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.


Anonymous said...

I read this while reading my tea, tears falling into my cup. Glad you are enjoying the box. I love you.
Here is something I just sent off to someone creating a place of sharing for pregnancy loss. Feel free to delete, if you wish, after you read it. I know you are one of the few I can share with.
We would be celebrating your first birthday this week.

But you are not here. Though I know you live on in heaven, my arms ache to hold you here. To hold you for more than a brief kiss after you were already gone. To hear you laugh, to watch you play with your brothers. I am missing the first steps you would take to me. To hear you say, “Mama” and smile at me.

There is a hole in my very soul. Time has healed the ragged edges of my heart ripped apart, but the scars still ache and the tears still fall, unbidden and often at the worst moments. Tears I want to hide because no one understands.

Most days I can do just fine. Most. But on the days something triggers my emotions, I cave. But I must hide the tears. Even as I write this and my heart screams, I am silent. I wipe away the tears and pray no one sees them.

Because it has been over a year since I lost you. Because I still have two wonderful sons. Because I should be over it.

But I am not.

I mourn deeply. Sometimes I wonder if healing would be faster if I felt free to visibly grieve. Trapped in the thoughts that no one hears, crying the tears no one sees. I wonder.

The few times I have tried to share my heart I have quickly found that few want to know about it. Is it their own fear of loss? Or simply that they fear not knowing what to say? I get this. I do. I found myself at a loss when my friend shared that her second baby was gone. All I could do was cry with her and pray and be willing to listen.

I smile and rejoice with those around me who are pregnant. I do. Because it is worthy of rejoicing. I hold the tears in. Then when I am alone, I cry. Another friend, and another share their news. While still I wait. Womb empty. And another month passes. And the blood that sustains life flows on, lifeless again.

Women gather, birth stories are shared. And I share my happy ones. No one wants to hear about the pain of a labor that you know ends in death. That the physical pain cannot even begin to match the emotional pain, no matter how hard the physical pain. That your body must still go through each and every step of labor, delivery, and all that comes after. The baby blues are hard enough, but without the baby? Almost more than one can bear.

And so I write, pouring my heart out here in quiet anonymity. Anonymous because I cannot share my grief in my own place. Maybe someday.

But my name is not what matters anyway. My name may not be one you know, but my pain is. Think of my words when you face a friend who grieves. And love her. Be willing to listen, to mourn with her. She may not be over it yet.

Grief has no time line, no deadline. If we could make it go away, we would. Having someone to listen and love means so much. Don't worry about not having the right words. Just listening gives more comfort than any words ever could.

Anonymous said...

*sigh* I wasn't reading my tea. I was drinking it. Proofreading is a good thing and I'm thinking of trying it sometime.

hadashi said...

i would very much love to leave the whole piece up. it's beautifully, honestly written. thank you for sharing it here; it is an honor.
i'm sipping with you, my friend.

Christina said...

Dear Erika...

You have no idea how much I loved this post and just how much it resonated with my slow sipping of grief.

Thank you for sharing your heart and for writing so eloquently.

Sending love,

Anonymous said...

Okay Friend, as I face a milk-less fridge (I'm a coffee & milk drinker myself) I'm heating my water for some nice rich hot black tea. I sometimes like to take mine with a little honey & lemon... reminds me of my sweet comforting friends who help take some of the sting away. Still sipping away at my own cup.. thanks for the beautiful post, Nar-sis.

JenniferSaake.blogspot.com said...

Sweet Sissy,
Thank you so much for the link to this blog. I've just spent the past couple of hours reading it from start to finish and my heart is so full. I'm sorry I've missed such an important chunk of your life. Thank you for your honesty and the painful beauty poured out here. Praying for your Mommy-heart as God continues teaching you through each step ahead. {{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{HUGS}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}


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