The Garden of Broken Pieces

They say we are strong. Is that because they fear we will break?

Like if they acknowledge or initiate the truth and pain, they will break us.

They handle us with care and treat us like we are fragile, yet label us strong. We are both fragile and strong, grief and love. We are fragile but able.

A year and a half ago, a great friend passed away and I took a solo road trip to her hometown in west Texas. As I pulled into town, I noticed that a little antique shop was open, so I pulled in.

I have visited friends in this town for almost 30 years and have not seen a person at this shop one time before this trip.

The owner and her friend were pulling out and labeling items for their sale and invited me to look around. Somewhere between the antique baby carriage and rusty Tonka Toy dump truck, I started to get teary eyed.

I was thinking about my son, how he should be playing with a dump truck like that.

I was thinking about my friend Jennifer, and the four kids she left behind.

“Do you want to see my Garden of Broken Pieces?” the owner asks out of nowhere.

“Yes,” I answer almost in desperation. “I’m full of broken pieces.”

She took me to the back of her shop, out a side door to her Garden of Broken Pieces.

Broken pieces of life’s treasures and trinkets were scattered around a garden of pebbles; chipped crystals, rusty pieces of metal, shards of glass, a cracked ceramic angel, and a moss-covered mushroom surrounded by gnomes dancing on a cracked mirror.

As I was soaking in the unexpected beauty, symbolism, and synchronicity, she invited me to choose a broken piece.

You would have thought that I was choosing between a princess or teardrop cut engagement ring the way I was studying the broken pieces in the garden of what was, what could have been, and what still is.

As I looked for and found the most perfectly imperfect piece.

When her father passed away and willed his antiques and “junk” to her, she couldn’t get rid of anything. Even the broken pieces.

We can’t get rid of our broken pieces either, but like the shop owner, we can find ways to repurpose them. We can find purpose in our pain and our own way to live without our children in this garden of broken pieces called Earth.

They say we are strong, and they are right. We can turn our broken pieces into masterpieces.

When your grief leaves you feeling so angry that you could just break something, do! Then take those broken pieces and turn them into something beautiful in honor of the pain, the love.

Much love, Cullin’s Mama (Ginny)

Planning for Pain & Family Fun

When planning for the holidays, plan for pain. Plan for grief to join in the family fun.

Plan for the gathering and gifting. Check the lists, hang the stockings, and mail the cards. Then plan what you will do with the holiday grief. Do you have a plan for your pain?

Last year I created The Sadvent Calendar. You can read more about it here but basically The Sadvent features 31 days of self care based actions, reflections, creations, and affirmations that help you count down to a heavy date or get through a tough month. I needed a way to make it through another holiday season without my son Cullin and The Sadvent helped.

The Sadvent Calendar

One of my favorite Sadvent activities from last year was creating a family advent countdown using scrapbook paper, stamps, glue sticks, scissors, and a paper box with 25 drawers that I found at Hobby Lobby.

I spent many holiday-grief-filled hours creating our family advent countdown but I didn’t let the kids help at all. Lines had to be drawn and cut perfectly. The stamps needed just the right amount of pressure applied, and the paper lined up just-so.

I need to control little things in life because I feel out of control with some big things in life. Thanks grief.

Cullin’s Mama

Each drawer was curated with one chocolate per kid and a mini ornament but the tree trinkets became predictable after day three, and the chocolates were eaten before the ornaments were hung.

This year I want our family advent to be less stagnant and more engaging. We need more action, more chocolate, and my kids need to be able to have some ownership in the advent and their own holiday grief.

  • Borrowing from The Sadvent’s use of categories, I created 5; Movie, Outing, Game, Baking, and Creative Grief Crafts.
  • My family needs a 25 day countdown so I thought of 4 holiday movies, 4 games, 4 outings, 4 items for baking, and 4 creative grief activities.
  • My participating children (ages 11 & 4) will get to choose the fifth movie, game, outing, baked good, and healing craft for our family advent.

Day one of the advent, we will create a plan for pain as a family. We’ll make a list of what helps us through the moments when we most miss Cullin. When pain arises during this holiday season, we’ll choose and try our grief relief strategies.

Last year, I needed to take care of myself, but this year my family needs some extra time together. This holiday season we will watch movies, go on fun outings, play games, bake and create, but we will also have a plan for the pain of grief to emerge right in the middle of our fun family time.

What will you do when grief steals your joy of the season? Will you create a self-care advent? Does an engaging family advent sound like something that would help you get through the month? Do you have a plan for pain?

Cullin’s Mama, Ginny

Stuck With Grief

Let’s face it, we’re stuck with grief. Like Gorilla Glue stuck.We are stuck living with the kind of emotional residue that can never be completely washed away. We can participate in creative grief projects and actively heal, but we will go to our graves with the epoxy of grief.

We are glued together, and as members of this hate-to-love community we understand what it feels like to be stuck with a group of people who were not a part of your life before yet you can’t live without them in grief’s after. We can share and connect, but no amount of layers revealed will peel away this pain.

Like adhesive to the soul, we are bound to a forever love and we won’t let go, no matter how much we must continue to move forward. We can’t let go. Grief leaves us feeling like we are coming unglued but somehow we are still hanging on, stuck to grief with the glue of love.

I’m thankful to be stuck with you. With this grief. This love.

Leaping Into a New Year

Have you ever jumped from rock to rock along the riverbank; Trusting that your feet will cling to solid ground and hold you upright? Believing that you will hang on and stay on, rather than lose your grip on the slippery slime and plunge into the water? Praying to land with balance and grace?

Looking ahead, yet sometimes behind. Nervous, yet confident. Scared, yet hopeful. Excited, though focused. Heading forward, yet sometimes looking behind.

