There are many lines that stick out for me in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. It’s easily in my Top 10 favourites of all time. (On my list the trilogy counts as one movie only.) And just as I recite the words of the wise and forgetful Dory now and then, there are several lines from the films I also like to draw upon during various life moments. There’s one line in particular that’s become even louder during the past 6 months. It’s spoken by the character Irolas, in reference to the mean and foolish Lord Denethor II (if you have any issues with “not the firstborn/chosen child”-syndrome, then the movies should come with a warning). Anyway, Irolas is trying to praise his leader when he says, “Long has he foreseen this doom!”, but in reality, Lord Denethor II felt that bad shit was going to happen and did nothing to prepare or give the people a chance to stop it. I have used this line many times in my life because I can clearly be a little over-dramatic. And while I know decisions are not easy to make, it’s hard not to feel like yelling “Long have I foreseen this doom!” when I read the paper or watch the news. (Easy now – my thoughts are my own here, and I am certainly not claiming that I know better than anyone else or can make better decisions. Although sometimes, I really can! This is just my vague gesture to everything that has come to pass over the last bit of time – there is so much that has been built up and exposed and I can’t even narrow it down to one thing. There is just A LOT happening and it’s A LOT to take.) All this rambling to say that February has arrived. I’ve been steeling myself to face the inevitable doom and gloom that’s generally associated with this month for me. I’m still doing well with getting outside, but the weather here is about to take a turn and make me really work for it. So I’d been looking for something to add to our pandemic toolkit and I finally jumped onboard the puzzle bandwagon.
I know – I’m pretty sure you weren’t thinking I’d be hitting you with jigsaw puzzles based on my intro – but here we are. When you first get the box or bag and dump all the pieces out onto the table everything’s all jumbled up. It’s kind of how things feel in my mind right now – mixed up and a bit messy. However, I have many friends who have enjoyed puzzles for many years, and I was looking for something non-screen or reading related where I could encourage my mom’s participation. While she normally wouldn’t be up for fresh air in the winter because the cold physically affects her movement due to the stroke damage, she’s really feeling the strain of being locked in for the winter this year since she’s also been locked down all spring, summer, and fall. She’s unable to spend a long time reading (and we’re not always sure how much she is able to understand when she reads) and with limited new TV content available of her favourite shows, she was relying a little too much on sleep to pass the time. So I was looking for a way to engage her (and I) to spend some time productively with no added pressure. So I ordered a few puzzles and we began.
I started with a 300 piece version and tried to get my mom involved by having her help me first sort the border and inside pieces, and then group the inside pieces by colour. She wasn’t really into it and it felt a bit like a chore for her so I was discouraged. I didn’t want to force her. So I left it on the dining room table and started to chip away at it. When the first puzzles arrived at our door, my dad was pretty sure I’d just wasted a bit of money. And yet, in the moments when I wasn’t at the dining room table, there he was, bent over the pieces and working on putting them together. He pretty much completed the whole thing. I’d set the bait and hooked the wrong damn fish! Or had I?
After the first one was done I took a photo and quietly put it away and started in on the next one – 500 pieces with a view of boats and blue water and sunshine. As before, I dumped all the pieces out onto the table and got to work. And in came both my mom and dad. And even when dad and I left the table, mom would find a reason to stay or to come back and start to do her own work on it. She’s not able to fully put pieces together yet. And she’s still working on being able to identify and place the border and inside pieces without some help, but she’s made great progress. She’s meticulous with the sorting of pieces by colour, though. In her own aphasia language she’ll boss us around to make sure we’re abiding by her rules of piece placement. Pretty soon after, that puzzle was done and she was ready to start on another one. You know the feeling I assume parents get when they watch their child embrace a new hobby or develop a new skill? – well I felt that as I watched my mom work on the puzzle. I was so proud to watch her work through it. It literally brought some tears to my eyes.
So now we’ve all become a bit hooked. We’ve only hit a 750 piece milestone and likely will stick at this level for awhile before I release 1,000 pieces into the mix. But it’s really brought a very small and simple joy during a time when it sometimes feels like there isn’t a small and simple joy to be had. Puzzles are fun! I’ve been able to share this with my mom and dad and managed to have us all agree on something. (And at this stage of pandemic life this is no small miracle.) It requires some concentration, patience, persistence, and skill. There is an immense amount of satisfaction when the pieces click together. It’s exciting to see when it’s put together all shiny and new for everyone to take a moment and enjoy their handiwork.
Life isn’t always as satisfying as putting together a puzzle. There are long stages of pieces to be worked out, sorted, and matched up. Sometimes you think a part of your life actually fits together but it doesn’t. You have to break the pieces up and start over again. Or you have to work on a different part of yourself until you’re able to notice a different path to take you back to that area of your life again. Sometimes you have things that pop up and you don’t think they’re meant to fit in, but they do. So what I’ve been able to muse about life and puzzles since my re-discovery is this: it’s not always easy to figure out, but if you work through it piece by piece and take time to enjoy the process, you will reap the rewards for all the time and effort you put into making it.
I’d like to say I fall into the “sandwich generation” – and while I have no children of my own to care for – I find myself falling somewhere in between caring for my mother and caring for my sanity. When I am not working, I have the honour of helping look after my amazing mother, who has suffered 2 strokes in the past 11 years. Being a caregiver is not for the faint of heart, and if I am being honest, it can be a crappy club to be a member of. I have fallen down more times than I care to count through this journey, but while channeling my incredible stubbornness, strength (both of which I come by honestly,) and several F-words (Faith, Family, Friends and Food), I keep getting back up. IG: @Coolman_Eh