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The broken bowl – A personal experience of grief

A broken bowl on the floor

Several Christmases ago, my mother bought me a ceramic bowl. It was something I had seen in a pottery shop and I loved the design and the blue colours. She returned to the shop, which was some distance from her home, to make sure she could buy the exact one I had pointed out. She was delighted that I was so pleased to receive her beautiful gift on Christmas morning. 

Over the years, I cherished the bowl, not just for the design and colour, but because the gift symbolised my mother’s love for me and my love for her. 

In her final year of life, I had cared for Mum, moving in with her to look after her and my father. It was a bittersweet time. I had been strong for both of them and as I travelled the grief journey, I thought I was ‘doing well’. After she died, the beautiful bowl was knocked off the shelf and it broke into many pieces. 

Broken bowl in hand

When the bowl broke, I was devastated. It was as if the broken pieces represented my broken heart. ‘It’s just a bowl, we can buy another one’ someone said. That made me feel angry inside because no-one could replace something so special. They were trying to be kind, but they didn’t understand. 

I cleared up the fragments with a dustpan and brush and put them in a box, hidden from view. I dried my tears. I couldn’t bear to look at my shattered treasure. It was a stark reminder that she is gone and cannot be replaced. 

Since then, I have carried on, and the broken bowl has remained in its box. I couldn’t face seeing the pieces… until now. 

Somehow, now, I feel ready to open the box and to look and touch. As I hold each piece in my hand, I see each one bears the beautiful colours I had so admired. I can visualise the design. Each fragment is like a jigsaw piece although there is no picture to show the final design. 

Blue bowl cracked into pieces

I finally feel ready to piece the bowl together. The ancient Japanese art of ‘Kintsugi’ – repairing broken pottery by mending the areas of breakage with ‘urushi’, lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise or hide. 

The outcome is a thing of beauty because it bears the scars of brokenness and tells a unique story. My precious bowl is ready for a new chapter. The painstaking task of repair will require perseverance. I may need help. There will be times when I may feel I want to give up, but my hope is to be restored and to carry on, just like the broken bowl. 

It will not be the same as before, but perhaps more beautiful. I will fill it with bittersweet clementines at Christmas time and it will be included in the Christmas gathering offering hospitality. It will never be the same as it was, but perhaps it will be even more special as it will bear something even more precious – the story of love, loss, brokenness and healing.. and perhaps that is what grief is all about. 

Counsellor and Client in a Counselling session

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