Kintsugi, The Art of Being Broken

99DF6423-4D1E-4142-AC4D-4672AD9DB263.jpegI walked into work in my normal groggy, grumpy mood.  It was 0615 and my coffee hadn’t kicked in enough to care about whatever shenanigans were going on with the assignments for the day.   The operating room assignments for the nursing staff can be an unfun task for the head nurse and I was thankful that wasn’t me.

 

I downed the last of my Americano before reaching the red line.  That’s the line you must stand behind to keep all the germs, stray hairs, and apparently crabby nurses behind.  The head nurse, or charge nurse as we call them, rounded the corner with his clipboard in hand looking way too stressed out for this early in the am.  He started with, “I’m sorry your assignment has been changed.”  Since I had no idea what my assignment had been, being off the day before, I mumbled that’s ok and went to figure out what operating room I was in for the day.

Scrolling my eyes down the board I see my name in a usual spot and the recent apology becomes clearer.  I am in Urology.    To be clear, I haven’t worked in Urology in many years,  the basic set up is the same, water for irrigation and a camera for the bladder.  But it’s dark, cold and wet, not the combination I usually like. I was a fish out of water so to speak.

Being a surgical tech/ assistant before I could legally drink, means I have been around a while and I am used to basic surgery.  General surgery where you can see everything that the surgeon is doing.  I just realized this could tie into my control-freak issues, but that’s a blog for another day.  Normally I work in oncology or cancer, my favorite surgery is removing breast cancer.

I accepted my assignment with only a little trepidation, the surgeon was known to be extremely nice, and the assistant could do the surgery practically herself.   I went to set up the room.  As I walked in the music blared and I chuckled at the selection.  Something about love rekindled played and I joked with the surgeon this was the perfect music for a vasectomy reversal.

As I bopped around the room, feeling more caffeinated and ready to go meet the patient, the surgeon remarks that the music is actually not very fitting.    Many times the patients undergoing this type of surgery were in a new relationship and were excited about the possibility of starting another family.  In years past, I had actually had couples ask me to take their picture with the surgery hat and gown, hoping it could be one for the baby book.

The surgeon told me this was a unique couple that had gone through a tragedy recently and they had lost both their daughters in a car accident.  He paused briefly to look at my face, he was checking to see if I was going to be ok, the realization that I had also just lost my daughter, had just occurred to him and didn’t know if he should say something to me.  He kindly apologizes and I said, “it’s ok.”   In a not-so- confident shakey voice and I head off to great my patient.

Walking towards the private room, I see the couple and I stop a few feet short before walking in.  I see the face of the mom and I have seen that face many times before, it’s the face of grief.    I walked in and said my basic introduction, feeling the feeling that only a person who has been through this pain can feel, it was a tangible heavy feeling in the room.   The wife excused herself to use the restroom and dry her eyes, as I typed on the computer.  As I looked at the patient I told him I knew a little of his story and why he was there today.  History being something I reviewed, it wasn’t a surprising statement.

I then said to him, “I have a similar story I lost a daughter also.”  I squeezed his hand and I expected that to be the end of the conversation.   He hadn’t said much to me except the usual information.  Noticing the religious marking he had, I told him I had originally not been assigned to his room, that I normally do not work in that service but not to worry I would take good care of him, that I felt like I was meant to be his nurse.

At that moment, he turned to face me and he asked me how old my daughter was.   I told him she was 19.  He sat up a little in his chair and said, my daughter was also 19 and the other 15.  I felt a pull on my heartstrings.     As I was showering this morning, and praying he said, I felt my daughter’s with me.  Searchingly he looked into my eyes for reassurance.   Surprisingly I heard my own voice ask, would you like me to pray with you now?  Through tears now sliding down his face, he nodded gratefully.   We waited for his wife, and we joined hands and prayed.  I am not sure what I said as the words tumbled out of my mouth.  I gave a squeeze and left to prepare for surgery.

Before work, as I was driving in, I had listened to my normal radio station.   The word for the day came on and it was kintsugi, the Japenese art of repairing broken pottery by mending the areas of breakage with dusted or mixed with powdered gold or silver.  It is the philosophy that exposing the breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise.  It did not seem to be an accident that I felt like I was being used as a kintsugi, that my brokenness of loss gave another couple a moment of peace, that they were not alone.

