To survive violence, victims and perpetrators sometimes have to deny its costs to them and their community. To cope with it, people sometimes laugh, pretend not to be affected by it, deny any connection or involvement with it, act aggressively or refuse to discuss what happened. These can all be ways to keep going when someone’s sense of safety, indeed their whole world, is threatened or has been completely shattered. Folks who have experienced loss should never be forced to talk about it or to relive their loss unwillingly
At the same time most communities have ways of acknowledging the losses experienced by those who are grief stricken. Recognition is an important step in coming to terms with distress and anguish. Writing or speaking with those we have known and lost in the context of a caring community is a simple act that can start off the complicated work of mourning. These actions can be a way to have one’s humanity honoured. There is nothing wrong with feeling anger, depression, confusion, and fear in the face of violence and loss -no matter who you are. Simply having your grief acknowledged is one step toward feeling better, but it is not enough simply to have your pain acknowledged. It is also important to accepting that this is the way things are at this time. This acceptance can help us understand that pain is dreadful, but it is not all that there is in the world. There is a larger whole of which we are a part.
Working together to talk about our memories and our losses, when we are ready to do so, can be a way to reflect on what has taken place and to begin thinking of ways to change things. These changes can be fought for at the level of social and political justice, at the level of community and at the level of personal and group behaviors that gave rise to violence in the first place.
The exercise of writing letters to the dead in the context of this research is part of the process of acknowledging all that has been lost and looking for ways to draw on our memories to alleviate the social injustice which underlies the violence in colonized societies. Writing a letter to those we have lost is part of contributing to the performance cycle that developed as part of the research into memory, violence and performance.
Working in groups or pairs, folks create and dictate a letter to a scribe who writes it down. The letters express whatever the authors want it to say: memories, dreams, actions, hopes and fears. They are not limited to factual truth. Once the group is satisfied with their letter it is read it out to the bigger group. Below some of these letters have been combined with photographs from the communities involved in the Jamaican performances.
It’s not easy to let go of the pain of losing you.
I am trying so hard but I am not ready to let go.
There is something I want to tell you:
Maybe there are things I should have done differently.
I wish I had told you how much I loved you more.
Maybe then it would have been different.
If there is anything you wanted to say but did not get to don’t worry.
I understand, my son.
I got your email some time ago, but I couldn’t respond because this is a very sad time for us in our community. The gang war has began again. Leaving us nothing but pain, fear and dead bodies.
There was a showdown which lasted for ten minutes. Guns roared at my gate which sent my cousins and I’m under my bed trembling like a leaf. It was nerve racking. I had instant running belly. I though it would never stop. I am tired of the crime and violence which had plagued the community. I don’t know what to do.
How long di filing a di papers ago tek fi come through.
I am your worried brother.
Three years gone since you departed but there is never a single moment that your memory has left me. Memories of the years we used to play together as kids. Member how you used to love to eat….Remember how you used to…….?
Memories running down like tears.
Our life was a perfect demonstration of love. Then the war began again. Guns barked at the gate and when I came out your were gone.
I so sorry we couldn’t walk together forever.
Everybody in our community remember you.
Remember how you set us on a firm foundation.
How you gave us courage and moral support over the years.
We will never forget you as long as we live.
My dear son Dwaine,
From the day I lost you, I lost everything. My life has not been the same.
Each evening when I am coming home from work I look forward to see you come across from the corner as you always do to hug me, rub my head and say to your friends, “ A my Mada Ds yuh nuh”
On Sundays I look to see you come in to cover your dinner for later and scrape and eat the bun – bun from the pot. I sometimes listen for you to sing that song you always sing for me, “Mi Love mi Madda, from birth a she mek mi kno what life worth.”
I am writing you this letter with tears in my eyes and my belly burning me. I miss your cooking and your love that you had for your sisters. From you died a part of me died also. I began to question my God, why? Why you? I should not be doing that but I can’t help it.
Dwaine, although you are dead, my love for you will never die. I love you always.
This is a letter to my daughter who lost her life on the 25th of April, 2008. One sad and lonely year. My son didn’t see you suffer but he felt that pain, you were only nineteen years old.
You – so quiet and humble
You – gunned down for nothing at all you are not a gun man
Your mom felt the pain because you were gunned down right before. We cried as if there was no tomorrow.
We know you come back to the house sometimes. You didn’t get to say goodbye to us. We only hear the dogs barking and we know you are there.
You didn’t say good bye to us and the children cried so much when they heard you died. The whole of us was confuse.
Your dada he couldn’t hold back the tears. Your death left a would in his heart that can never heal.
You was his only child. Nobody can take the place that you once had in our heart that can never heal.
You was his only child. Nobody can talke the place hat you once had inour heart. Will always remember you no matter what.
We will always remember.
We all miss you.
Gone but not forgotten.
I remember when I was about 4 or 5 living with my father. The yard was in front of an open land where All Saint’s School used to be. That open land was like a human slaughter ground.
Police jeeps used to pass to go over there with men in the jeep and a few minutes later you would hear gun shots. Sometimes I would be afraid and wonder if the police buck-up on other gun man and have a shoot out over there. Then the jeep would come out with the man stretch out dead in the jeep.
The incident I remember the most is when they found a priest who everybody knew. I didn’t know him but one morning they found his body in the open land sodomized and shot up and his hands, feet and mouth tie up. I wondered what a priest have done anybody to make them kill him.
After all of this I told myself that the only way I could survive was to become tough. The toughness was just to fight once I’m posed with trouble or problem. I use to fight nuff cause that was the only way I thought I could survive.
The tuning point for me was in 2005 when I took training in mediation and peace facilitation. There was another guy there who reminded me of myself and his behaviour was horrible. I started wondering if is so I behave. Over time after putting some a the things I learnt into practice, the change process started. I’m still working on it cause I’m not fully there.
That’s why I keep those memories because they help me to understand where I don’t want to go. I don’t want to go back. I don’t want to end up another face on di wall.