Photo Courtesy of Yesmine Abida.

Grief Across Transient Spaces

I focused on the feeling of movement in the subway car, of bodies slightly swaying, of people coming in and out of the door. I was far away from home, the furthest I’d ever been, and I had missed my grandfather’s funeral.

May 9, 2022

“Isn’t our house beautiful?” My grandmother asked me in January, after she showed me a photo of it on her phone.
It is a beautiful home. Its colorful tiles and white wrought iron tell an entire family history. Built in 1977, my late grandfather and grandmother raised their children between these walls. It has seen weddings, birthdays, graduations, illness and three generations whose lives revolve around this house.
For most of my life, I saw my grandparents’ house as a temporary space, a homebase between academic years. A place I could withdraw to at the end of each year; I looked forward to that. But my relationship with their house developed further into a place where I felt like I belonged.
And last January, it was almost unrecognizable.
Photo Courtesy of Yesmine Abida.
“The first few weeks after the loss of a loved one are earth shattering, as you grapple with the realization that they are no longer among the living. The following months are the most transformative part of the grieving process. It pushes you to reconfigure your life from the loss,” a friend once told me.
Photo Courtesy of Yesmine Abida.
My friend held my hand as we sat on the subway. I could barely hear her over the loud sound of the train speeding through the tracks and indistinct chatter. I focused on the feeling of movement; of bodies slightly swaying; of people coming in and out of the door. I was far away from home, the furthest I’d ever been, and I had missed my grandfather’s funeral.
Photo Courtesy of Yesmine Abida.
It was October 2021 and it felt like the sun had lost its intensity. I was slowly sinking into an intense feeling of guilt. It was the second one I missed that year, of yet another person that has deeply shaped me as an individual. I was stumbling around New York’s streets, thinking of lost time and recalling disjuncted memories. I missed out on the familial process of grief and my grandfather’s passing did not feel real until I returned to Nabeul, Tunisia.
Photo Courtesy of Yesmine Abida.
I had entered my grandparents’ bedroom every single morning last January. I noticed that the wilting sunflowers that were once outside of the window had died. That the blue flower patterned bed sheets were replaced by thick beige winter duvets. That the radio that was once on my grandfather’s bed stand was replaced by his photo and a Quran.
Photo Courtesy of Yesmine Abida.
My grandmother and I had lunch together every day. We would sit across from each other and I would often look out of the window. We talked a lot about the life she shared with him. He was a homebody, perhaps the greatest one I’ve ever known. He tended to his birds, listened to the news on his radio, watched football matches and drank coffee with his family. Whenever anyone came home, the first room they would go to was the living room to greet him.
Photo Courtesy of Yesmine Abida.
Living somewhere so deeply associated with my grandfather meant that I had to reconstruct what home meant to me. But my existence across transient spaces made it difficult to locate grief in one place. It followed me everywhere. On the New York Subway, in a semi-abandoned mall in my hometown and in the streets around Markaziya in Abu Dhabi.
Photo Courtesy of Yesmine Abida.
These spaces became places of healing and deep reflection and these photographs are a personal archive of the journey of coming to terms with loss, in all of its emotional volatility. Grief does not shrink with time and oftentimes one grows around it. Because I was experiencing it across places, I moved around with it too. It changed the way I viewed my surroundings, because I kept thinking about what was absent, of what was being replaced and the legacies of the specific places I had been in.
Photo Courtesy of Yesmine Abida.
I had a constant feeling that my grandparents’ house was a bridge between the past and the future, because of all of the lives that had grown between those walls and all of us whose lives continue to expand around it.
During one of my last few days in Nabeul, I was woken up by the sound of a loud football game in the living room. I went out there, thinking that my late grandfather was watching a game, since he would always have the volume loud enough that even the neighbors could hear it. The living room was empty. Since then, I’ve had a phrase constantly repeating in my mind that I can’t quite shake off. A place that once had life will always be haunted.
Yesmine Abida is a contributing writer. Email her at
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