Grief is all about love. When someone we love dies or when we otherwise lose someone or something precious to us, we often feel the sorrow of grief. It’s as if we’ve been broken apart, and we need ways to mourn that help us to put our hearts back together again.
The Japanese art of kintsugi offers a concrete symbol of the hard, rewarding work of mourning. Kintsugi means golden joinery, and it is a method for reconnecting broken ceramic or other materials, giving them new strength. Rather than breakage being a reason to throw something away, the art of kintsugi offers an opportunity to repair the item. The repair itself then becomes part of the pottery’s history. The repair has a beauty of its own that stems from the item’s continued usability.
I’m not the first person to realize that, while the art of kintsugi may be about pottery, kintsugi symbolizes broken-hearted people. We love, lose who or what we love, and love again. In fact, to be fully human, we must continue to love or love again. Our ability to love again, which means that we are living again, allows us to be whole, healthy, and reasonably content. Grief’s broken edges may be sharp and some people are lost forever, as with a shattered pot. Yet, grief’s brokenness can be reconnected and softened through mourning. Fragmented hearts, like broken pots, can be healed through mourning. These hearts can be gilded and made more beautiful and useful when we continue to live and to love.
Making and using kintsugi engages the philosophy of wabi-sabi, in which we embrace what is flawed or imperfect, just we must embrace life’s struggles and disillusions. There is no perfect pot; there is no perfect life.
The careful repair work of kintsugi also reflects the Japanese philosophy of mushin, which considers change a form of detachment and something to be accepted. Detachment isn’t about letting go of love or avoiding the grief of our losses. Instead, detachment is about giving love and grief an ongoing place in our lives where they can anoint but not destroy us.
As with kintsugi pottery repair, our emotional scars are the precious, artful damage of life. The art of kintsugi embodies how mourning helps us reorient when the imperfections and challenges of life and loss disorient us. Grief changes us, and mourning remakes us as stronger, potentially more loving people.
Grief is about love, but love is first about living—even when we’re broken-hearted.