Jessica’s note: Breaking Plates was written in 2017 as a part of grief healing, prior to launching Heartfully Present.
I did a crazy thing. It was such a profound experience for me that I knew it would come to print someday, and I knew that the words would come when the time was right. I woke up this morning and the words were here. (*note: this date, 12/13/17, was one year to the day that this story actually took place. There are no coincidences with God.)
One year ago I took 3 boxes of plates to our family retreat on Lake Livingston and I smashed them to pieces.
Jack and I had been working with a counselor because when things get tough, healthy people get help. Many years of mediocre communication, layered upon massive grief from child loss, topped with some catastrophic life choices from both of us had brought us to a place where we needed a professional.
After several sessions we spent some time talking through the experience of losing our infant son LJ in 2009, and how we each responded and processed the grief so differently. I shared a “joke” I’ve told countless times over the past 8 years: at one point soon after our son’s passing, I was so angry in grief that I found myself shivering in the cold in a retail parking lot, ready to buy a box of plates to smash against a building somewhere. I just needed something to break. The only reason I didn’t go through with it is because I realized getting arrested would probably just make me feel even worse.
As I laughed on the therapist’s couch, he leaned in and gently said, “I don’t think this is funny at all. Did no one ever tell you to go buy the plates?” I shook my head no and started to cry. He then encouraged me, “Go buy the plates.”
Many people offered to come along for moral support but this task felt so deeply personal that I chose to go alone. I picked a day and after imagining thousands of times what it would have felt like, I marched into Marshalls and bought three big boxes of white place settings. I looked like a completely normal shopper. I felt anything but normal.
After that strange shopping trip I stopped by my parents’ home to pick up keys to the property; their home was still being built at the time. It’s beautiful there. Hundreds of egrets loft in the trees surrounding a secluded cove, and they quietly stalk the fish that jump in the water. One alligator suns herself just above the water on a little island by the boat house until some larger gators join her in the summertime. My dad sent me with a machete just in case the alligators felt friendly. That is still funny to me, Dad. I made the drive up there in silence.
It was cloudy and cold and very quiet in the late afternoon when I got there. I pulled the boxes onto the concrete slab of the pavilion. I had brought a permanent marker to label each piece but changed my mind. Some hurts are too big, too hairy, to label with just one word or two. As I started opening the first box, eight years of bottled hurt and pain – and anguish over the events of the past year – spilled hot down my cheeks. I grabbed a coffee mug first and cradled it in my hands. I pulled my bad shoulder back and my arm high over my head and threw the cup as hard as I could straight down onto the concrete. It shattered. And it hurt. The gator spooked and scrambled for deep water. I grabbed a bowl, then a plate, and faster and faster, one by one, I smashed everything in the box. I ripped open the second one, and then the third. In a loud, ugly rage I picked up pieces that didn’t break small enough and smashed them again. Shard after shard rocketed across the pavilion into the grass, into the water. I broke for my family, for my son, for my marriage, for my heart, for dreams, for loss, for pain, for regret, for grief. As I came to the bottom of the last box I dropped to my knees, slicing my skin on the shards underneath.
It had never occurred to me to wear goggles or gloves. There’s a reason it’s called “blind rage:” there’s no logic to anger. It’s why anger feels so powerful to us. It’s strong enough to mask sadness, fear, disappointment. Those emotions the world tells us are weak and those emotions we don’t want to reckon with. Where pain makes us vulnerable, anger comes out swinging. As I knelt there sobbing and holding the last plate, all that anger melted away and I couldn’t break it. In a world of broken plates there are still things too precious to shatter. I caught my breath and surveyed what I had done.
I collected and set aside that final plate, along with one heart-shaped fragment for LJ and one small piece from the dish I broke for my dear friend. She so poignantly states that sometimes change requires yelling and slamming of doors. I think healing requires those things too. Aching, exhausted, and freezing, I found a broom in the workroom and started sweeping. What took me twenty minutes to destroy took me more than two hours to clean up. The metaphor is not lost on me. How quickly decisions, words, actions can create a mess that takes work and such patient painful time to remedy.
To this day, a year later, I still happen upon little white china pieces in the yard when we visit. They are part of the property now. Similarly, those broken pieces of my heart are permanently woven into my life. They are a a colored thread that reappears in the tapestry from time to time, often when I least expect it. It has changed the entirety of the big picture and it is a literal growing pain – my sides twinge sometimes.
It was dark when I finished sweeping and I could already feel the ache of soreness in my arms, sides, back, and legs from hurling so hard and hunching over to sweep up the pieces. I scooped everything into the paper bag I had brought and loaded it back into the car. My original intent was to have an art piece created with the plates, but the longer I looked at them I realized those broken pieces don’t serve me anymore. I kept the heart shaped piece for my son, and the whole plate as a reminder that no matter how broken things seem, there is still wholeness and beauty and healing here.
It’s my choice to live in the broken shards or on the last beautiful plate standing. Sometimes you just have to sort through the shattered pieces to learn that you’re ready to bless them and move forward. Sometimes you have to make that choice one hundred times in a single day. It’s the only way you’ll find healing.
My point here is this: you have hereby been granted universal permission to go buy your plates. How I WISH I had known this eight years ago. Quiet suffering is the quickest way to misery and martyrdom. Instead, cry into your coffee with a good friend. Be real even when it’s ugly. Own your stuff even when it’s hard. Take a gulp and say the words or do the thing. Mend the relationship and get right with yourself and your loved ones and your Maker. This life is short and it’s hard and it’s sweet. And we only get one to squeeze into it all the things that really matter. Anything else is just junk that gets in the way.
What do you need to find healing and wholeness? If it helps, I’ll meet you at Marshalls.
Oh, my dear friend. My heart aches for you. I’ve always admired you from afar. Your strength, your poise, your grace- sometimes intimidated me. Only because I longed to be like you. You inspire me and give me hope that in the midst of brokenness, we can be made whole again.
Susan, what a kind affirmation, thank you. You are that model of restoration and hope for me and so many others too!
WOW!!!!! What an incredible read!! So powerful, intense but spot on. Amazing what a box of plates could do and let go of. Thank you for sharing such a long private internal battle and the journey to defeat it!!!!
That box of plates… isn’t that wild? Thank you for reading and joining the journey!
So powerful! I’m so thankful that you were encouraged to buy the plates. Thank you for sharing your deep heart with us.
It’s the little things that aren’t so little at all. ❤️
Your story hit home for me. My 29 year old son died March 24, 2018. You have inspired me to get a box of plates. I will break them on the one year mark. It is so hard dealing with this grief…sometimes it hurts so bad that it is painful to breathe. Thank you for sharing your story and reminding me that you can survive this heartbreak.
Dear LaDee, my heart breaks with you for your son. Especially with the year-mark approaching, I hope you are finding ways to honor him and care for yourself too. Please keep me posted on how you’re doing, and I can’t wait to hear how it goes with your plates. This pain… it never gets easier. It just gets different. And there is so much beauty to come, woven from those threads of pain. One day you will wake up and the world will feel brighter. Until then, one foot slowly in front of the other. <3
I love this story. Today is the anniversary of my wife's death. My sons and I are doing this today.
I wish for you happy thoughts and memories.
My heart is with you and your son as you honor your wife and take good care of yourselves. Happy smashing, friend. Many blessings. J
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