It’s possible to grieve for someone before they have died. Waves of anger, sadness, and disbelief washed over me out of the blue on a regular winter day while running errands in the city. I have stopped by the drug store for some rice crackers and shampoo, and as I pack up my purchases, I spot a figure on the ground by the shopping carts. A frail old woman has fallen while trying to put the deposit coin into the slot on the handle; the cart — which she had hoped would steady her — had not.
She keeps repeating, “My feet are like rubber, they just gave out from under me.”
I crouch beside her, “are you injured?” and she adds, “I fell slowly, gently.”
Her eyes are wide, white with cataracts, and yet glistening with tears. Her white hair is still neatly arranged around her head and hasn’t been as disturbed as her dignity by this sudden encounter with gravity. I see my mother speaking to me, telling me she is fine — she wants to keep shopping.
My own mother is alive and well an ocean away, but I fear she too will fall while shopping or taking out the trash on a cold spring day, and then I will get the call that those of us who have made lives far away from our families dread, with increasing intensity with every passing year.
The same evening in late January, I headed off into the cold to the shibari rope meeting, where we were to witness a grief ritual in ropes. A mother has died, and a daughter mourns. Rope is the medium of choice.
As a witness, I am measuring the pulse of the ritual, charting on a graph in my little notebook. There is something clinical, inevitable, deliberate about this session. He is focused on technique. It must be done.
His breathing is heavy — Death stands over his charge — we know the pain is about to start, but when, How? There is a stark contrast between her nervous laugh and smile, and her fidgeting fingers wrapped in one another in her lap on her pretty butterfly-patterned dress, and the sudden violence of the rope.
Her nipples harden, her breathing catches as he ties her so tightly first that she can’t carry on with the same smile as in the beginning, before the first blow. Tying, retying, he pushes on her womb with his hand — the place where life begins — until she must move and…