In one of my classes, several students experienced an unexpected death of a relative. It all happened in the matter of a couple weeks. I decided to make a short unit to help with the grieving process. We’ve learned about the five stages of grief, used our journals to complete sentence starters, and created collages for an alter. Soon, we’ll look at elegies, and the students will write their own. For some students who hadn’t lost a loved one yet, we talked about how grief can span past death into all sorts of places in life: parents’ divorcing, a parent leaving, a relationship you never had with a parent, or a move from a home you loved.
Our last activity will be to break small flowerpots and write the feelings that the student has on the inside. Then we’ll glue the pots back together again. Around the world, the tradition of breaking pots during a time of mourning is quite common. In some parts of South America, people sing, dance, pray and smash bottles and dishes to “break the chain” of death so that no on else in the same family will die soon. Some Jewish people are buried with a broken dish in their hands as a symbol of breaking from the worldly connection. In parts of Africa, pots were broken so that the spirit of the deceased wouldn’t come looking for his/her belongings.
Breaking pots is such a visual representation of how we can feel after a loss. Talking after school with a co-worker, we discussed how some pieces might be missing from your pot, and you walk around that way forever, how some pots never truly heal and keep coming undone again and again. Our conversation made me think about people I know who’ve experienced a huge loss and how it’s true that they’ll walk around a little broken from now on, missing a special piece that made them who they were. And how invisible loss is—how we can’t just look inside and see the super glue holding some people together.
Maybe if we could see each other’s hurts, we’d be a little more compassionate, a little less judgmental. Maybe I’d have more patience for some of my students’ behaviors if I could see how broken they feel. And maybe, if they could see some of the fault lines inside of me, they’d be more understanding, too.
What old hurt are you still nursing? Is the super glue working?