Kintsugi, or Kintsukuroi, is the Japanese aesthetic that repairs broken pottery with lacquer mixed with gold powder. The belief is that the piece is more beautiful for having been broken. This philosophy honors its survival rather than hiding the fact it was once damaged.
I love this metaphor as it applies to grief recovery, and not just because glitter is my favorite color. I can remember sitting with my grief counselor bawling about how broken I was. And being broken was terrifying. But somehow owning my brokenness, out loud, made it a little better. The simple act of acknowledging my being shattered meant that I also had the opportunity to put myself back together. Someday. With precious metal as the glue.
And it wasn’t easy, but it happened. First I had to crawl around on the floor picking up as many shards of my life as I could find. I was already a broken mess of a grieving human being and their sharp edges cut me open as I tried to make them fit where they once belonged. No one warned me that the grief recovery process could be so gruesome, bloody and painful. What I couldn’t find either couldn’t be replaced or didn’t need to be. The reality is when you’ve suffered a massive loss, you’ll never go back to being the person you once were. Some of those shattered pieces of your heart just turn to dust.
The good news is, with time, your heart has the potential to end up stronger, and more beautiful than you could have ever imagined. Those missing pieces create space for the light to get in, and eventually for sparkly precious metals.
A few months ago I had a conversation with a friend and fellow W. We were discussing our grief journeys, our survival, and the fact that we were both transformed into new people through the grief recovery process. Stronger, kinder, wiser, braver, more loving people. We struggled for words for a bit but were eventually able to express that it was the deaths of our beloveds that were the catalyst for us to become these better people. We were able to take the horror and the pain and transform their loss into a blessing. And that while we never wanted it, we were grateful for all of it. I’m sure if anyone else had been eavesdropping it would have been an odd conversation, but we knew what we meant. Grief’s fiery forges took the raw material of who we used to be and made us MORE.
Neither of us would have EVER surrendered our husbands no matter what kind of higher evolution was waiting for us, but we didn’t get a vote.
And no matter how much time goes by, or how much happiness I’ve created in my new life, every now and again I find another shard. It slices through the soft pink scar tissue of my heart. It hurts. But I know that it’s just a matter of time before it’s glued in there with gold.
Is it possible to fall in love with a place a little more each day? At the rate I’m going, I’ll never be able to leave Scotland. After Edinburgh, I arrived in Stirling, a sleepy university town, and felt every cell in my body give up a big happy sigh. With a whole week to explore, I had the opportunity to slow things down and enjoy every minute of this town. How often do you go on holiday and get to spend a rainy day in a coffee shop or pub people watching for hours without feeling like you’re wasting time?
Just like everywhere else I’ve visited in Scotland, the people are friendly and welcoming. Out of everything Scotland has to offer, the people are what I love best. I’ve said more than once that with its rugged beauty and relaxed lifestyle Scotland reminds me of Idaho before the hipsters moved in, only with more rain.
September is a perfect time to visit. You can feel a hint of the crisp fall air in the mornings, and the leaves on the trees are just starting to turn even though summer flowers are still in bloom. A poet friend recently told me that all poets love the autumn. And while I’m no poet, the overwhelming desire to capture the beauty of this season is contagious.
My heart is well on its way to mending, but there is something about the fall that is cozy and snuggly and warm and nurturing. As my son-in-law likes to say, it’s sweater weather. I can’t think of a better place to enjoy it than Stirling. It became so comfortable, so quickly, I really didn’t want to leave.
The Wandering Widow
Stirling is so much more than a home base for other sites in the area, especially if you like the outdoors. I spent a week here and could have stayed longer.
If you’re not driving, Stirling is super easy to access by train and is only an hour from Edinburgh or Glasgow. Navigating Scotland’s buses and trains are easy, even for someone like me who has “getting lost” as my super power. The town is also easy to navigate, although I confess to getting lost once when relying too heavily on my GPS instead of my eyeballs.
There are a few local historical sites to see, but if you run around screaming “Freedom” at the top of your lungs, you’ll be asked to leave. Kidding. But seriously, please don’t do that.
If you can only pick one thing to see in Stirling, this is it. It’s worth the 246 step climb up a narrow spiral staircase to the top for the breathtaking views. And if your only knowledge of William Wallace was Braveheart, be prepared to have your world rocked with the actual history of the man.
You can access the monument easily by bus from Stirling (about a twenty-minute ride) if you don’t want to drive. If you’re feeling extra Genki, you can also walk from town, but don’t forget you then need to walk (or shuttle) up a hill to get to the base of the monument.
Not my favorite castle in the world, but I’m easily bored with castles, so take my opinion with a grain of salt. My favorite parts were the gardens and the view. Shocker, I know. But it was interesting to learn about the famous unicorn tapestry. In case you didn’t already know, the unicorn is Scotland’s national animal, earning the country serious cool points.
