How Grief Is An Out Of Body Experience

Grief is pain felt in other bodies
4 min readJan 4


Carl Moon, Drying Corn, ca. 1937–1943

Death is both our loneliest moment and when we’re the least alone. At that moment, our feelings fly out of our body and into our loved ones. Grief is pain felt in other bodies. Grief is pain at a higher level of existence, at the family, at the community, at the whole. A man cannot know his own death, but his clan surely does. We feel for him. We feel for us. By all the gods of the island, it’s awful.

When our beloved Anna died we all felt it. We feel it still, every day. His presence in all the gifts he left, all the good he did, in the air all around. The tendrils of the family reach out painfully for a severed limb, nerves splaying in the air, desperately trying to re-form. They find nothing but air, form nothing but jagged scars. We grieve as if we lost our own self. Because we did. Because we were never alone at all.

Death is the black hole at the center of all perception. It both destroys and unites us all. Death is the ultimate reality that every sensation circles around. Every touch, every sight is a simulation; an approximation to keep us away from death. Only death is real. Everything else is just light and waves dancing around death, before it all falls down. This is known.

And yet no man can know his own death. Death is the event horizon we all cross, but which no information can escape from. We can only feel it as a blackness at the edge of our vision. The blinks our brain edits out. The nights we awake from. But then someone dies and by the gods you can feel it. It’s like your own limb has fallen in. You can feel it pulling, pulling, and yet never letting go. Death rips a hole in space, time, and the sensation that we’re alone at all. How could we be? How can we feel so much pain in someone else’s body? We didn’t just lose an Anna. We lost an arm.

This is the paradox at the center of existence. This is the singularity that makes us plural. Death happens to an individual, but it is only felt by the collective. While death shows that there is a self (in absence), it also shows that this self is not all. Because the grief goes on. A man dies, but his clan bears the wounds. As Brian Yazzie Burkhart writes:

American Indians often say that the people are an ear of…



Indrajit (Indi) Samarajiva is a Sri Lankan writer. Follow me at, or just email me at