It’s normal, around each holiday, each milestone, each moment we are expected to come together with family, to remember those who are no longer staunchly in the land of the living.
It is normal — I think — to seek messages from the universe, guideposts in the land of grief, language from others when you feel yours has gone missing.
It is normal, looking through mementos, searching for clues, holding reminders that your gone loved ones and language are somewhere in there, somewhere, worthy of honor and love still.
I have made a practice over the last four months to be thoughtful and restrained when it comes to purchasing anything for myself, working to separate need from want. The nonscientific results are clear: I use what I have. I appreciate what I have more. I find more joy in doing and making, regardless of how quiet and private those things may be. It doesn’t wear off like the cheap thrill of an impulse purchase.
This year, the only gift I bought for myself at Christmas was this book: “I Know Your Kind,” by William Brewer. It’s a book of poems about America’s worsening opioid epidemic, specifically West Virginia’s, where Brewer is from.
But in it I hear all the songs of longing and heartache and desperation and need from those wrestling with addiction anywhere and everywhere, as well as those who have lost their loved ones to this seemingly endless beast. And it is a beast, no matter where your experience lies on this spectrum.
I hear my brother’s voice in this book, almost the same way I do when reading his journals. I bought the book because it is a refreshing antidote to the constant churn of reporting, which I appreciate and read voraciously. But it is another thing entirely to filter it through the lens of humanity. It transcends. It creates a pause. A breath. An opportunity for compassion.
The first line of the poem “Naloxone” is a wrenching gut-punch of failed possibility:
“Do you hear that? All the things / I meant to do are burnt spoons”
Not for the faint of heart, but oh, it feels the same as opening one of Andrew’s jewelry boxes, seeing all his knickknacks and treasures, splayed out like joy and chaos both.