Beauty and Beast: On Grief and Care

There is the Turkish word hüzün, which cannot be translated into English. Instead of meaning a simple sadness or suffering it denotes a collective, Istanbul-wide phenomenon that some call spiritual, some call nostalgic, but the one thing we know for sure is that the word exists because it is pridefully shared with others. The ideal is not to escape this suffering, but to carry this suffering.

The Four Humors by Mina Seçkin

For my eighth birthday – the one that occurred just weeks after my father’s untimely death – one of my aunts gifted me a special copy of Beauty and the Beast. At first glance it appeared to be a run of the mill Disney picture book, but further inspection revealed that I, along with my brother and cousins, were included in the story as Belle’s friends and helpers. Despite my indifference to princesses at the time, and my growing recognition of and annoyance with Disney’s portrayal of princesses as I got older, this gift is the sole reason that, to this day, I have an answer to the terribly unoriginal question Who is your favorite Disney princess? I still take this 30-page knock-off book – containing a story that I now consider highly problematic – with me everywhere I live because it is one of very few bright spots in what I remember as a very dark time.

I want to say that grief is ugly, or horrid, or awful. But grief is also two-faced in that it manages to be both beauty and beast simultaneously. Grief has an incredible talent for warping perception. Sibel, the protagonist in The Four Humors, is buckling under the weight of grief after the death of her father. She is losing herself while also indulging her wonder by searching for a new self. She exhibits impressive fortitude, or stubbornness, by expressly ignoring the concerns of others and continuing her off beat path through grief.

Sibel eats. Sibel gains weight. Sibel smokes. Sibel is sometimes mean. Sibel walks, but is actually marching due to the sheer tiredness of life. Sibel lies, to everyone, at different times. Sibel is ill, and Sibel is selfish. And in all these ways, Sibel grieves.

But Sibel also cares, immensely. Sibel cares for the comfort of her lover in a strange land. Sibel cares for her grandmother and Sibel cares for her baby sister, both of whom are dying in different ways. Sibel cares to know her great aunt despite her unforgivable past. And in all these ways, Sibel grieves.

The next time I find I must reacquaint with grief, I hope I allow myself to do so with as much poetry and shamelessness and collective melancholy as Sibel; if even just for one day.

Sibel embarks on her summer in Istanbul with a directive to care and a need to grieve. One might wonder if the two can be done simultaneously, but from Sibel it’s learned they are one in the same: beauty and beast.

Signed,

N.A.

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