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LIFE WITH CYNTHIA: Putting the pieces together!

In her weekly column, Cynthia Breadner talks about the challenges that come with life

Over the years, I have encountered so many people who love puzzles. I never could understand the intrigue. I found I would start then lose interest very quickly. Just show me. Whether it was a jigsaw puzzle, a Rubik’s cube, or Sudoku, I could never find what I needed to be interested. I honestly thought I lacked patience. Little did I know, it is far more than that I was missing.

One day in December, I found myself reaching up to the top shelf of the walk-in closet and pulling down a box that held a 500 piece puzzle. My initial thought was, how I would dump it out on the table, move the pieces around a little, make a half-baked effort, then promptly lose interest like so many times before. I looked at the box as I walked down the hall and, while thinking these thoughts, something felt very different.

I dumped it out. As I reviewed the picture on the box and the 500 pieces in front of me, I was transported back a while. I found myself observing a memory from a couple of years ago. I was knee-deep back in a stressful time, when a family situation felt so dark. I see myself locking the apartment door and heading down the stairs. I was heading away for the weekend. Leaving behind the troubles, I hoped a couple of days away would help me see things more clearly. Stepping back, clearing my head, looking for strength and perspective, I headed to the car. As I descended the stairs, it felt like I was heading deeper into darkness because I had left a note. A note that could sever a relationship. A note that seemed unkind, uncaring, unsupportive, and harsh. While necessary, all the reasons I should run back and tear it up kept creeping in. Those thoughts, heavy on my heart, I slipped into the early morning and started the car. What was done was done. Let go and let it unfold.

Upon my return, this puzzle I was now looking at in a pile on the table, lay complete on the table. The note I had left was gone and in its place was the puzzle. There was no reciprocating note, just the puzzle and an empty room. What now? While the puzzle was complete on the table, the puzzle pieces of my life were scattered all around me, with no order and no intention of coming together. I was afraid.

The challenging times we have been living in have created unfinished puzzles in many families. Pots are being stirred, irons are being pushed into fires, and icicles hanging from the eave. Like the puzzle, so much brokenness and fear of how things will ever come back together, settle down or how to thaw the frozen soul. Picking up the pieces is hard and finding the right place for every piece is challenging. Putting together a 500-piece puzzle takes time and planning.

I began to work away at the puzzle with all this swirling around in my head. I smoothed out the pile of pieces. Some incorrectly linked together, some upside down, some finding home in their puzzle mate, semblance from when it was whole in the past. I turned over the topsy turvy pieces, kept intact the ones that were right, and set apart those who had linked together but were unmatched. I set out looking for the edge pieces. I thought, if I can find the boundaries then I will have a container inside which to work. It will give me a playing field. Day by day, piece by piece, I put it together. I did not give up. I did not lose interest and I did not get bored. I could see results of my perseverance and I could see the picture coming together. As I worked at it, I looked at my life and thought of how often I needed to set boundaries for the sake of someone I love. I thought of how I needed to compartmentalize my life, like this picture, so I could focus on a little more detail without the pressure of the whole picture being right. Life is like a puzzle, when looking at all 500 pieces at once it seems daunting. Focusing in on one piece at a time, grouping sections and then taking our time, it will all fall into place, in the right order, in its own time. The pieces align, as they should, when the pressure is lifted. 

I remember finding this puzzle complete on the table, replacing the note and the answer to my boundary setting that day a couple years ago. It was an unconscious exercise, in answer to the note, setting intention, saying in return to me, “my life is my own to put together.” I was a little sad for many reasons because when we set boundaries and sever a co-dependent relationship, who are we then? We now have our own puzzle to put together and face our lives without the responsibility of another. No longer using the excuse that another’s puzzle is more important than our own. We no longer can lean on messing with someone else’s pieces. 

I spent years moving other people’s pieces around, believing it was love and support. I spent years with my pieces in a pile on the table, picking up one piece at a time and lamenting sorrowfully how no one was paying attention to the puzzle of my life. The time came to work on my own puzzle and put it together. Contentment, consistency, and practice was necessary.

This past 30 days I put together two puzzles on the table. As I completed these puzzles, I have discovered some valuable lessons in my ignited passion for them. Here’s what I learned.

  1. Setting boundaries provides a frame in which to work. Without them the edge is endless and blurry.
  2. Once the boundaries are set, break the picture down into sections and focus on one part at a time. In this new understanding of “multi-tasking” believe me, it is overrated.
  3. Global to specific and then back to global! Zoom in and out being fluid in your movement. Get down into detail and then soar out to check on the overall progress. Step back to reflect, assess and review and then return to the detail.
  4. Walk away when you get overwhelmed! Take time to process, sleep on it, and let it go from the conscious mind to a give the unconscious time to work with it. Fresh air, a new day, someone’s input works wonders to clear the head.

With this newfound love for puzzles, I know it is because my life is in better order this has come to be. I say with glee the note-reading-puzzle-person is doing very well and we both gained from my walking out the door that day. Thank you to them for being the one that changes me as I work to help and change them! May all your puzzles be colourful and all your pieces fit just right.

Cynthia Breadner is a grief specialist and bereavement counsellor, a soul care worker and offers specialized care in Spiritually Integrated Psychotherapy with special attention as a cognitive behavioral therapy practitioner and trauma incident resolution facilitator. She volunteers at hospice, works as a LTC chaplain and is a death doula, assisting with end-of-life care for client and family. She is the mother part of the #DanCynAdventures duo and practices fitness, health and wellness. She is available remotely by safe and secure video connections, if you have any questions contact her today!