Have you ever dropped a mirror and watched as the glass shatters into thousands of unrecognizable pieces? Maybe the glass completely comes apart and there’s nothing left but the frame – not one shard of glass remains in the mirror itself. Maybe the glass simply cracks but is completely contained within the frame and you’re left to see the altered reflection staring back at you, the cracks creating an alternative perspective.
I frequently use the metaphor of a shattered mirror to describe what it’s like when your child dies and you are left to the herculean task of picking up the pieces of your insides and attempting to put them back together. Even if you’re able to collect every shard, every microscopic piece of the glass, and arrange it back to where it was originally, the mirror will never appear as it was in the first place. It’s been damaged, the fractal pieces placed gently, sometimes precariously, back into place; the cracks still visible and the perspective indefinitely altered.
I use the analogy of a broken mirror because I identify wholly with it.
The broken mirror is me cultivating my new normal and beautiful scars after the loss of my four beloved babies.
I recently learned of a practice called Kintsugi, the Japanese art of “golden joinery”, whereby a piece of broken pottery is joined back together with gold, highlighting the imperfections and making it stronger. As I looked at the thousands of examples of Kintsugi-mended pottery, I felt an overwhelming sense of peace wash over me because I finally found a physical example of what a beautiful scar looked like. It’s tangible, something I can point to and say to the skeptics and naysayers that your scars are beautiful and worthy of display. They make you stronger, kinder, more compassionate, and a thing of beauty. A sight to behold.
As you learn the art of Kintsugi you discover the Japanese believe that what others may view as flaws or imperfections, they see value in. They admire and display the broken areas because they see beauty in brokenness. They could have chosen to mend the pottery with a clear adhesive rather than gold that shows off every crack, every place where it had come apart. Additionally, no two pieces of pottery break the same – they each have their own stories, their own pattern of how they were put back together and the gold used to join the pieces back together highlights that journey.
It also represents wholeness because without the pieces being mended with gold, providing strength and stability, the pottery wouldn’t be whole once more. The pieces are placed gently back together but the strength of the gold allows for the brokenness to be displayed completely. The broken places, combined with the gold, allows for the pottery to take shape once more, although with a beauty not seen previously.
I never knew you could be whole again after the razing of traumatic loss. For years I tried to hide my brokenness, wrongly assuming the damage would make me damaged, something our society recoils from. I didn’t know there were resources in this community for losing babies early in your pregnancy and as such felt isolated and alone. The more I allowed the peanut gallery in my life undermine my grief the further I felt I had to bury my broken pieces. I didn’t know that doing grief in community and learning how to do my grief work would be the gold that helped forge my broken pieces back together. It wasn’t until I immersed myself in the pregnancy and infant loss community after Caleb was born still that I learned that there is beauty in brokenness and didn’t need to be hidden away. The cracks are where the light gets in and as I’ve worked at mending my broken pieces over the past decade, I hold on to the light with everything I’ve got.
People have difficulty understanding what mending ones shattered heart after the loss of a baby involves and the splintered mirror analogy has helped me explain it in a more tactile way when questioned about why it’s taking me so long to heal. Or why I’m not over it already. Or why I’m not the same person I was before. Or any of the other ridiculous ways people try to force me to be somewhere other than where I’m at on my grief journey.
Learning about the art of Kintsugi makes me feel as though I’ve had it right all along. It’s not my job to mend on anyone else’s timeline or in any other way than what feels right for me. Showing off my beautiful scars, the cultivation of which has been sacred work that has often lain me bare, is what I believe God has asked me to do this side of Heaven. I believe my scars offer hope, offer light in the darkness, and allow me to connect authentically with fellow Grief Warriors so we feel less alone. I don’t fear my brokenness or my scars, as I once did, because I don’t believe they are ugly or need to be hidden away because other people can’t always find the value or beauty in them. I offer them freely to a world terrified of brokenness and of people under repair because it highlights their own brokenness and need for mending.
So too, Grief Warriors, are your beautiful scars unique to you. They highlight your story, your mending, your precious wounds. Finding the gold in your story, in your messiness, in your process of Kintsugi can only make you that much more beautiful. In the next few weeks we’re going to look at the messiness of mending and the art of beautiful repair. We’ll look at our wounds, our journeys, and rest in the strength it takes to cultivate beautiful scars. Our mending is sacred, messy work – and together we can mine for the gold in one another’s stories and display them proudly; because there is gold in every piece of your story.