I’m not sure why I was lying awake at 0545. Outside, the light was starting to break, but it wasn’t particularly bright. I was listening to the infrequent hum of cars as they passed by the house. And then I heard it. The buzz of a message landing in my phone.
It’s funny how devastating a binary code of zeros and ones can be once they become text. I knew who it was. I knew what it was going to say. I reached for my phone stared at the message icon. For a moment, I was playing Schrodinger’s cat with the news I knew was coming, and I knew I couldn’t stop.
My uncle had passed. We knew it was imminent and I had said my goodbyes the day before. Under usual circumstances, I would have been there to do so in person, but I was in lockdown and he was in another country. So I did it by video call instead. It felt cold, impersonal and the lack of intimacy is something that I found deeply troubling.
People wail. People scream. People hold each other tightly and express collective grief
If saying a virtual goodbye was a difficult experience, being at a funeral by videolink was by far the toughest. I come from a Moroccan Jewish family. Culturally, there is a lot of outward emotion at our funerals. And I mean a lot. People wail. People scream. People hold each other tightly and express collective grief. This was all unravelling in front of me in HD. I could catch bits of conversation, glimpses of people falling to pieces.
The pain was visceral, yet I was entirely dislocated from it. I was stuck inside my little screen. I couldn’t catch someone’s eye or give a reassuring smile. I was a voyeur. I was unable to do anything other than watch on and quietly weep into a phone screen, my dog gently resting his head on my knee as my only comfort. That discombobulated feeling was not something I’d anticipated, nor is it something I ever wish to repeat.
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