On the morning of September 5, 2015, I awoke to an alarming number of missed calls from my mom and sister. I immediately knew something was wrong. Someone was dead. I called my sister and she told me my brother had died. He was killed riding his motorcycle home from work in the early hours of the morning. He crashed while crossing a bridge. There were no witnesses and it is unclear exactly what happened, but it appeared he was driving quite fast. He was 28. Anyone who has ever experienced the loss of someone close to them, especially a sudden and unexpected death, knows it’s difficult to articulate the way it makes you feel.
I spent the morning on the phone with family members in disbelief. A numbness entered my body and stayed there for several days, eventually fading into a deep, dark well of devastation and despair. It was like a bomb had gone off exploding not just my life, but everything I had ever thought I knew about it. The sadness was so encompassing that if I wasn’t working, I was lying on my bedroom floor, crying and questioning, unable to move until it was time to go to work the next morning. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out why he had died and what I was supposed to learn from it. I meditated, practiced yoga, searched his artwork for clues, but nothing came to me. I naively thought if I could solve the riddle of his death, I could somehow be okay with it and move forward. This went on for several months.
I desperately wanted to feel joy in my life again, but didn’t know how. I decided I would try focusing on my health and taking care of my body in hopes that it would lead me back to happiness. Perhaps, I thought, if I filled my body with enough nutrients it would change the way I felt in my mind. I began researching and came across herbs. Remembering I had heard about an herb school in San Diego years back, I looked it up and saw they were offering a beginners herbalism class. I enrolled in the course and a few weeks later I was sitting in my first herb class.
The teachers at the Self-Heal School showed me a world right outside my window that I had never stopped to notice. Weeds emerged as beautiful, wise beings filled with medicine. Flowers grew into friends with stories to tell. Trees were transformed into teachers. All around me there were plants waiting to help. I just needed to learn how to listen. I knew I was where I needed to be and after a few classes I signed up for the certificate program. I still cried every night, but now three nights a week it was while I drove to class. I left every class feeling better than when I walked in and I spent the first year after my brother’s death immersed in plant science and magic. Ever so slowly, with the help of my teachers and herbs like Lemon Balm and Hawthorn, I began to heal.
I completed the Clinical Herbalism program in 2018. I will never be able to fully explain what my time at herb school meant to me. It changed my life and the way I see the world. It allowed me to take the tragedy of my brother’s death and find a small speck of beauty in it. I still don’t know why he had to die and I probably never will. I’ve accepted that some questions don’t have answers, but I do believe it was his death that guided me to herbs and healing. And even though his time here is done, I still see him in the flowers as they bloom, atop the tree branches, beneath the moon, and in my dreams. Everyone needs healing in at least one area of their life. I believe plants can help.
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