 

 

 

Defining Moments

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Camp Wi-ne-ma

If you’ve ever seen the movie Yes Man, with Jim Carrey, then you might relate to this bizarre phase of grief and healing I have been going through.    In the movie, the main character has suffered the loss of his marriage and has a negative outlook on himself and life in general.    He attends a seminar and is inspired to say yes to everything and besides some minor chaos, he changes his life and the life of random or not so random strangers lives, even to go so far as to save a man from suicide.   I didn’t really have this movie in mind, but honestly, I was fighting for my own life when I determined this might be the way to save it.

After the tragedy of losing my daughter and one of my best friends who we shared so much in common, I could barely breathe, and still have moments where I have to focus on just putting one step in front of the other, one moment at a time.   It has felt at times like I have been struggling to hang on to everything I hold dear like it used to feel when I would attempt rock climbing and would decide to stick my hands between a crack to hold myself on a narrow footing.

The first “thing” I said yes to was a walk for suicide prevention.  It didn’t make everything better, but it was like putting ice on a bee sting, doing something positive in her name took the sharp pang away, even if for a little while.  Then we did the first Hike for Hope, and the nonprofit, the http://www.MikennaVanekProject.org with ongoing projects, then the Mexico mission with my family and church and then recently  I was asked to be the camp nurse while in Mexico.  I didn’t want to say no, I wasn’t sure the reason I needed to go, especially two weeks later after my Mexico mission, but like the Yes Man movie I went.

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Heart shaped clouds the entire drive even my daughter notices 💜

My thoughts were that I would pass out a few bandaids, I hadn’t been a camp nurse in a long while.   The first night I was there, a young girl came in extremely upset for the physical health of her sister.  We talked for a while and she left.  I remembered nights past of my daughters worried for one of their sisters, and it broke my heart for her.  I hoped that telling her some resources would be enough.  I also wondered was this an isolated thing or would more campers come to talk?

Over the week I got to know kiddos with different mental health issues, relationship issues, transitional living type situations and in general, as a nurse, emotionally a lot more difficult to treat than a just an icepack or a bandaid.  They came in for their meds or vitamins, or feminine products, ice or bandaids, looking for candy or snacks and stayed just talking life with me.  I then watched as some of them formed friendships with each other, interestingly enough, the kids with the most difficult hardships seemed to find each other and connect.

During my time as a camp nurse, two of the campers who were best friends got into a fight.  Emotions ran high and in the heat of the moment, one of the boys hit a wall.   After Xrays, ice and Advil he was extremely remorseful.  He was ashamed of himself and wanted to go home.  In another situation just a couple days later after another angry outburst, a different also embarrassed wanted to go home.  In both situations after they cooled off and with major coaxing from different counselors, they both stayed and went on to enjoy the rest of the camp.  I heard one counselor say, “one impulsive act does not define you”.   I  contemplated that statement for days.  The truth is, one defining moment does not define you, it may change your life forever, but it is not the definition of the person you truly are.  It is one moment, one choice.  I think about the beautiful soul my daughter was and how one tragic moment ended her life, but it did not define the beautiful person that will always be her.

From hugs to the brokenhearted, that I felt so deep it broke mine also, to gathering personal hygiene items for teens in need, to a nap in a quiet area for the anxiety-ridden camper labeled as being “drama” by other campers, to explaining to the neurodiverse (not neurotypical) teens that they aren’t alone at camp or in life.  I didn’t have a sign like Lucy in Peanuts but the campers just came and needed me to be present and listen.  I will be honest after the first young lady visited, I thought to myself this isn’t what I signed up for, but it was what they needed and ultimately what I needed to give.

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Above my door a mama bird tucks her baby bird in while watching me closely. Oh how I relate mama

One of the first moments there I found myself face to face with my daughter that passed away’s, youth leader.  He reintroduced himself.  What he didn’t know is that I harbored some unresolved feelings towards him.  Why hadn’t he connected in the last 18 months?  As he fumbled for words of telling me how sorry he felt, the words forgiveness filled my heart.  I struggled with questions of what-ifs.  I knew that before this event I would also struggle with reaching out to someone in my shoes.  I now know that any effort is worth giving and I feel like it’s my life’s mission to make that effort when I see the need, but I would have struggled in his shoes before the tragic event of losing my daughter.  I was thankful he had finally talked to me and thankful I was able to not let that hurt define me, and I was able to let go.

 

Below is a craft of beach shells my daughter had gathered and a few I added from the dollar store:

Supplies:

two pieces of small scrap wood

two nails

shells assorted

hot glue

staple gun

attach the two small pieces of wood into a cross with the two nails and hot glue all of the shells until all the surface is covered   Attach a step in the back with the staple gun if you choose to hang it or place in your garden

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Deer Hope

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Deer wait outside my daughter’s place of work

The day before we left on our mission trip as a family, I wondered what on earth possessed me to consider taking four of us on a mission trip at the same time.  We were working, playing sports, and wrapping up the school year, along with getting ready for our exchange student, starting our nonprofit and managing life.  Frantically running around packing and arguing with each other, tying up loose ends, we left at 3:30 in the morning on our ten day trip over the border.

