Grieving As Transformation


Last week, to honor the one-year anniversary of my mother’s sudden death, and the six-month anniversary of my job loss, I attended a grief workshop.

About twenty of us sat in a circle around a beautiful, multi-tiered display of broken mugs. There were many kinds, colors and shapes of mugs. Some were merely chipped, some were smashed, and some had no handle. The analogy centered on Psalm 3:12 which says, “I have become like a broken vessel.”

We were told to pick a mug that resembled how we felt, and then we had twenty minutes to spend thinking through some questions we were given about the mug and our grieving process.

The people in the group were all over the map in their grief work: one woman looked like she was still in shock, head bowed, eyes wide, unable to speak. Her husband had died six months ago and he was only in his forties.

One man had lost his wife two years ago, but described his heart as “shattered.” He looked like he was on the verge of a physical heart shattering with the level of pain he was still holding in.

Some had lost grown children, others lost parents who left them orphaned, as only children, with no children of their own for comfort. Each had their own process of grief.

Some were not grieving the death of a loved one, but a divorce or retirement from a beloved profession.

I chose a cup with no handle because losing my mother and my job felt like losing the things I held on to, the things that took a large chunck of my time and made up a large part of my identity.

But as I examined my cup I saw that it was still beautiful, useful and mostly intact. I saw that it could function very well without its handle…life was going on for me and for the most part, my life is very beautiful. I have a wonderful husband and fantastic children and grandchildren. I work, I write, I have ministry. I am happy.

When we returned from our time of reflection, we talked about our cups. Everyone had found hope in this exercise in some small way. It gave us words for our experience of grief.

At lunch we put our cups at the foot of the cross in the chapel. Later, when we returned, there was a new display at the center of the room: it contained beautiful, colorful, whole cups. We were each allowed to choose one and take it home. A cup of blessing.

I realized that I have come far in my grieving process. I am letting go. I’m sure there will be times when I continue to be blindsided by grief, but I have come a long way in healing. And the point of this exercise drove home for me that grief can lead us to transformation, to new places of depth, compassion and growth. (Tweet This)

In one handout adapted from Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy by J. William Worden, PHD, it listed four stages of grief which I will briefly sketch here:

    1. To accept the reality of the loss: When someone dies, even if death is expected, there is always a sense that it hasn’t happened. The first task of grieving is to come full face with the reality that the person is dead.
    2. To experience the pain of grief: Many people (and society) try to avoid painful feelings. You must allow yourself to experience and express your feelings, difficult though they may be.
    3. To adjust to an environment in which the deceased is missing: There may be many practical daily affairs you need help and advice with, but there will be a great sense of pride in being able to master these challenges.
    4. To withdraw emotional energy and reinvest it in another relationship: The final task is to effect an emotional withdrawal so that this emotional energy can be used in continuing a productive life.

I learned that each person’s grief is completely unique. It doesn’t really help to compare our grief or expect another to grieve like we do. But, it does help to share the human experience of grief with others who are going through it.

Where are you at in your grief experience? What kind of cracked cup are you and what does God say about it? I’d love to hear about your grief experience so we can hold our cups up together and toast a life of transformation.


6 thoughts on “Grieving As Transformation

  1. I love this visual: At lunch we put our cups at the foot of the cross in the chapel. Later, when we returned, there was a new display at the center of the room: it contained beautiful, colorful, whole cups. We were each allowed to choose one and take it home. A cup of blessing.

    Indeed each loss is different. The loss of the first parent. The loss of a second parent and feeling like an orphan. The heart ripping loss of a child. The loss of a dear friends. The unexpected loss. The loss of a job, home and divorce. The loss of independence. We never forget but we continue in faith and realize that we were and are blessed by the relationships in our lives. The understanding is the blessing.

    Thanks for the post, Jacci.


    1. Thank you Julie! Yes, the losses seem to pile up, don’t they.i think the less we grieve and process them, the more they can pile up in a way that leads to bitterness and not softness. Softness is what I see in your heart. Jacci


  2. As read this, I thought of four cups in my glass cabinet.

    The one from Merna, my friend who died of cancer almost 25 years ago is still intact having been used in different ways that would keep it safe. And in reality, she is someone I still write to in my journal from time to time. What she did for me in life will always remind me where the path to healing is even when I lose it. That cup is a reminder.

    The second has a chip at the lip, the relationship that I am closest to. It was a one year gift of the day we met, and interestingly, chipped during a period where it seemed that relationship was about to end. The friendship we had was enough to take us through that period but left the reminder that the relationship would always have some chipped places which wouldn’t stop it from being useable and beautiful to hold on to.

    The third and fourth are related. The first was a picture mug I made of a good childhood memory with my dad four years ago when I went home after 14 years away to help with his hospice care. Almost immediately, though it hadn’t happened with other picture mugs, the picture started to come off in places. During my time with my family I learned why my father had had more difficulty accepting me in my life.

    I bought a transformative mug to remember that memory and the new realization that I hadn’t been the “problem” all along. I had reminded him of someone long gone who deep inside he had never stopped resenting. The cup I bought has a sillouette around it of flower stems with white flowers against a blue sky. It reads, “By the grace of God I am what I am. I Corinthians 15:10.

    There are other broken cups in the story of my life but these, help me heal in a present grief as I think of them in the terms of your post. Thank you for sharing this.


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