Tuesday, December 8, 2009

lessons in tea

the day i went to the airport to pick up my mother was the day that i expected to have to finalize the physical loss of my baby. i sat in the barren LAX cell phone waiting lot in my car and listened to a sermon that my beloved sister had sent me: her pastor had just delivered it that Sunday, and it was on grief. it was short, heartfelt, full of truth, and gave me much to think about.
one of the illustrations he used, from the great author and literary critic C.S. Lewis*, was so vivid that i spun my little iPod wheel back several times to listen to it repeatedly: grief, he said, is like a steaming hot cup of tea. if you drink it too fast, you will scald and scar yourself. you must sip it, slowly, but you must finish the whole cup. and in the slow sipping of your grief, as with tea, there is comfort.
i remember sitting in the car, planes roaring overhead, crying as i remembered the raging ferocity of the grief that followed losing Isabela, and knowing that the grey numbness of waiting for the end of this Tummymuffin was about to give way to the same storm. and so in the following days, filled with blood and pain and sorrow (but balanced with comfort, warmth, and blessing), i thought a lot about my cup of grief tea. i think the metaphor extends itself in several ways.
first, you can’t put off the drinking of the grief tea. i think just as Lewis says it’s dangerous to try to gulp the whole boiling cup down at once, it’s just as dangerous to push it away, refusing to drink. the point is that one way or another, you must finish the cup. better you do it of your own volition while it’s fresh, than wait too long and discover that you’re having a years-old, scummed-over, rotted cup of grief tea forced down your throat by circumstance, another person, or even your own subconscious needs. sip the hot tea now – and it may take a long, long time to finish your cup – but do it before the comfort and healing in the drinking has evaporated, coagulating into some horrid apparition that will haunt you.
next, no one else can drink my tea for me. i cannot pass it off to anyone else to finish. especially not my husband; he’s got his own mug of grief tea to work on. and besides, it’s a completely different flavour than mine. our teas have been brewed in different pots, at different strengths, from very different leaves. he will not grieve like me; i must not expect that. nor must he be afraid of my grief; he should not think that i will ever push my cup at him, wanting him to take a sip.
however – and this is, i believe, the most important part of my extended tea metaphor – he can sit with me, each of us clutching our own steamy mug, and we can sip together. just as in real, non-metaphor life, while sometimes it’s cozy to have a hot cup of tea or coffee by yourself, there’s something almost ritually powerful about sharing hot beverages with friends and loved ones (you never say “meet me for a glass of water!” or “please come over for juice!”). and so yes, there is something also extraordinarily soul-affirming in having someone sit with you, mugs of grief tea steaming in one hand, the other holding yours.
right now, as i write, i’m sitting at my table, sipping a cup of very tangible, non-metaphorical tea. it was one of many thoughtful items in a “box of love” recently sent to me by a precious friend, for comfort and cheer. as i’ve been drinking it (needing its realness next to me to help pull this whole tea metaphor together), i’ve thought of her compassion for me every time i catch a whiff of the delicious vanilla aroma -- but i also think of the losses she’s suffered. and so here we are, physically thousands of miles apart, but somehow sitting side-by-side, finding comfort in the sipping of our sometimes bottomless-seeming cups of grief tea – together.
my friends and loved ones, whether your losses are old or new, if you ever need a companion for tea time, please let me know. i would love to sit with you. thanks for sipping with me.

*i've since learned that the original tea metaphor might or might not come from a slim book called A Grief Observed, which Lewis wrote after his wife died. my dear friend gave me a copy and i hope to start reading it soon.


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