The Japanese have a 500-year-old art form called kintsugi, or “golden joinery,” a method of restoring a broken item with a lacquer that is mixed with gold, silver, or platinum.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that practice. This Sunday, 3/20/16, it will be eleven months since my father’s death. Eleven months ago my sense of wholeness was destroyed. My father’s suicide was like a grenade set off in the center of our family. And we who loved him most, were left gathering up the pieces.
Eleven months later, I hold those fragments. There are those pieces of the old me that I can still recognize. And then there are those that are now strange to me, remnants that no longer seem to fit. There is the pain, the sadness, the grief, the anger and the traumatic imprint of all that I have endured and lost. And there too, tenuously I hold newly discovered depths of strength, resilience and courage.
Many days I gather all of these fragments up and I cinch them tightly together. I wear them like armor as I journey through the valley of the shadows. And I tread ever so carefully, lest someone bump into my grief, my sadness, my trauma and cause me to spill those pieces everywhere. Some days I am more successful at maneuvering through the triggers than others. And other days those fragments fall everywhere, and I must stop and face every exposed emotion, every shard, every crack and every fissure. Those are the days that still bring me to my knees and open the wellspring of tears that seem to have no end.
Perhaps grief is not so different from the art of kintsugi. I read that, the kintsugi method conveys a philosophy not of replacement, but of awe, reverence, and restoration. The gold-filled cracks of a once-broken item are a testament to its history.
I carry the pieces that I have now gathered up. How I will wear them and what that will look like is still unfolding. Some days I feel them slowly falling into place, held ever so tenuously in their new found position.. And other days, well other days, they come undone simply by a passing breeze that carries me two steps backward, or keeps me stuck in place.
But I’ve grown tired of seeing those days only as setbacks, failures or another barrier to where I want to be. I know that grieving a suicide loss is a long and difficult road. And I know that there is no finish line that I will cross. It is an ongoing journey, it begins in the valley, but I believe in time there will be more peaks. I’m not naive. I know that this traumatic imprint has forever altered the course I must travel. I cannot set it down and leave it behind. Instead I must carry it. But how?
The ancient Israelites carried the broken pieces of the shattered tablets in the tabernacle, right alongside the second set of commandments given to Moses by God. The whole and the broken, remained side by side, in the Ark of the Covenant. The broken fragments were no less holy simply because they were not intact. And so it is for us—that the whole and the broken exist side by side in all of us and we carry them both within on our journeys. Each is holy, because each represents the story that we have lived.
Eleven months after my father’s death, I am like the kintsugi. I felt at one time whole. But loss has left me feeling so very broken. And no matter where the journey takes me, I will carry those cracks, scars and fissures with me. One day my grasp on them will be more certain, and I will find that they have strengthened me. One day I will find that I can look at those broken pieces and know that the best parts of me not only remain, but somehow seem to have more clarity and depth to them. One day the scabs will be more steadfast and I won’t be subject to every trigger opening up my wounds. One day, I will find that I feel less fragile. The winds will blow but I will weather them. I will find that my strength and my beauty lie not in those pieces untouched and unmarred by life, but in those that have known both love and loss, sadness and joy, anger and forgiveness, pain and healing. I will carry with me and honor the me I was before my father’s suicide, and the me that I am becoming without him in my world.
Today I still feel broken. The pieces have been gathered, and I wake up striving to put them together anew. The golden lacquer has been gently laid. I do not hide the scars. Instead I choose to honor them. They are a symbol of my strength, a roadmap of my story. And in that sacred realization and acceptance I find some healing. Because one day is not always within reach. But where I am today, in this moment, is not a failure. It is enough. There is holiness and beauty in my broken self, just like the kintsugi.
The wound is the place where the Light enters you. (Rumi)