After six days in the psychiatric hospital, I was taken to the intensive care unit because I had thought of a way I could kill myself in the hospital. There wasn’t much freedom in the regular unit, but there was even less in ICU. We were only allowed outside into a small yard once every couple of hours so those who smoked could have a cigarette. I didn’t smoke; I just wanted to be outside. A staff person went with us, we had to come back in when the staff person told us to, and then the door was locked again.
I had a lot of free time so I worked on a jigsaw puzzle of an old time country fair. Everything about the puzzle was delightfully shaped. Some of the pieces were silhouettes of objects: a star, duck, candy cane, rabbit and others.
The border was scalloped so I could not put the border together first as I usually would. Instead, I began with the part of the puzzle that pictured a pink cotton candy machine. Then I went on to do the merry-go-round, colorful balloons, people and so on. Some puzzle pieces obviously belonged in a particular place, but others which seemed to be the right piece didn’t fit. Finding where to place some pieces took some searching, and other pieces seemed lost. And someone had mixed pieces from another puzzle with mine, and so I had to sort my pieces out from the other ones.
There was an elderly man out in the common area who probably had dementia. He didn’t talk. He just walked around and straightened things up. He picked tiny specks off the floor and threw them away. On two separate occasions, when I was away from the table, he took my puzzle apart and put it back into its box. I had to start all over again from the beginning.
I began to guard my puzzle. If I had to leave, I would break it apart into sections, carefully put it into its box and take the box with me.
I worked on it for three days then my psychiatrist told me I could go back to the regular unit if I promised not to hurt myself. I promised him I would behave and asked him if I could take the puzzle to finish. He said “Yes”, so I carefully packed up the puzzle, gathered my things together and waited to be taken back to the other unit.
In the regular unit, I finished all the easy parts of the puzzle. I was left with lots of blue sky and green grass, and it became much more difficult. I became so frustrated that I gave up on ever finishing the puzzle. Then two other patients began working on the puzzle, and, eventually, they got it together. They then invited me to put in the final piece. I thought it was kind of them to let me finish the puzzle after I had given up.
Life is like that puzzle. It is full of delights, surprises, struggles, disjointed parts, empty gaps, lost pieces and things that don’t belong. Sometimes our lives fall apart and need to be reconstructed. Sometimes our lives become mixed up with the lives of others, and we can’t be sure where our life ends and their life begins. Sometimes we may mistakenly think we need things that are part of someone else’s life when we really don’t.
We try to fill in the gaps of our lives or make connections. Sometimes we can put our lives together ourselves and other times we need help. Sometimes we try the wrong thing, and, more often than we want, we have to go back and start again. Living takes lots of perseverance and patience. When we get tired or discouraged, that is when we most need God incarnate in our loved ones.
Read more from Mary Alice here or at her personal blog.