In my humble-non-castle-stalking opinion, this one was a lot more fun than Stirling. Well known for its use as an on-location film site for Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Game of Thrones and Outlander, out of all the castle tours I’ve done, this has my favorite audio tour. Monty Python’s Terry Jones narrates and after each of the historical bits, are optional Monty Python details. There is something special about standing in a ruined castle hearing a Frenchman scream out that your mother was a hamster and your father smells of elder berries. Don’t take my word for it though, check it out yourself.
For you Outlander fans, the audio tour also provides filming updates from that Jamie guy.
The Dupplin Cross:
Venture out to Dunning and St. Serf’s church, and you can see the Dupplin Cross. It’s a Pictish stone carved in the shape of an Irish cross and is over a thousand years old. It’s free to visit, and the lovely docents will give you the history and point out important features, so don’t forget to donate before you leave.
The Bluebell Tearoom serves breakfast all day and has a gluten free menu, for those of you who care about that sort of thing. I loved that the hostess had been through Idaho, and we were able to chat about my home state.
The Friar’s Wynd is clean and bright, has great service, excellent food and is a great choice for a nice dinner.
The Smithy was a surprise. I wasn’t sure about trying it since my local friend hadn’t heard of it, but it got glowing recommendations for the “best food in Stirling” from another member of the Scottish travel group I joined on Facebook. I’m glad I tried it! It’s not far from Stirling Castle and is a light, bright cafe/tea house. The food was, in fact, the best I’ve had in Stirling and a great alternative to pub food. Everything was fresh and light (soups, salads, sandwiches, etc.) and delish.
In Dunning, have lunch or dinner at The Kirkstyle Inn. I had a superb dish of sea scallops, green apples, and black pudding. I can’t explain why that combo worked, but it was so delicious I might have licked the plate had I been by myself.
The Curly Coo is a must visit for whiskey drinkers, for the 130 single malt whiskey options as well as meeting Miss Mandy, the sassy pants proprietor. She recommended Deanston (among others) since it’s local. (I tried to get to Deanston Distillery later in the week for their whiskey and chocolate tour but the day I attempted to go the roads closed to buses, and my ankle wouldn’t agree to the 8-mile walk).
I’ve been chomping at the bit to get hiking since my last visit in April and was fortunate to have a friend here take me out exploring. We managed to get in a hike to Loss Hill before an old ankle injury kicked in and removed hiking (and dancing) off the list for a few weeks, but it was worth it.
Loss Hill was beautiful, and the irony of the name wasn’t lost on me. It’s just behind Dumyat Hill (where Wallace Monument is) if you’re looking at it from town. The beauty of hiking in Scotland is that you just decide which direction you want to go and start walking. In the states, property laws are pretty strict, and as I’d rather not get shot, I’ve never trespassed over fences before. It’s an entirely different scenario in Scotland, and I climbed over a bunch of fences (including barbed wire) on this hike. I also got to hike in the peat bog, which was new and different (and coincidentally the part my ankle didn’t like). In the two and half hours we were out, we saw sheep, deer and the weather change repeatedly from blue skies to storm clouds and back again. Classic Scotland! The only thing that could have made it better would have been some heilan coos, but I have lots of time left to see those cute furry cows.
The Lodging: Shona’s flat was my first Air B&B in Scotland, and ideally located in the middle of town (a five-minute walk from the train and bus station, and a ten-minute walk to Stirling Castle). While I didn’t need a three bedroom flat all to myself, it was nice to have all the comforts of home, including laundry and wifi. She was a gracious hostess, and I would stay here again.
I continue to offload my worldly possessions to go in search of adventure, and last night I watched my Christmas heirlooms get divvied up and walk out the door. Out of everything that has been sold or given away, this is the one that got under my skin. I hadn’t even wanted to be in the room, but couldn’t bring myself to leave.
Old Lisa was a Christmas Elf. Every one of life’s milestones or memories was translated into a special ornament that ended up on a giant Christmas tree that needed an extension ladder to decorate. Watching my sisters unwrap each one was an instant flashback to that memory, just like it was each Christmas, only now those memories hurt. Putting the Christmas stocking I handmade for Dan into the kidlet’s pile was painful. And it made me cranky! I could hear a harsh edge creep into my voice as I explained the stories behind each ornament. Not exactly the way I wanted two of the people I love most in the world to remember the evening.
After sleeping on it, I realized that it was all okay and they are just things. (Isn’t it amazing how much power we give to inanimate objects?) Many of those memories are shared by my family, and as those ornaments are unwrapped and hung on their trees, they will continue to be kept alive. And more importantly, they will go back to being happy memories to be enjoyed during our family’s favorite holiday. I guess in a way it means I’ll still be with them this Christmas, even as I’m out making new Christmas memories on the other side of the world.
