The Christmas Puzzle

On November 30, 2020, I lost my sister after a difficult and heartbreaking battle with the coronavirus. She spent her birthday and Thanksgiving in the COVID-ICU, non-responsive and on a ventilator.

It seems unreal to me that she’s gone. A dozen times a day, I pick up the phone to call or text her, and every time I’m shocked and saddened when I remember she’s not there to answer anymore.

While Christmas shopping back in September, I found two things for my sister’s birthday. One of those gifts was a Christmas themed jigsaw puzzle. She loved working puzzles, so nearly every year, I’d buy her a new Christmas puzzle as a birthday gift to help her get into the Christmas spirit, though that wasn’t really necessary since the Christmas spirit radiated from her all year long.

It shook me a bit when I discovered these presents in my top-secret hiding place for gifts. My husband and I decided working that Christmas puzzle in her honor and memory would help us keep her close during this Christmas season. We finished it last night.  

I’m not nearly as crazy about doing puzzles as my sister was. I get a little impatient if I have to work too hard to find the right piece. I don’t love projects that can’t be completed quickly. 

I’ve tried knitting, crocheting, and a wide variety of crafts. I feel anxious about projects in varying states of completion. They haunt me like a to-do list with things not yet marked off.

As my husband and I worked on this puzzle, I had two realizations. First, trying to put a puzzle together without the picture on the box to guide you makes the job infinitely harder than it needs to be. Second, when assembling a puzzle with another person, clarifying expectations and language at the beginning makes the job considerably less frustrating than it could be.

This particular puzzle has a deep purple sky, lots of snow, some buildings, and a few different types of trees. After I had sorted all the pieces, I let my husband have the box with the picture. I decided to start assembling the different buildings, thinking how easy it would be to match the puzzle pieces by size, shape, and color.  

You probably know what I’m going to say next. It didn’t work. I mean, it’s possible I would have eventually gotten it. Still, the job was challenging without frequent reviews of what the completed puzzle should look like.

Not only did I learn that my method of flying solo made it more complicated than it needed to be, but I also learned that I wasn’t great at communicating with my puzzle partner either. 

That stung, as I fancy myself a pretty strong communicator. I communicate for a living now, right? It should have been simple. But it wasn’t easy because I tried to use language that was unknown to him, then became frustrated when he didn’t understand me.

“I’m looking for a mostly white piece with a little green on one wing.”  “Can you hand me that blue piece with two arms and one foot?”

Even after 37 years of marriage, I can still surprise him because my husband looked at me like I had suddenly started speaking German more than once. Finally, he said, “You’re going to have to show me what arms, feet, and wings look like.’ It seemed self-explanatory to me, but once I explained and we started speaking the same language, we saw real progress on the sections we were working on.   

Now we were getting somewhere. Once we were communicating more effectively and  both using the picture on the box’s lid to guide us, we found the process to be easier and more enjoyable than we had imagined. 

Working on it together, talking about my sister and some of our favorite holiday memories with her, and seeing the project through to completion accomplished our goal of keeping her especially close this holiday season, our first without her.

It also served as an effective reminder for me of these important life lessons:

  1. Follow the directions, accept the guidance, pay attention to the picture on the box. I can sometimes be guilty of trying to go it alone, do it myself. I am often arrogant enough to think I can figure it out without input or assistance. I can make the process of working puzzles and living life much harder than it needs to be. I need to work on this.
  2. Keep communicating. Cover the expectations, make sure you’re speaking the same language, and provide visuals to accompany words when necessary to ensure everyone is on the same page. I can talk until I am blue in the face, but if I’m not speaking in an easily understood way, I’m creating frustration for all involved. I have plenty of room to grow in this area, practically, personally, and professionally.

I plan to keep this puzzle. Maybe I’ll work it annually between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Perhaps I’ll glue it together, frame it, and get it out with the rest of my Christmas decorations every year.

Either way, I will keep it nearby during the holidays as one of many reminders of my sister, and to remind me of the life lessons I can learn from a simple jigsaw puzzle.

Published by The Footloose Freelancer

My name is Dena, and I’m the Footloose Freelancer. I have a passion for words – written words, spoken words, imagined words. I can describe myself using many different words: I am a wordsmith. A writer, a scribe, a freelancer. I am an author, a ghostwriter, an editor. Sometimes I am a poet, sometimes a biographer. I am a reader, a bookworm, a bibliomanic, a learner. I am a communicator, a conversationalist, a collaborator. I am an educator, an instructor, a trainer, a coach. I am a business professional, a creator, a contractor. I can use my words to tell your story. To elevate your brand. To share your message, market your product, train your team. I am Dena – the Footloose Freelancer.

6 thoughts on “The Christmas Puzzle

  1. As you could probably guess, I love to work puzzles, searching for that one piece with an arm or foot or hand of a certain color. I would totally get what you were asking for. Each year, there is a new puzzle under my tree, usually a 1000 to 2000 piece puzzle for us to work on as a family once Christmas dinner is done and the table is cleaned off. Four or five of us will work on it until it is done. On average a 1500 piece puzzle will usually take us 3 to 4 hours to complete. We are all very competitive not against each other really, but competitive to get it put together and done. I hope the puzzle brings you joy for many years. We will usually work a puzzle and if it is not very difficult, we give it away. A really good puzzle will be kept for a few years, worked again and then given away. Thank you for sharing your puzzle story with us. Merry Christmas!

    On Wed, Dec 23, 2020 at 1:35 PM The Footloose Freelancer wrote:

    > The Footloose Freelancer posted: ” On November 30, 2020, I lost my sister > after a difficult and heartbreaking battle with the coronavirus. She spent > her birthday and Thanksgiving in the COVID-ICU, non-responsive and on a > ventilator. It seems unreal to me that she’s gone. A dozen t” >

    Like

  2. 😊

    On Wed, Dec 23, 2020 at 1:35 PM The Footloose Freelancer wrote:

    > The Footloose Freelancer posted: ” On November 30, 2020, I lost my sister > after a difficult and heartbreaking battle with the coronavirus. She spent > her birthday and Thanksgiving in the COVID-ICU, non-responsive and on a > ventilator. It seems unreal to me that she’s gone. A dozen t” >

    Like

  3. Dena, I’m so sorry for your loss. God gave us family for a way to have built-in community, love, shared experiences, help in times of need, the list goes on. I love how the puzzle brought you that community, conversation, togetherness, unity in a desired result, and ultimately pulled you closer with a shared loving memory, even in a time of loss.
    I, too, want to start a tradition of pulling my family together to create memories like this. My mother isn’t able to do a lot of things now due to physical challenges. I think a puzzle, on a mat, so we can work on it as her strength is available, would be a great way for us to have family time that she can participate in and not just be a spectator.
    You are a beautiful woman, and through your ability to paint word pictures, showed us a snapshot of a special moment in your life, like a Norman Rockwell painting through words.
    Thank you for sharing! 💕

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    1. Kathy, I love the idea of starting a puzzle with your mom! There is something about all working toward a common goal that fosters that closeness and community we crave. Thanks for the kind words. I don’t feel like my life is very Rockwell-like most of the time, but those sweet moments stay with me with and help sustain me during the rough times, and for that I am so grateful. So great to hear from you!

      Like

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