“It’s always the small pieces that make the big picture” – Unknown
Last week I learned our county would be under shelter-in-place until May 31st; a total of 76 days between the time shelter-in-place was implemented and lifted.
A lot has happened between March 16th and today; school, senior prom, and spring break were canceled. Baseball practices and games and water polo were canceled. All the fun activities for my older son’s senior year – Senior Cut Day, Senior Prank Day, Graduation, and Grad night – all canceled.
These weeks of SIP continue to be a roller coaster of emotion for me. Some weeks are good, some, like last week, I feel as if I have hit bottom. In my pursuit of minimalism, I donated puzzles, an exercise bike, a yoga ball – items I could now using during SIP. A part of me regrets letting them go – the other part is glad they are out of the house and that someone else is enjoying them. How was I to know that a few years later, I’d be desperate for them to keep busy or stay in shape?
Two weeks ago, my friend Lynn had posted a picture on social media with the caption: “Damn puzzle. Day 30. Thirty pieces left. I’m hoping I’m not the world’s worst puzzler and that this puzzle is just particularly difficult. I do only do about 60-90 minutes a day. Who’s the next victim???”
I immediately responded: I want this puzzle! I’m a puzzler!!
I loved the idea of sitting down and starting a puzzle. During the first eleven years of our marriage, I would buy a brand new 1,000 piece puzzle to take on our annual summer trip to Graeagle. I loved sitting outside the cabin, pieces spread out over the red and white checked tablecloth, as I placed each piece into the correct position. I stopped buying them when my sons were little; it had been a few years since I had sat down to do one.
The last puzzle I put together was in March 2016. My dad had picked up a Ravensburger 1,000-piece Disney Toy Story Puzzle; he knew my mom loved puzzles. For four weeks, I stopped over after dropping the kids off at school, and the two of us would sit at the dining room table with cups of tea. Our heads would be bent over as we studied each the size and color of each piece and fitting them together. My mom would use a magnifying glass when she wasn’t quite sure of the color, and each time, we joined two pieces or a section together, we’d call out “Got one!”
My dad’s idea of the puzzle was brilliant: it allowed my mom to focus on something other than cancer, and it gave my brothers and me a chance to sit down and spend quality time with her. My mom and I laughed, talked about my kids, shared stories about trips we had taken and discussed how clueless our husbands could be. The puzzle was the distraction that allowed us to share without seeing the emotions – worry, fear, pain – in our eyes. It was a distraction from cancer.
Each time I sat down at the table with her, I’d tell myself, “Be in the moment, enjoy every second of this gift” – I must have known subconsciously that our time was limited. We finished the Toy Story puzzle and moved on to another 1,000-piece puzzle: Scoops of Ice Cream, continuing the process of fitting them together.
Now, during shelter-in-place, I missed having a puzzle to keep my mind occupied. I didn’t want to think about the fact that I hadn’t been writing or grieving about the friends, events, and celebrations I was missing. I have had a difficult time as I mourn the fact that my kids will not have a graduation or Eagle Scout ceremony.
Lynn dropped the puzzle off on Thursday afternoon. I let the box sit, unopened, on the dining room table; I wasn’t quite ready to start.
On Friday morning, while everyone was asleep, I took my coffee and sat at the dining room table. I settled into my old habit of sorting pieces: finding the four corners and all the edge pieces. After assembling the edge, I got to work focusing on one specific area, flipping over and setting aside pieces.
As I placed pieces together, “Got one!” played in my mind. It was hard not to think of my mom.
I wondered what she would have thought of shelter-in-place, I mused as I placed two pieces together.
The peacefulness of the morning was interrupted as my older son came into the dining room.
“Morning, mom,” he said, sitting down, “You missed this one,” he pointed out, connecting the pieces.
“How did I miss that?” I asked him.
“Because I am looking at the pieces from a different angle,” he said casually, placing another piece together, followed by two more. Like me, he is a whiz at puzzles.
“I am going to get coffee,” he said, getting up from the table.
I replayed his comment in my mind: “Looking at the pieces from a different angle” and then I saw the big picture: I wasn’t mourning the loss of the celebrations of my children’s milestones, I was lamenting the fact that my mom wasn’t here to witness them. She was the one who reminded my boys they would become Eagle Scouts and go off to college, and here I was, with one son already doing just that.
Working a puzzle with my mom had been a distraction, a way to push down the emotions of worry, fear, and pain; but now, as the feelings of loss and grief bubbled to the surface, I let them wash over me, a sense of warmth filled my body and then dissipated.
“Got one,” I thought to myself, joining a section together. My mom may not be here, but she is still with us.