’re being serious, we still can’t let down our guard. We didn’t stop fighting COVID because we won. We stopped fighting because we lost.

There is no way to process this trauma, or even acknowledge it. Movies just don’t acknowledge the COVID years at all, our cinematic timeline has split into science fiction where that just didn’t happen. The traumas of late capitalism are too traumatic to be assimilated into late capitalism, as Mark Fisher said about climate collapse. We’re just whistling through the graveyard, like Steamboat Willie, the progenitor of Disney. At some point people believe the propaganda not because they have to, but because they want to. It’s like waking up out of the Matrix, into a pile of goop and a deeply polluted Earth. Better to live in the Matrix and eat steak. The trauma is too traumatic to even think about. So the same western leaders that keep failing upwards just pretend like they won and go bomb some poor people. To create some artificial disasters as well. This is what passes for therapy in elite America and Europe.

This is where I live, as, I assume, do you? In the land of the dying, where the land itself is dying, and we are but witnesses. Mute or unmute, it makes no great difference now. We are all dying people, in nations dying one way or another, in a world that’s dying too. As my Achchi was holding me she told me clearly that we all have to die. And it’s true. It’s just that ‘all’ means a lot more at this particular hinge in time when the doors come off. My Achchi, for one, is ready to go. I envy her in that. I’m not ready at all.