by Mark Robertson
On June 4, 2002, my brother died a month before his 50th birthday.
We buried him in the Missouri town where my younger brother and our parents live. I drove for two days from Texas, a long time to think and sort out my grief. The funeral was a torture, a blur of tears. The drive back home was tedious. I wanted to stay with family to grieve, but had to return to obligations in Texas.
A few weeks later, I went to a local drugstore for medicine. A man in the parking lot was standing by a truck, talking with the driver. He appeared to be a homeless person begging. The driver yelled something and drove off.
The man looked at me. His clothes were tattered and filthy, his hair a nest, his face wet with tears. He said nothing for a moment, catching his breath through sobs. I asked if I could help.
He told me between wracking sobs that his mother was in the hospital in critical condition, but he didn’t have money for gas to drive 15 miles to be with her. He had driven to the gas station across the street, then found he had no money. I said I would help, and we walked to the gas station.
His car was full of people, men and women, in shock and crying. I told my new friend to fill his tank; I would pay. He could barely control himself through his grief. I put an arm around his shoulders and told him that my brother had passed away only a month earlier. “So you know how this feels,” he said.
We hugged for a moment, then the pump clicked off. I drew out all the money I had in my pocket — about $40 — and gave it to him. I told him that parking is expensive at that hospital, and suggested that he leave his car at a nearby park and walk to the hospital to save money.
He thanked me profusely and left to pay the cashier.
A woman leaped out of the car and ran to me, crushing me in a hug, sobbing uncontrollably. We hugged for ten minutes, letting her grief out. We spoke some final words as the man returned to the car and they slowly drove off. All faces looked at me through the windows until they disappeared around the corner.
I stood a while thinking about my brother and the gift that grief can be, if we let it. In giving comfort to people I had met by chance, I had received in return the comfort I needed.
I went back to the drugstore but it had closed. I went home, satisfied that I had already received the best medicine.