As disturbing as I find it, I love that analogy for what happens to us as we allow ourselves to come through the grieving process. It’s gruesome and gory. Who we were is destroyed. But in the end, we come out of it transformed. We are reborn. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ve heard me say that the old Lisa died that July 10th morning, may she Rest In Peace. I chose to experience grief fully, allowing myself to become the caterpillar. I dissolved into a gooey mess that resembled neither who I was nor who I am becoming.
I’m told I’m goal oriented. I LOVES me a checklist. I set goals, and I figure out how to make magic happen. Once I set my mind to grief recovery, it became a project too. One of my W friends laughed as she accused me of over-achieving my grief. And I laughed with her! I had already given myself permission to take all the time I needed so I wouldn’t turn into a self-destructing-ticking-grief-bomb but was desperate to get as far away from the black pit of despair that almost cost me my life. So I went full bore into project mode.
The next few posts will cover my experiences with the different things I tried as I researched the Grief Recovery Project. I’ve already written about my experiences with grief counseling, and that is still at the top of my list for being the most helpful. But acupuncture, massage therapy, Reiki, hypnotherapy, travel, a makeover and tons of books and blogs also became part of The GRP. I’m far from being ready to fly away, but I can feel myself becoming solid again. I’m tired of the cocoon and getting ready to break out and flex my new wings.
According to the great and all knowing Wikipedia, Grief counseling is a form of psychotherapy that aims to help people cope with grief and mourning following the death of loved ones, or with major life changes that trigger feelings of grief (e.g., divorce, or job loss).
There is a lot of info on the web from the counseling perspective, but not as much from the viewpoint of the recipient. All I can do is share my own experiences and hope that it offers insight to those of you who may be considering it.
First, I had to be open to it. I was going through the fires of hell and needed a guide to help me get out with as minimal damage as possible before I was burned alive. Everyone and their uncle telling you to get counseling isn’t helpful unless you want it. You also need to find a counselor who is a good fit for you. I was fortunate to have two great counselors help me through the process, but not everyone has that kind of luck. If you are serious about counseling, keep trying until you find the right one.
Since hospice fees include grief counseling (FYI not all hospice companies actually provide it even though they are supposed to) I started with the hospice chaplain, Jay. He was wonderful and had that soothing kind of voice you expect to hear on nighttime radio. He described hospice counseling to me as companion counseling. He’d walk this path with me but I would set the pace. He’d survived his own devastating loss and had a personal point of reference that was comforting. He came to the house once a week to visit with me. Week after week he’d sit on the couch across the room and just be there in a way no one else could. He’d ask me questions about Dan. What were my favorite memories? How did we meet? What was Dan like? After Dan’s gruesome passing, Jay was trying to help me remember that there were many positive memories. He also let me cry. A lot. A lot a lot. Every time I sobbed that I was broken, he assured me I was normal. All through Dan’s battle with cancer I kept hearing how strong I was (not true, by the way). I was on autopilot from the minute we heard the word cancer, even through the loss of my Dad a month after Dan’s diagnosis. Surrendering to the pain was not easy, and so much worse multiplied by two major losses. Jay helped me see that allowing the grief to happen was the true meaning of being strong. He also set the expectation that it was going to suck. Apparently super organized control freaks have a harder time with grief because we can’t control it. Go figure.
When I realized this was going to be a lengthy process I started working with Kelli. It didn’t feel right to keep utilizing hospice resources indefinitely, although Jay still checks in with me periodically. Fortunately, insurance covers this type of counseling, so all I had to do was call my primary doctor to get a referral. Kelli is very similar in her approach although takes a more active role in our sessions. She lets me talk. She asks questions to help me get where I need to be and helps me come to my own realizations of what I need to move forward. She’ll even stop me when I start going down the guilt path. And, much like Jay, she is my cheerleader. Our sessions feel more like having coffee with a girlfriend than anything clinical. Oh, and sometimes there is still crying, just not as much as before.
I don’t think I’d be functioning without either of them. Repressing grief is unhealthy, and almost always rears its ugly head within a year in one form or another. I made the commitment to myself that I would let the grief happen. “You have to feel the feelings” is what I was told up front. I wasn’t quite as prepared for how sucky those feelings can be but I’m glad I chose to take this journey.
What if you try counseling and just aren’t feeling it? I’ve talked to a number of W’s who just didn’t find counseling a fit for them…either the process or their counselor. Everyone is different. I’ve found it immensely valuable.
If insurance is the issue, check to see if your employer offers an EAP which usually covers 5 sessions at a time.
If you’re religious, seek out your clergy. Many have at least a small amount of counseling training.
Try a support group…either in person or online (I’m a member of the online The W Club since leaving my house to go to a meeting doesn’t work for me).
Talk to a friend about what you’re feeling. Just be mindful that not everyone can handle our pain the way a counselor can.
And if you just didn’t click with your counselor, try another one.
Whatever you choose to do, please “feel the feelings” and give yourself permission to work through the process. Be kind to yourself. And remember, you aren’t alone.
Oh, and for those of you trying to help your W…you may gently suggest counseling, but no nagging allowed.