Sunday, June 3, 2012

Stories of Resiliency: Part 2 with Molly

When we come upon beautiful things...they act like small tears in the surface of the world that pull us through to some vaster space.
Elaine Scarry

Helping Hand by Molly Greist
I wanted to share a bit more about my conversation with Molly Greist, specifically about her stonework, and then about Matthew's headstone. As I said in my previous post, Molly found herself drawn to stonework after her son Peter died.  So one day, within that first year after Peter's death, a friend asked her to come to a dedication of a piece of stonework at a local elementary school. It was a piece of twin bear cubs done by a Seattle artist named James Washington
Twin Bear Cubs by James Washington (1989)

As Molly looked at the stone she found herself looking at it with the eyes of a stonecarver. She peered at the twin cubs and to her they were like windows into the stone. Inspired even more, she found an ally in Mr. Washington and picked up her hammer and chisel with new fervor. 

Molly admits her early attempts frustrated her. She couldn't make the stone into what she wanted. She asked James Washington to teach her how to carve, and he told her he couldn't. Instead, he told her that she had to listen to what was inside the stone, it had to come from within. She explained to me that "I can't tell you what this is. It has to come from you. It is in you. And it’s coming out of you through your writing, like the chisel and stone for me. I was no more or less than the stone itself. When you can get to that place where you are no more or less than the beauty that is around you, then it comes out of you. You can almost step aside; you can get out of the way of yourself."

This worked for her, and as I said in my previous post, check out Molly's website. Her art is simply amazing.  

Matthew's Headstone

My husband and I realized that we wanted Molly to carve Matthew's headstone. So we invited her over last summer to talk about it, and we got a glimpse into her world. She told us that she approaches each stone with no expectations of what will come out of it--the form emerges as she carves. She asked us to think about finding a rock for Matthew's headstone. At first we both were daunted by that task, but then almost simultaneously, we realized that we might have the perfect stone in our yard. 

For years a somewhat large, roundish stone rested in our back yard. When the kids were little they climbed on it, and as they grew older it transformed into the obstacle one had to maneuver around when mowing the lawn. Just a couple of years ago, my husband, Matthew and Jordan moved the stone out of the way of the lawn mower and into a rockery. As we stepped outside on that clear July morning, and walked towards the stone, I immediately sensed that this would be it. The stone at that point was lying on its side, covered with moss and deeply weighted into the damp earth. Molly bent down and examined it, and I began to look at it with completely different eyes. It had a smooth front with veins of something (quartz?) running through it. It was jagged in parts and smooth in others. And, most importantly, Matthew had played on it, touched it and lifted it. Molly nodded that it would work.

We spent time coming up with what we wanted inscribed on it, and later that summer managed to get it over to Molly's studio (it was heavy). We were aiming for a very private unveiling in October, one year after Matthew had died.

So last October, my husband, son, daughter and I headed out to the cemetery for the unveiling. When we pulled in, I saw that Molly and her husband Steve were already there and that they had unloaded the stone. It stood at the head of Matthew’s grave, ready to be lowered off of the dolly. We walked towards them, and suddenly the incredible beauty of the stone hit me. Up to that point, I had only seen a picture of it with the words inscribed on it, and now here it was. Yes, the words are words no parent should ever have to read. The dates on it were far too short of a life lived. But, something magical was emanating from it. The vein of quartz burst through it in a way that made the stone seem alive.

I looked over and saw that Matthew's friends' Ben and Trevor were walking our way; we had invited them to come out for the unveiling. They had been Matthew’s best friends through middle school, high school and college, and happened to be home the weekend of the unveiling. They had lost their best friend, and it was only right that they were here too. We gathered around the stone and slowly lowered it into place. It slid perfectly into the spot. I looked at how it sat, kitty corner to one of my closest friends who had died six years before, underneath the towering fir trees that stood completely still that morning. We said the Kaddish (mourner’s prayer) and I went up and placed a heart shaped rock I had been saving on top of the stone. I helped my daughter find a rock. Molly and her husband slipped away, as did Matthew’s friends. Then it was the four of us, and yet it really was the five of us. It will always be the five of us. 

Something happened when the stone was placed on Matthew’s gravesite. The official year of mourning had come to an end, and a cycle was completed. We had weathered the four seasons and come full circle, back to fall again. There was a sense of closure. Not for the loss of Matthew, for there is no closure when you lose a child. We will forever have a huge hole in our hearts as we continue on our lives without him. But, there was a sense of closure for that first year of mourning.


  1. Beautiful stone. Perfect place for it to live and have purpose.

  2. Robin, you take my breath away, thank you..Crystal

  3. Robin, your sharing of the story of Matthew's headstone leaves a lasting imprint in so many ways....

  4. Oh, Robin...I have waited to read this until I had quiet time alone, and am so thankful now to "see" that beautiful stone, through your words, as you see it. I see the life in that vein. The stone is perfect in so many ways that you have named. Your traditions have strength, solidity, logic and meaning. Molly did a gorgeous job, listening to it.

    Just so you know, Katie loved quartz rocks. She used to look for those veins in the huge stones in my parents' bulkhead (which they called "Katie's office"), and she liked to try to chip pieces of them out of the boulders. She had a small collection of those little quartz rocks. I will connect the vein in Matthew's stone with that memory now. It's beautiful. Thank you for telling us about it with such grace.

  5. Thank you all for your heartfelt comments. They mean so much to me.

  6. This is beautiful, Robin. Thank you for sharing with us.

  7. this really hit me as my son's name is also Matthew Joseph. May your Matthew rest in peace and may God comfort you.