A good friend of mine unexpectedly passed away right before Christmas. He was my circumstantial confidante, my philosophical friend and perhaps even, my alter ego. Dealing with his death remains one of the greatest emotional challenges I have ever faced.
Two days after his passing, good friends and family gathered at his parents’ home. His mother, who is laughter incarnate, was sobbing harshly, mindless of the tears hitting her simply white sari. I cried in his father’s arms, as he said, ‘We lost him, Carolyn. We lost him.” The hurt of departure ran so deep, I, who view food as comfort and love, felt absolutely zero desire to eat.
After the funeral, we gathered again. Aunties bustled about, warming a variety of casseroles and feeding the masses. The kitchen smelled of a warm, earthy curry and hesitant laughter was had as stories of his life were shared. Still lost, I found my way into the kitchen, where the women of the family congregated and comforted. I only knew one of them, but was quickly pulled into the fold and shown how to make chai. Tea was pinched, water was boiled, simmered…milk was added, or not added, I can’t even remember…and then poured into small cups to be offered first to the grieving parents, and then to family and guests.
I have always wanted to learn how to make traditional chai, but all I remember is the chatter, the smiles, the warmth and the smell. I remember taking a sip and tasting nothing but tears. But even that was healing.
From everything I’ve read, grief has multiple stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I was never angry at him for leaving. Maybe it was the chai that got me past the anger, or maybe it was the unconditional love of his family.