Walking through the daze of grief after my mom died of lung cancer at age 65, felt like slogging through quicksand. Not in a panicking way like one might think, because really I wasn’t sure I wanted to get out of that quicksand. It was my cocoon, my fuzzy armor around my broken heart.
She had been living with us for the past two years. It was summer when she died and we all, my husband, our two little kids, our 85-pound mutt and I, survived that summer somehow. We played in the sun and visited with relatives, we hugged a lot and we tried to forget death.
Autumn hit us hard. We took the kids out of daycare and I quit my job to stay home with them. The cold rains and gray, cloudy days came early that fall. Jasper, our 18-month-old, had one virus and ear infection after another and coughed his way through sleepless nights. We spent many days cuddling on the couch together and watching movies; we nestled under warm blankets and napped. Even our dog, Dizzy, moped around with his sad heart. Every day I wondered how I was going to be a mother without my own mother to guide me.
I missed my mom. I missed all the comforting things about her: her hugs, her perfume, the way she was so loving and warm with my kids, Lily and Jasper. I missed the cups of Lipton Herbal Orange tea she used to brew for us in the afternoon while the kids napped, just the two of us together. A warm mug, the luring citrus aroma, a hint of sweet to caress my throat. We’d sit and catch up, or simply enjoy the silence.
It seemed, as I grieved, I learned I lost more than just a person. A favorite book my mom had given me, with her handwritten inscription on the inside, was missing. A few of her delicious recipes had disappeared, and around the time she died, Lipton Herbal Orange was discontinued.
At first I thought, there had to be another tea just as good. In my insistence to find an exact match, I bought every kind of orange tea available on the market. I made cup after cup, pot after pot. If I was going to be dragged out of my cocoon of denial, I was going to have my tea.
One was too harsh, one had too much rose hips, another tasted like stale dirt, and a few delivered no orange flavor at all. I became like a crazy woman searching for that tea everywhere. Grief is not rational; it is not sane or calm or straightforward. None of these teas met my needs. Of course they didn’t; none of them came with the gentle comforting presence of my mom.
What I didn’t realize, until it smacked me in the face one day late in the fall, was that my kids looked forward to all the tea I made. Every time I brewed a new one, they wanted to taste it. Gradually I stepped out of my quicksand and opened my eyes to what was going on around me. There was no better motivation than Lily’s enjoyment of everything I made in the kitchen, and Jasper’s achy throat calling me to do something, anything his medicines and antibiotics seemed unable to do.
I began to stir in large globs of delicious, clover honey and poured us mugs full. I left my obsession to find the perfect one and my anger over my loss behind me. Instead I smiled while Lily and Jasper fell in love with the warm mugs to wrap their chilly morning fingers around, with the simple scents of citrus and honey drifting to their noses and the comforting sips to soothe their raw throats.
Daily we created our own ritual, our own calm time together with our tea. We found a new favorite brand. We used my mom’s pale blue Scottish Thistle mugs. My kids named it Hot Tea Honey, and it became a way for us to enjoy the chilly mornings while we remembered Nana and connected with each other.
It’s been almost five years now since my mom died and we still enjoy our Hot Tea Honey often. Lily is eight and the other morning while stirring honey into her favorite mug, she said to me, “I miss Nana. I can’t even remember what her voice sounded like.”
“I know, love, it’s hard for me to remember too.”
“I’m going to bring her back,” Jasper almost always chimes in now when we talk about her.
“Oh, bud,” I say. What else is there to say to a six-year-old boy who believes in magic and time machines. We can’t go backward. Some things truly are lost forever. “It’s nice to drink our tea together and talk about her. Remember how she used to sneak kisses from you guys?” I add. I may not be able to resurrect my mom, but we can reminisce and share our memories.
Grief takes away, but it also gives, if we let it. Grief can remind us what is precious, and a cup of Hot Tea Honey with my kids in the morning, while we chat and connect, is a time I hold close to my heart. For a few minutes I ignore the chaos of the day; no one is whining, dishes and laundry don’t matter; everyone is happy and comforted. Silently I thank my mom for teaching me this tiny, peaceful ritual to share with my own children.