Filling the Cracks

 In Grief

Kintsugi is an ancient technique to repair ceramics. This art form evolved from the dissatisfaction of a Japanese military commander with the restoration of his valued tea bowl. Sent to China, they applied metal staples to hold the pieces together. The Shogun sent the object home where Japanese craftsmen devised a more aesthetic method. They pieced the bowl together and filled the cracks with a bonding material laced with gold dust. The shiny adhesive lines highlighted by the seams. Instead of tossing away the damaged pieces in defeat, a renewed container was created and its former broken state became a part of its history. A different beauty with improved value was the end result. The old became new.

Loss makes cracks. Divorce breaks apart marriages and divides families. Estrangement from relatives and friends is a sad undertow. Relocation distances familiar surroundings. Corporate downsizing chips away at financial security and the disappearance of a job leaves a challenging void. Loss cracks the ceramic tea bowl.

After the death of my husband I felt broken. I wanted to gather up the remnants of my life and run away to some unknown safe haven. But I couldn’t. Two young children depended on me to keep together the pieces of their young lives. I struggled to fill the empty space from their father’s absence. I tried to make them feel whole again by playing both roles. I tossed the football in the back yard and carved a Pinewood Derby car. I baked cookies and bought prom dresses.

I would not to let the pain of my husband David’s death overshadow his joyful life. The children and I often shared our fond family memories and let the tears flow. We allowed David’s name to freely pass over our lips. We kept family pictures around the house and an oak box hosting his ashes sat on a bookshelf. In order to bolster my new normal, I worked on connecting the memories of my former life to my present day activities. I wrote down my deepest feelings, admitting my disappointment and anger in not having more time together in our marriage. I acknowledged my grief. Through this painful process, each year I felt a little stronger. Mending cracks never stops. But now I do not need as much glue.

My grandmother's Japanese teacup

My grandmother’s Japanese teacup

Perhaps you have recently suffered a devastating loss. If so, the new calendar year  begs the question, how can you gather the broken shards and feel whole again? The golden dust of good memories and the glue of good friends and family fill cracks.

If you would like to share, I am always ready to listen to your whispers.

Best wishes for a beautiful new year!


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  • Jill Swenson

    Sam had a white ceramic cherub he kept on a shelf next to his comb, tweezers, nail clippers, moustache comb, and cuticle scissors. The pudgy legs of the angel hung over the edge of the shelf. One of his many surrogate mothers from the rural community had given it to him when her son died. A few weeks after Sam died, the little angel seemed to jump off the shelf and crashed onto the floor. Both wings and head broke off and tiny white shards lay strewn on the wooden floor. One of so many inexplicable signs in a year of magical thinking. Picking up the shattered china and mending it takes time and you can’t “staple” things together in a quick fix. The philosophy of Kintsugi interests me more after reading your essay.

    • Kim K Meredith

      Thank you Jill for sharing this touching story. It tugged on my heart tonight.

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