Thursday, December 31, 2009

of pieces and puzzles and quilts

it’s puzzling how important pieces can be.

this week, i delivered a bag of eliza’s clothes--and one bit of bedding, too--to my mother-in-law and aunt-in-law, two exceptional quilters who plan to turn those fabrics into a memory quilt for our family. i had anticipated the selecting of clothes being difficult, so i was not surprised by the flood of emotion with which sam and i were met upon reopening those nine boxes of clothes a year after we packed them away. i was pleased to think that i had completed the emotional work there at home, safely alone with sam, where grief seems right and good and safe and permissible. and so i expected that delivering our choices to our quilters extraordinaire would be far less emotional, as i had done the hard work already.

i was, to some extent, right in my assumption. but just when i think i understand all the pieces, the puzzle seems to change on me every time.

i sorted through the clothes with our quilters. this is the dress eliza wore to her first birthday party; this is what she was wearing when she died. this is the dress she wore in those family photos; this is what she was wearing when we put her in the funeral home’s van. sweet memories, shared without excess of emotion, matter-of-fact as i foolishly pride myself on being almost all the time. almost.

and then we had finished sorting the clothes, my mother-in-law meticulously noting details of significance in the stories behind the clothes, my aunt-in-law fingering the fabrics gently and sorting them by color and texture and thickness. and we were done, so they set to work bundling the clothes by category to be stored in a box from which they will work. and suddenly, i doubted i could part with those clothes. suddenly, those pieces that were just bits of fabric--fabric with memories attached, of course, but still just pieces of fabric--suddenly, the leaving of those clothes felt like tearing bits of fabric from my very soul, pieces of me physically painful to separate.

puzzling, how pieces can change.

it’s not a jigsaw puzzle, this thing called grief, i don’t think. a jigsaw puzzle in which one piece fits with another and with each piece added, the places for more pieces become clear. no, it’s not like a jigsaw puzzle. it’s something from luke’s stocking this year that seems a more fitting metaphor for all these pieces in this big puzzle: a rubik’s cube. a puzzle with many sides, all of which can be--originally were, in fact--completed, but in which rearranging one side has significant, far-reaching, and unpredictable results on several other sides. fix one bit of the puzzle, think you have one bit figured out, and you find out you’ve only made several other pieces of the puzzle that much more muddled, that much more difficult. you’ll likely have to undo some of what you worked so hard to accomplish on that one side.

and you may begin to wonder if there’s actually a solution to this puzzle. in fact, if you hadn’t seen it originally, fresh out of the packaging and still ordered on all sides, if you hadn’t once seen someone solve the puzzle--perhaps one of those speedy youtube videos or your babysitter back when you were a kid--you’d begin to believe it was impossible to complete a rubik's cube. a puzzle that can’t be solved. too many pieces out of place; too many bits that just can’t possibly get where they need to be.

but i’ve seen it done. i have. so i know those pieces will slowly slide into place. i know--when i’m honest with myself--that many of those pieces will slide into place accidentally, just like that rubik’s cube. or if not accidentally, then without my knowledge. oh look! those blue pieces are all in a row. how did that happen while i was so busy lining up the red ones? a puzzle indeed.

meanwhile, those pieces of eliza torn from my soul will be a quilt. warm and soft and comforting and all pieced together. in a pattern i won’t recognize, completing a beautiful, perfect, unique puzzle that i never imagined. because quilts are made of pieces torn apart and fit back together. which makes me wonder whether i should quit working so hard on completing puzzles and just take up quilting.

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