This is precisely how I intend to live in the new year. Living and looking for new hope, new light, new rocks to jump yet looking back, honoring, remembering, and cherishing yesterday’s memories, wishes, moments, and even the plunges.

New beginnings can be scary, exciting, and sometimes relenting. It is difficult to leave the comforts of ritual, habit, and times of grief behind in order to begin anew, to move on, and forge ahead. Sometimes the best we can do is to take that which holds us back and use it to propel us forward.

Jumping from rock to rock, like leaping from one year to another, takes courage, determination, belief in yourself, and heart.

…But how can you take heart when your heart has been taken?

…What can you do when each day brings a sense of newness that is both refreshing and smothering?

…How will you live through this new year without your child?

You will live and learn to blend “what should be” with “what is” in order to create a beautiful “now” and “will be”.

You will face the newness, yet you will look back. You deserve to look back, as you have come a long way.

You will connect with others and share your tale of love, loss, and gains. You will be heard, seen, and taken by the hand.

You will ache for your child longingly last year, this year, and every year. You deserve to long, as your heart is missing its biggest piece.

You will face this brand-new year and this same old grief head and heart on, and I will be right here encouraging you.

Much love, Cullin’s Mama

Photo credit Jordan Whitt, Upsplash

Smashing Grief

When you are so mad that you could break something, do. Then take those broken pieces and turn them into something beautiful.

Cullin’s Mama

My toddler was not upset, in fact Raylun was full of delight when he reared back, swung forward, and whacked the ball. Well, it was spherical like a ball but it was actually an ornament.

It was as very special ornament, fragile and hand painted, one of his big brother Cullin‘s personalized memorial ornaments. Raylun couldn’t help but swing at it; the sparkle attracted his eye like a lure and it hung down at the perfect height. How could he not take a swing?

I didn’t get mad, though my mouth stayed open from shock for an extended amount of time, rather I scooped up the pieces, took some photos of the shards, and stuffed them into a new, less fragile shell. I tied on a bow and stuck it back on Cullin’s memorial tree, hanging it a little higher where it will be safe from his brother.

Have you heard about our Ornamental Release ornament smash challenge and creative grief activity? Apparently smashing ornaments runs in our family but this year I won’t have to smash because Raylun already did it for me! Read more about Ornamental Release on Babble.

O’ Cullin Tree

O’ Cullin Tree, O’ Cullin Tree, your leaves are so…..sparse. Broken and bent. Unraveled and twisted.

This year the kids and I decided to retire our “Charlie Brown” Christmas tree and buy a new one to hold the special ornaments that we hang in honor of our Cullin. We found a four foot tall, white tree that stands about as high as he would in his Christmas jammies.

Our pitiful little tree has held up our most precious baubles, as well as our spirits, during some of the heaviest times for the past six Christmases. Adorned with his name, Cullin receives ornaments from his siblings, complete strangers, and me each year.

My mom has the same tree. Or had. Her “Charlie Brown” Christmas tree also broke this year. The kids and I were upset, but mama was just sick about it. “Good grief.

The weight of the ornaments, the wear and tear of storage, and time have wilted the already fragile trees. For all of these reasons and more, our Cullin trees mean the world to us, so I thought up a way to salvage the pieces.

When you ache, create.

  • I took the end pieces of the fir branches that fell off and stuffed them into an empty ornament bulb.
  • Then I cut a sliver of Linus’ blue blanket that normally wraps around the base of the “Charlie Brown” Christmas tree, tied a knot, and placed it in the ornament.
  • I added a fake red berry to represent the red ornament that Charlie Brown placed on his tree.
  • Finally I tied a string on top and hung it on our new Cullin tree.

“It’s not bad at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little love.”

Linus

I love learning from life, but grief has been my least favorite teacher. If my children and I have learned anything from grief, it’s that though we may feel broken and bent, unraveled and twisted, we can still choose to pick up the broken pieces and salvage them in creative ways.

Cullin’s Mama



Holiday Writhe

“For he knew every Who down in Whoville beneath was busy now hanging a hollywho wreath. ‘And they’re hanging their stockings,’ he snarled with a sneer. ‘Tomorrow is Christmas! It’s practically here!”

Here we go again. Grief is doing as grief does, superseding the spirit, joy, and jolly of the holiday season and diminishing the quality time that should be spent celebrating life and traditions with friends and loved ones. It’s like a never ending cycle of the Grief Grinch trying to steal our joy, and we are the Cindy Lou Who’s left wondering “Why?”.

And “What now?”

I can’t answer the Why’s but I can help with the What Now’s.

When writhed in holiday grief, get creative. Last week I shared my version of The Legacy of Leo‘s #AdventToRemember , my #AdventToRememberCullin self care advent called The Sadvent. And this week I want to share a creative grief activity that I call The Holiday Writhe, a feathery wreath of remembrance.

A wreath represents eternity and the circle of life. Physically and symbolically a wreath has no beginning and no end, like the grief and love that we have for our children and other loved ones that we miss in our lives. The grief is great, but the love is greater.

As I said, the grief is great, so let’s create. Grab the following supplies:

  • Evergreen twigs with needles or a manufactured wreath
  • Feathers (You know what they say about feathers appearing)
  • Angel wings (or some other special ornament)

Stick the feathers all around the wreath. Place each feather with intention, keeping your child in mind. Hang the angel wings from the top of the wreath so it dangles in the middle of the wreath. Display your wreath and tell of its significance when people ask about your holiday writhe.

Share your photos and creative grief experience using the hashtags #TheHolidayWrithe #holidaywrithe #hohohope