Monday, April 23, 2012

Grief reimagined

Midsummer of the year Tom died I broke my foot dashing into a dark room to answer the phone, smashing my foot into the base of my desk chair. It was my mother-in-law on the other end, and by the time we were done talking it was pretty obvious that it needed more than an ice pack and elevation. In the ER I filled out the usual demographic form. Next thing I knew a social worker pulled up a chair to talk. The combination of my date of birth and the box I had checked with my marital status — widowed — had triggered a consult. If a 29 year old woman is widowed, something awful has almost certainly happened. I wasn't much interested in the conversation, though at some level I appreciated the care of the whole person it represented. I just wanted to someone to fix what could be fixed. My foot. The rest of me, I well recognized, could not be repaired in the conventional sense.

In the space of a week I had gone from being a wife, with a new house, trying to start a family, to a widow. It was a shift in perspective that was impossible to accommodate, for me, or I imagine, for many of the people around me. Academic that I am, one way I tried to stretch my perspective was to read. I still have a shelf stuffed with books about being widowed and about grieving. One image of healing, I'm not sure which book it came from, has remained stuck with me for all these years. The author(s?) suggested thinking of God healing these deep hurts in the same way that a team of sculptors had repaired the hand of Michelangelo's Pieta — damaged in an attack by a hammer-wielding and sadly delusional man. The team, the authors noted, studied the statue from all angles, and then refashioned the hand to match the original. The point was that God, who knows us so well, can effect a similarly perfect repair in those in His care. Except that, barring a miracle on the order of Lazarus, fixing the damage done to me in this way was simply not possible.

Personally, I thought they had the right sculptor, just the wrong statue. I was more like the damaged block from which Michelangelo had carved his David. Gouged so deeply that many thought the block unusable, it lay weathering in Florence for years, until Michelangelo saw the possibilities. He carved the David at an unusual angle within the block, able to imagine what the statue would look like when it was finally upright. It was tough going, and at times, uncertain whether the bold move would be successful, but in the end, the possibilities he saw in the wounded block were revealed in all their wondrous beauty. This is the healing I longed for, not an impossible repair to the fabric of time and space, a return of what was rent from my hands, but a God who could see what whole-thing could be carved from such a wrecked chunk, making use of the gouge, not filling it in. A God willing to work with the base material off-kilter, who understood the counterintuitive fragility of the stone, the need for tenderness even with hammer and chisel, the tenuous nature of the proceedings.

And this is the healing that has happened. The gouge is not filled in, not pasted over, but a part of the new whole, carved with wild and wondrous tenderness by a God who could see possibilities I could not.


  1. thank you for sharing your journey with us. These posts and some questions asked by a new friend has my mind revisiting the pain of my youth, maybe words will come arrive. Peace and Hope be with you

  2. Lovely, Michelle. And very moving. (((hugs)))

  3. Oh Michelle, so eloquently and richly expressed. Love to you.

  4. This was heartbreakingly beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing your story and those images of God as sculptor. They are so rich and leave me with so much to ponder.

  5. Thank you. This expresses so well what I sense happening in my own life several years after the grief of separation and divorce. Thanks be to God that God sees our potential and we just have to be available to God.

  6. Michelle -

    So beautiful! "making use of the gouge, not filling it in"

    Just exquisite!

    Thank you -- and much love to you.