The Loneliness of Losing People to Political Violence
Updated: Feb 18, 2022
“I am having a headache. I don’t think I can drive anymore,” were the last words he said to my mom. It was then she realized he was injured.
My stepfather was shot to death in broad daylight by Myanmar military and police forces in 2021. I almost lost my mom at that time too if it wasn’t for him who protected her until his final breath and consciousness. My heart sank with disbelief and my entire body went numb.
Did he feel the sharp pain shot into his nerve cells when the bullets entered his skull, his arms, and his legs? What was his last thought when he realized he could not say farewell to his loved ones? Little did I know, nothing has helped me prepare to face this tragic loss of my stepfather.
As the darkness engulfed my home country Myanmar (Burma) and the people since the military coup took place in February 2021, I have been fearing for this moment, the uncertainties of when my family would be the next target of the military junta. Unfortunately, when you are living under the fascist military regime, no one is safe. Howling with unspeakable pain suddenly pierced into the chest, all I could say was “I am sorry. I am so sorry you had to leave this way.” People say you will heal as time goes by but for me, time and space have become stagnant. But then at another moment, they drift me away. Sorrow rushes in every time I start breathing. Anger and despair pierce into my chest every time I start acknowledging this pain in my heart.
There were days I woke up sweating in terror after falling asleep for a few hours or some days I would not leave the bed at all. My body felt as though it was rumbled by the seismic waves of suffering and pain. When I checked my phone, I was constantly bombarded with multiple posts and news about various arrays of atrocious massacres and annihilation done by the military junta. To be sure, the brutal military junta has been committing political violence against ethnic and religious communities including the Rohingya people for decades. Some of my friends are hiding as I write this essay. Some families have lost their loved ones just like I did. Some villages have been burnt down. There is no limitation to the level of brutality and atrocity that they can do to the people. I am saddened, hurt, and frustrated. I hate the feeling of being helpless and powerless.
It’s one thing to be grieving for the loss of a loved one while also processing the traumatic events as they are unfolding every single day, it’s another to be heartbroken by the absence of the friendship or the relationship I had embraced my whole life. Fear has penetrated into my relationships with friends back home. Some stopped talking to me; some didn’t even check in on me about my stepfather’s death. I can sense the fear of arrest, torture, and death looming in the silence from my friends in Myanmar. I wish someone had told me how lonely it is to grieve for a tragic loss of a loved one to political violence. I never knew how the loss of a loved one would weigh twice as heavy in the absence of a community to grieve with.
How do you find solace and grieve for your loss when the demons are left free, roaming on the streets with no accountability for their actions? How long do we need to suffer in the war between the tormentors and the tormented? Will I still be strong enough to carry the legacy of my late stepdad to show him that our hopes and dreams, indeed come to fruition? Or is it too selfish to just not bear it anymore? Will I still be here when we win? To hear the cheers and the chants of my people as we see the glory in the downfall of the regime?
Grief manifests itself in different ways. One day you will find yourself expressing it through the flow of your creativity as you craft it into your form of art or words that only you can relate to. Some days, grief will transform into this motionless numbness strong-handedly pressing on your chest. But eventually, you will realize there are also days which are a little lighter.
Amidst these despairs and traumatic events, I see a glimmer of hope in the strength and resilience presented by people both inside and outside of Myanmar. I find a sense of living in the growth in humility that I have witnessed during the Spring Revolution, and in the hope of building culture and society that truly represents Myanmar, especially among the younger generations. This Spring Revolution is the movement, the revolution of our generation to stop ALL the wars and atrocities against marginalized ethnic and religious communities, and dismantle Bamar-Buddhist patriarchal supremacy and all forms of oppression perpetrated by colonialism, imperialism and authoritarianism. For far too long, we have not listened to the voices of our brothers and sisters from the marginalized communities. To not listen to them right now would be a missed chance to build Myanmar that is more representative of its existing diverse communities and individuals. I know there are still a lot of things that need to be done but I am hopeful for the transformative cultural shift that we are seeing today along with the strength of our unity.
For a moment, the Spring Revolution becomes my safe haven to find a community, and for a moment, I no longer feel lonely because I realize we are paving the way for liberation from the decade-long oppression, not just for our country, but for the world.
About the author
Thu (she/they) is a Burmese social, ecological and food justice advocate and writer.