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Meadowlark Hospice

Dawn's Notes

My Beautiful, Broken Shell - March 2022
by Dawn Phelps, RN/LMSW

Many years ago, my husband and I walked hand in hand along a beach not far from Corpus Christi, Texas, picking up seashells.  For three years, we made a trip to Texas in December.  We stayed in the same motel, walked the same beach where we picked up seashells, and listened to the waves lapping on the shore.  As we looked out at the ocean that seemed to go on forever, I wondered what was out there.  I also wondered what was ahead for us since my husband had been diagnosed with kidney cancer.    

After his diagnosis, we deliberately chose to try to make some enjoyable memories and live our lives fully.  We treasured our few days in Texas where we soaked up the warmer weather before we returned to Kansas and the reality of his illness.  By December, 2005, he was bedfast, and he died the last day of February of 2006.

Recently I found a small bag of shells that I had labeled “December, 2004,” from the last time we walked the beach in Texas.  I felt sad as I looked at the shells, knowing I would never walk the beach with him again.  I noticed that almost all of the shells in the bag were unbroken—I did not yet see the beauty in the broken ones. If I would get the chance to walk the seashore again, I think I would look at broken seashells from a different perspective.  I now realize that “broken” things, even broken seashells, can bring beauty to the world too!  

My dear friend Phyllis gave me a book about seashells entitled My Beautiful Broken Shell.  She sent it to me after her husband of seventy-plus years died, when she was grieving her loss.  I wondered if she might have felt like a broken shell without her husband. On the outside of the book, Phyllis had taped a small broken seashell.  Inside the front cover, she had put a sticky note that said:  “I taped that shell in there.  PW.”  The book is now a treasure.  Phyllis died in 2020 at the age of 98.  

The book was written by Carol Hamblet Adams after her husband was diagnosed with MS.  When Carol took a walk along the beach picking up seashells, she admitted feeling frightened, shaken, and “broken” when she realized her world was about to change forever due to her husband’s diagnosis. As she picked up the shells, she took special notice of the broken ones with cracks, holes, and missing pieces.  She realized that many of us, like broken shells, are still beautiful.  Her book records her insights.

Here are some thoughts about seashells, brokenness, and grief.

  • If there were only perfect shells and only perfect people, we would miss some important lessons about adversity, pain, and sorrow.
  • We grow when confronted with tough times.  With an I-can-do-it attitude, we can develop grit and courage to stand up and go on.  We learn to adapt to our situations and keep on living.
  • We learn an appreciation of small things, even broken things, and the tiniest little shells are beautiful too!
  • Thousands of people have experienced the deaths of loved ones, yet somehow they have survived, and life has gone on.  We can make it too! 
  • We are not perfect—we are human.
  • If we do not give up on life, our brokenness can encourage others to not quit.
  • It is okay to ask for and accept help when you heart feels broken.
  •  If broken bones can heal, so can hearts that have been broken.
  • Even though it may feel like we are broken, each of us still has something to offer others.  We each have our own beauty, abilities, and talents.  Like shells, each of us is unique. 
  • We learn empathy and what it feels like to be broken so we can reach out to others. 

Many kinds of seashells wash up on the seashore—unbroken ones, beautiful ones.  Large ones.  Small ones.  Multi-colored and multi-shaped ones.  Some are cracked and have jagged edges.  But they are all still beautiful. You have something to offer even though your heart may feel broken.  You are still beautiful, just like the beautiful broken shell.

I don’t think of all the misery, but of all the beauty that remains.” - Anne Frank

Call about the next "Living Life after Loss" Group at:
Meadowlark Hospice
709 Liberty, Clay Center, Kansas
(785) 632-2225
Dawn Phelps, RN/LMSW, Group Facilitator