We arrived and at first, I felt the tiredness and homelife responsibilities tugging at our mission.  I was worried I had made a mistake, but I had gone out on a leap of faith that this was something that would be healing for our family.  Serving others would give us a break from the constant torment balancing our grief with the daily grind.

When I had the idea over 6months earlier, I had asked for a sign I should take my family to Mexico to help those less fortunate than ourselves and was answered minutes later by a family donating a large portion of our financial portion so we all could go.  I knew that gift couldn’t be wrong, I just needed to believe and keep pushing on.

After the first couple of days, I noticed a change in my husband.  He was smiling.  He was also sweating as he hand-nailed and framed along with 14 other people on his work site, but he seemed genuinely happy working and focusing on his project.  He had learned about the father on his site who was providing for his children by working in a restaurant in the kitchen.  He took time off work to make sure he could be there for the building of his house.   My husband worked in a kitchen when we were first married also as he finished college with small babies and a wife at home.   He had also taken this week off work to build this man’s home.

2932DC27-B63D-4512-85CB-5C739FA9B3DE.jpegMy youngest daughter doubted her purpose of being there.  She was teaching kids in a language she didn’t know.  She struggles at home with being an introvert and communicating with others sometimes in her own language.  By the end of the trip though, she was engaged, crafting and playing with the kids near the work sites.  As I walked by the local store near our camp I spied her smiling and sharing a coconut with another mission friend and my heart melted a little.   It was not a mistake for her to come.

My middle child has been struggling (like all of us).  Life can be hard even for the happiest of kids.  I catch her on her phone hiding away from our tent.  She seemed homesick and I became worried.   It’s not something she shows others, its what I can see.  I cry and pray for her heartaches.  I need her to connect.

The next day is a long work day.  I see my same daughter as I walk from site to site passing out band-aids and Advil for mild injuries.  She’s working hard and everyone says she’s a trooper.  Later I notice shes spending more and more time with the two young girls on her site and the next day she takes a soccer ball and her water backpack for the girls.  She also askes for me to look at one of their rashes and listen to their chest cold.

The following day our pastor tells me how she just shines in this place.  I wonder how I can help her keep it if I can, and I am very thankful for it, that shine   I asked her about how she is doing and she tells me how she has made a very strong connection with the family, especially the two girls.  The little girl sits in her lap and tells her how she is very sad, how she misses her sister.  She tells her in Spanish that her sister is in heaven and she misses her very much.  My daughter tells her in her high school Spanish, that her sister is also in heaven and that she also misses her very much.    When I hear this story and I see my daughter I know in my heart it is no coincidence.  How many families applied to have their homes made this year by the mission group, and out of those that applied then this family was chosen? They could have been on 9 other sites, my daughter might have decided to work with the vision clinic or the children, but the family and my daughter were put together. My daughter talks more to the young girl and learns that not only did they also lose their sister, but they lost her the same month and the same year.  God uses broken pieces.

my daughter with her sweet gi

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My daughter with the sweet girl who lost her sister also and who is getting a new home

I came home and my oldest daughter who was unable to go with us, tells me about a baby deer that a mother deer has given birth to a couple days earlier.  (if you’ve read from blogs past since she lost her sister, deer follow her a lot, even look in her therapy windows.) She tells me the mother deer hangs out somewhere nearby waiting for the dear to stand up on her wobbly legs.  My daughter passes by the deer day after day and calls the local animal group to ask anything can be done.   My daughter is concerned the baby deer is ill.  The mother deer still hangs nearby.    Today I talked to my daughter and she tells me the baby deer is gone, but the mother deer still hangs in the same spot, with her other slightly older deer babies, waiting and watching where she left her infant. To be honest, I cried and I pray the vet has the deer.

I got off the phone with my oldest and notice my youngest is keeping herself busy by painting a bible cover she got at GoodWill.  She hasn’t been in the same room with me when I was having the conversation.  She finishes her painting as I walk in the room and I see she is adding a deer to her painting, along with the verse from Psalms 121:1-2  I lift up my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord the maker of heaven and earth.  

