Sitting on the living room sofa, I heard the crash in the kitchen. Something was now in a million little pieces. “That didn’t sound good,” I teased my husband.
“I’m sorry, and it’s irreparable too,” John said remorsefully. And he would know, as he is the master of putting things back together in our home.
“Well, it’s just a thing,” I responded. Until he showed me the pieces, then my stomach did that “thing.” It was a favorite demitasse plate that I had given to my mom years ago. Unvisited memories suddenly came crashing open, scattering all alongside the pieces of the dish. Where had these been hiding? Picking up the jagged pieces of porcelain, I began the remembering.
In the ’60s, Mom enjoyed a trend of serving after-dinner coffee in tiny demitasse cups. In the ’90s, she decided she would like to collect a few more, and mentioned that to me. “It’ll be a sweet reminder of you and our relationship.” We were sentimental that way, and so I dove into my new quest.
For nearly a decade, I reveled in scouring antique shops and finding her those tiny cups with their matching saucers. One day, I found The Prize. It was lovely, and I knew she’d be delighted. Made in Dresden, Germany, it was pre-World War 2. The petite Bavarian floral scheme in pinks and blues and purples with tiny glints of gold was exactly her thing. Holding my breath as she opened it on her birthday, I was gratified with her response. She gasped. “Oh, Karen.”
I came to inherit those cups and saucers after her downsizing and am even more grateful for them since her death a few years ago. I use them regularly, along with Grandma’s china, and my crystal, because life is short, and using them daily and with friends and family is like providing a blessing and celebration all wrapped up together. It brings me a deep pleasure. The saucers and their little plates often serve as a teaspoon or tea bag rests, or in the Dresden saucer’s case, for the honey bear to rest on, so the shelf doesn’t get icky sticky. And every time I open the tea and coffee cabinets, which is every day, and sometimes several times a day, I see them all, and I smile.
Of course, using them daily means I run the risk of breaking them. I think it is worth the risk for the little daily joys. And as pieces here and there have broken, I have rolled with it.
But not this one. With the shattering, I was suddenly walloped with a chaotic mix of emotions: a sense of loss and frustration. What was this?
What it was, was a grieving. Griefs or losses, like slowly healing physical wounds, have scabs that in the right circumstance, and without warning, get ripped off. Raw and throbbing flesh and blood are exposed beneath. The worst thing to do to either physical or emotional wounds, newly exposed, is to ignore, push through, and carry on. All wounds need tending. If they are not, they can fester, and become worse than before.
Not my finest hour, I knew I needed a “time out” lest I say something awful. I turned and stomped away. I took my tea with me and went downstairs, to sit in the darkness. I needed to listen to God. And first, I needed to unload.
“Okay, Lord, what the heck?!!!! I seem to be taking this harder than I should. Honestly, I’m embarrassed by my reaction. What is wrong?” Emotions were careening within. Again, what the heck?
“Help me understand.”
I sat and waited. I wanted to learn and grow and not be further hampered by this. Grief is a language of the soul, and messengers with important things to say should be listened to. Ignoring them, we risk hurting ourselves and others. Grief stuffed down lashes out or subtly influences our thoughts and actions in unhealthy ways until we are backed into a corner of desperation.
Slowly and in the silence, the words came, “The dish is a thing that reminded you of a combination of experiences and emotions and deep relationship shared with Mom. They symbolize the connection to her, but they aren’t the connection. The reality of her love and relationship with her is not gone. Those memories will always exist. They are what is most important, not the dish.”
Hmm. I took a deep breath and could feel the angst melting.
“When the thing or object becomes more important than the memory, then you have lost sight. You have an idol.”
This resonated like a bell within. I had many other physical reminders of Mom; exactly how many did I truly need?
I headed back upstairs. Sitting with John, I explained why I was upset, the history behind the dish, and the reason why I’d put such a precious object where it could be broken. And I apologized.
Things break, but our relationships with our loved ones can be forever, even if the relationship has moved into the land of memories. And after this life, I fully believe we get to join our loved ones again and continue those relationships in a much fuller sense. I also believe they can somehow, in a limited way, still be with us because, in reality, they are closer than we realize. A friend once told me, “Our loved one who has passed on to Christ is just in the next room.”
Brokenness is all around us and within us. The Christmas Season and going into the New Year can be an overwhelming reminder of this. For many, it is a time that reminds us of all that is broken in our lives and who is missing. Yet with the sadness, it can also be a time to tend to our souls. Sadness reminds us that we loved and were loved and that we can love again. And that is a very good thing.
Brokenness and healing
Yesterday, my patient José came in, limping. Within just a few days, he had a huge uptick in his knee pain. I was surprised as he had done nothing to increase it and he had been doing so well. But when I looked at his face, I saw his eyes were red. Asking him to remove his mask, I saw his entire facial expression: the man was sad. Grieving.
I pointed to the calendar. “It’s December. It is a time of sadness and loss for many, and you and I are no different. Give yourself permission to grieve. May I share what I have learned?” He nodded.
I shared that I, like him, had experienced deep loss, and I have come to think of grieving as a riptide. It pulls you out against your will. The rule of dealing with a riptide is never fighting it; you will lose or exhaust yourself in the process. Instead, allow it to pull you out, and then where it lets go, swim parallel to the shore, and then swim back in. In grieving terms, go with it. Visit your memories; savor them. Deal with the anger, the disappointment, look at the regrets. Tread water there. Don’t judge any of it. Then ask, “What can I do?” Or “Is there anyone I need to forgive, including myself?” Or thank God for that person or experience. Cherish the good, let go of the negative. It may help to do this with a counselor or a good friend. And then swim back in.
Swim back in and let your feet feel the firm ground beneath you, the ground of living with purpose, seeking to connect with those God has given you in this life as well as with Him. Make the most of your relationships. And also partake in activities you find meaningful.
I handed him a piece of paper that had 5 questions on it that I often send home with my patients as a mindfulness exercise. One of the questions is “What can I do to help others today?” I gave him 5 minutes to fill it out.
After completing it, I asked him, “So how is your knee?”
He looked at his knee and then back up at me, and his eyebrows raised in surprise. He stomped his foot on the ground. He jumped up and walked around in my office, much to my amusement. “It’s much better!” and he laughed.
Our soul pain and physical pain are far more interconnected than we realize. Brokenness expresses itself within us in a variety of ways. And so does the healing.
This Season celebrates the One who came to heal our brokenness. He came to give us “life to the full” (John 10:10). That life begins now and continues into the After. Jesus said the Kingdom of God is now, and indeed it is within us (Luke17:20-21). This Kingdom is a place where the lost are found (Luke 15; 4-7), where mourning is turned into dancing (Psalm 30:11), where He makes all things new (Revelation 21:5).
AKA: all the pieces are now coming together, and eventually will come together perfectly, and all those hidden wounds can begin their healing now, and eventually will be fully healed. Every tear will be wiped away (Rev 21:4). I told my mom the week before Dad died, “This time is so beautiful that it hurts, but one day it will only be Beautiful.” Broken pieces will no longer be broken, and our griefs will give way to joy.
This day, and each day if we are willing, is the beginning of this Kingdom of God living. This is The Great Gift.
No wonder the angels sang on that glorious night, “Glory to God and on earth, peace, goodwill to all” (Luke 2:14).