Many years after my tragedies were over and done with, and after I was happy beyond my dreams, the idea came to me to make mosaic artwork. A mosaic artist can take bits and pieces of trash and treasure and create something beautiful.
Fragments from Mother’s bone china dinner plate that someone had dropped after too much Thanksgiving Day wine. Great-grandmother’s brooch that she wore when she traveled in steerage from Ireland. The opal ring that had chipped when someone was trying to open a stuck window. All of these things and more can be used: buttons, shells, splintered stained glass, shattered ceramic tile—all arranged with an eye to visual appeal and configured into beautiful works of art.
My own heart had been shattered, broken into many pieces too many times. But the brokenness made room for light to shine into the cracks, mending like glue, refashioning my heart into a vessel capable of greater love.
So when a little voice in my head asked, “Why don’t you make mosaic pieces?” I did. First, I smashed a set of blue-and-white plates patterned with tall ships. There were six plates in the set, and I no longer wanted either ships or blue dishes in the kitchen.
I used the shards of the blue-and-white dinnerware to mosaic a square table for the gazebo. It looks like a table for four set with broken dishes and grouted lines. The table has a fruit basket centerpiece, also made from broken crockery, and a background of curvy lines constructed with tiny pieces of round and square tiles.
Next came a birdbath with glass goldfish and koi set in black grout. Then some wall hangings—pond-themed pieces for a bathroom that’s decorated with water lily wallpaper. Then I tiled a small desk and the island in the kitchen. I constructed a mandala on the bottom of a large clay saucer using old costume jewelry, pieces of glass, and small round tiles.
My largest and most challenging piece was a picnic table anchored by a cheerful shining sun surrounded by cracked dinnerware place settings and coasters. Black grout unifies the piece. Around the edges of the picnic table, I put medium and large black and bronzed tiles. Stars and moons sprinkle and sparkle against the black background.
Symbols of The Fragmented Shards of My Heart
It’s always a meditative experience to do these pieces, and one day this thought came to me: these projects have all been symbols of the inner mosaic I’ve made from the fragmented shards of my heart.
One thing’s for sure. If you live on this planet long enough, your heart will be broken. The broken heart can be powerful. The broken heart has more room for more love. I found this out. Restoring the heart requires perseverance and spiritual work, but if I could do it, anyone can. Redemption, renewal, and happiness can occur in our lives even after almost inconceivable tragedies.
The Mixed Bag of My Spiritual Path
Briefly, I need to explain the spiritual perspective from which I write. My heritage and upbringing are Christian, but my journey has not been constrained by a narrow religiosity or denominational doctrine. It was through faith in God that I sustained myself during the tragedies and worked through the grief.
I respect all spiritual paths whose genesis is love. I’ve found solace and succor in aspects of other traditions, notably my practice of yoga as a physical/mental discipline, the understanding of suffering found in Buddhism, and in my study of ancient mythologies and the archetypal patterns explored and explained by the Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung.
These studies don’t dilute my belief in the redemptive power of the Christ. On the contrary, they enhance my faith and my understanding of biblical teachings. In fact, much of my study of these traditions has taken place at church workshops and Christian retreat centers. An ecumenical spirituality gives a broader, deeper understanding of truth. The study is lifelong and never-ending.
Bending and Bouncing Back From Challenging Events
At some point in my life I learned not to make into catastrophes events that comprise living the life one is given. Grief and tragedies happen, and they bear down upon us with dreadful weight. Yet I believe that we can each respond like the deeply rooted, old-growth trees that surround my house.
During hurricanes, blizzards, and ice storms, I’ve watched the trees—oaks, beeches, maples, dogwoods, sweet gums, yellow poplars, hollies, pines, and cedars—bend and bow but rarely break. Almost always after storms, they respond to the call of the sun’s rays and the nurturance of spring rains, growing taller and stronger every year.
I stand as proof that the human spirit is capable of responding to suffering with just such resilience.
The Legend of the Philtrum
There’s a legend in the Jewish mystical tradition about unborn children. According to the legend, an angel teaches infants in the womb what their mission on the earth will be. Just before they are born, the angel touches them above the upper lip so they won’t remember what he told them until their death. This touch creates the philtrum, the cleft, between the upper lip and nose.
Heart wrenching as it was, I learned to accept that my daughters lived as long as they needed to on this earth to accomplish their souls’ missions.
In a reverie, an inner dialogue, I asked Holly years after she died, “Did you know you were not going to come out of that surgery? Were you ready to die? Or was it all random?”
Holly responded in my mind,
“No, Mom. There has been nothing random about any of this, hard as that is to believe and to understand for you. Nothing is random. This we know. Some choices are more consciously made than others. But we always, without fail, choose. My personality and my ego did not choose to have cystic fibrosis. Cystic fibrosis was a physical expression of the soul’s choice, and it played out through my personality and my body.”
“Hmmm,” I murmured. “Okay. Now please tell me, when you were in the coma, were you evaluating your options about whether to return to the world with your set of transplanted lungs? Is that what you did for those twelve days?”
“Not so much was I, Holly as personal ego, evaluating, although believe me, Holly as ego had questioned the implications and hardship of living with a transplanted organ. You know I had.”
“Yes. I shut out your doubts from my mind, because my grieving heart couldn’t fathom your uncertainties.”
“And you know I was absolutely opposed to you and Dad sharing your lungs with me. I didn’t want you to make that sacrifice for me. I knew that you would eventually understand why it was time for me to leave.”
“Were you simply tired of the struggle to live as a vibrant young woman when breathing came so hard?”
“Partly. But more than that, my soul had accomplished its mission. When I was there with you on the earth, I didn’t consciously know my mission. Pay attention, Mom. I said I didn’t consciously know the mission. My soul always knew it, and when I got my ego out of the way, or more accurately when the surgery got my ego out of the way, I knew why I had come to you.
“This may be difficult, but remember that nothing is ever meant to hurt you. Experiences of our lives are meant to make us grow into the beings that are created in the image and after the likeness of the Divinity. I had to teach you to love purely, without strings or conditions. You are a bereaved mother, but you are richly blessed, because you’ve learned to love wholly and unconditionally.”
“I can hardly believe you’re telling me this. I don’t see the evidence of it.”
I couldn’t breathe quite right as I engaged in this dialogue with one of my dead daughters. My heart pounded, and my solar plexus whirled with strange energies as I remembered the legend about the philtrum.
Faith and Grace Healed My Broken Heart
The girls said to me during meditation early one morning,
“Your faith in our abilities to participate in life made all the difference to us. Thank you, Mommy, for allowing us and encouraging us to go out into the world and explore.
“Now it’s your turn to live joyfully, Mom. Don’t ever be afraid to live fully and to give your whole, healed heart.”
The broken pieces of my heart have been put back together.
Scarred places, like grouting lines on a treasured mosaic piece, will be with me forever.
But thanks to faith and grace, the shattered shards have been reassembled with new love.
A Mosaic Heart - Reshaping the Shards of a Shattered Life
by Terry Jones-Brady.
About the Author
Terry Jones-Brady has been an actress and educator and is now an award-winning freelance writer. She holds a bachelors degree from the University of California at Berkeley, a masters degree from Norfolk State University, and is a certified spiritual director. She lives in Virginia with her husband, their English bulldog, and their cockatiel.