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Summer craft 

Before I left Mexico I had a sign language conversation of sorts with the mother.   I asked her how many children she had.  She told me three as she pointed at the two in front of me and then pointed to heaven for her third.  She asked me the same question and I said four as I pointed to mine and pointed to heaven.   I watched her grab a jacket and place it on her youngest, maybe concerned she might catch a cold as the weather had turned.  I don’t need to know Spanish to understand.

I look back at that moment and I know she could also relate to the mother deer if I could tell her the story.  As parents that have lost their child, we cannot lay down, we cannot give up though our heart stays in the same spot where we left our baby.  A piece of it will always stay there, with our child.  We continue on while we simultaneously stay close and hold tight to what we hold dear.   (Pun intended.)   I am fascinated that God sent me hundreds of miles from home to meet another grief mama.  I wonder if I’ve somehow lessened her pain a tiny bit or at least let her know she doesn’t walk alone.  (Now if I could only speak in deer, I would tell that deer mama the same thing).

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Broken Pieces

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I sometimes struggle with the idea of being broken.  First of all, we are all broken in different ways.  I used to say, “no one gets out of this world alive.” What I meant by that was that everyone has their “stuff.”    Years ago, I used to think I was the only one that had issues to deal with.    I then became a charge nurse at work, and boy I figured out I was wrong.

If you are old enough to remember Lucy and her .5 cents for psychiatric advice, you would kind of know what I am talking about.  At my desk, I would sit at a couple times a week, it even had a little window you could slide shut at one point, I would give my .5 cents worth of advice and counsel for whatever it was worth.   A charge nurse not only makes sure the floor they are working on runs well, but they look after the basic welfare of their co-workers while they work.   You would be given confidential information that wasn’t really for management to deal with, and then you would have to discern what was best for the department and your co-worker without breaking their confidentiality.

I would have co-workers with sick children or spouses, injuries to work around,  some personality conflicts and other issues that would come up during the day.  As I sat back one day I realized everyone was dealing with something.  One person has a husband working out of state, one has adult children living with her that she helps support, another takes care of her aging parents on her days off, one was awaiting a total joint surgery, someone else also has a learning disabled child to care for at home. We all come to work with our stuff and we set it aside to get the job done, but on occasion, they need help making that happen.  That’s when I knew that everyone was dealing with something.  Some of us a little more or less or different than the other person.

Some of us have more “stuff” than others, and sometimes our “stuff” is unlike anyone’s around us.   I know in my case, I found it unbearable to share how I was feeling verbally with others around me and I began writing.   I have no idea why I can write so openly about my deepest feelings more than I can talk about them.   My husband had a great statement this morning, “no matter where this all leads you, it’s doing something, it’s not doing nothing.”

I thought about being broken.  I have been broken as if I were smashed, stepped on and swept up and discarded.  That is how broken I have felt with my loss.  I am so broken that I feel like I walk around as a whole person, that has been glued back together and repainted, only to have the surface scratched daily to reveal my brokenness.  The only thing that helps is the knowledge that I still have a purpose, that I will see my daughter again, and that I do not walk this road alone.

Today is 14 months since the loss of my daughter.  It honestly is like a blink of an eye.  When I need a few minute mental reprieves, I think about how she could be studying abroad or on a mission trip.  I guess she is, there’s just no way to text or track her on her GPS like find my iPhone.   I know that I will carry her with me every day and in all things I do. I know that most people that have lost someone close to them, like a child or a spouse, feel the same way.

Yesterday I listened to my pastor take about the miracle of feeding the 5,000 with 5 loves of bread and 2 pickled herrings.   To feed the masses he broke the bread.  It was only broken bread that was blessed and used to feed 5,000 men and their wives and children. We discussed in our group, how in history and in the bible, how broken people were always the people that went on to do extraordinary things.   I don’t blame God for my brokenness, I know we live in a broken world.   I do believe that he takes broken things, blesses them, and uses them for so much more than we can imagine.

Below is a song shared in our group about the story of feeding the masses and being broken.

 

Broken Boots

Going through my daughter’s things I ran into the issues of her boots.   They were her prized possessions.  She loved her Doc Martins and her Timberlines. The problem was no one in our family wore that size and I didn’t want to just give them away.   I decided to make planters out of them for her closest family and friends.   I started with the boots with the broken sole.

 

 

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To make these planters I took a pair of boots that were no longer going to be worn.  These had a large tear in the bottom.  I took out the inside lining and then drilled a few drainage holes in the bottom.  I spayed the outside of the shoe with waterproofing spray and filled with a seasonal plant.  You can keep inside the plastic container or fill the boot with potting soil.  I attached a laminated memorial tag to one and cardstock message to another.  You can cover the cardstock in clear tape to waterproof it also.