In the one grief book that I have read, T.J. Wray’s “Surviving the Death of a Sibling,” the author emphasizes the importance of sleeping, eating, and finding a way to decompress. As a bit of a health nut myself, I see the value in these prescriptions; indeed, there is little for which I don’t prescribe sleep, yoga, more water, and fresh air. And in so many situations, the problem shrinks to a manageable size after a good night’s sleep.
This is not the case with the death of my brother. It may be made more horrible by the fact that, even after a good night’s sleep, even in the bright morning light, he is still dead. Every happy moment is undercut by the swift gut-kick realization that nothing will ever be completely happy again because Alex is dead and so something will always remain awry. Clearly, therefore, this is not the reason for the prescription to take care of oneself.
Several weeks ago, despondent and walking alone in a strange city in the early evening, I called my best friend to commiserate. It didn’t exactly cheer me up; my best friend’s own grief shadows her like a personal monsoon, so I don’t turn to her for joy, only because I love her and know she understands. I hung up on her when I got to my destination, a Thai restaurant. I stepped inside the restaurant, out of the early fall cold, and then something amazing happened. After I ordered my take out, rather than hovering uncomfortably near the door in my continuing misery, the server seated me and returned with a steaming hot cup of cinnamon and lemongrass tea. As I sipped it and the warmth and spice replaced the chill on my hands and face, it also somehow pulled me out of my utter despondence. Things did not look better — my brother is still dead — but somehow, that small gesture of kindness and that hot spicy liquid gave me enough strength to carry on, at least for the rest of the evening.
When the worst things in the world happen, we should stop looking for things that make them better. Nothing can replace such a loss, and even the most loving relationship, most satisfying work, and continued health do not compensate. Winning the lottery, if that’s your thing, also would not suffice. Instead, I’m learning to look for the small things that I need to carry forward on a daily basis, the tiny gestures and hot cups of tea that make me realize I probably will make it through this, even if I don’t know how.
I’ve been looking for that tea ever since. I may have to just make an infusion of lemongrass and cinnamon myself, but if anyone has any leads, let me know.