Today, I put the last piece in a jigsaw puzzle that has waited over eight years to be completed. The puzzle has set on various shelves in various closets over the years. Occasionally, my eyes would come to it as I searched for other things but they never lingered on the puzzle box. It made me too sad. The day finally came though, when I decided I would take it down from its shelf and put it together.
As I worked it I thought of my daughter, the puzzle had been a birthday gift from her. Ten days before my birthday eight years ago the driver of a semi ran a red light and hit her car broadside. She passed away two weeks later.
She was almost twenty-nine when she died. Married to her high school sweetheart and a new mother to my ten-month-old granddaughter. She taught first grade and always said the only thing she wanted to be more than a teacher was a mom.
After her death, my son-in-law gave me the wrapped package. He explained why she had decided on a puzzle that year. He said she had noticed that her dad and I liked to work puzzles together and it made her happy to see us enjoying each other’s company.
It was a thoughtful gift, but that was her way. Being thoughtful. On her birthday she would always bring me flowers and thank me for giving birth to her. She had been thoughtful and kind and had grown into such a beautiful woman.
She would have been thirty-seven last April. As the puzzle took shape before me I wondered about what she would have been like at that age. What joys, what sorrows, what experiences would have shaped her thirty-seven-year-old self? I think all parents that have lost a child must wonder about this and count the years. We are always left with the what ifs..., the I wonders....
I also wonder about those of us she left. Who would we be if she hadn't died?
Our grief was so profound that it changed us on a molecular level. We are different beings now. We were turned and made to travel down a rock-strewn path that took us to an alternate universe. We eventually found our way in this altered place but like beams through a prism our lights were shattered and our colors are a different hue now.
The world moved on and the years have passed and I found I could look at the puzzle. I found I could hold it and remember all of the beautiful things about my daughter. Perhaps, I also hoped for a cathartic healing, some purging of the sorrow, some definitive answer to “what if,” by finally working the puzzle.
Sadly, grief doesn't work that way. In the end, the puzzle was just a puzzle. A last gift, from my beautiful, thoughtful, loving daughter who is gone and who I miss every day.
Diana, for the Poplar Grove Muse