Holding Space

With Shelly Vaughn

Build A Puzzle

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I’ve always loved this “Day and Night” print by MC Escher. He combines beauty, geometry, and illusion into mesmerizing works of art.

Rob and I bought this puzzle for Aunt Pat’s 70th birthday. After she passed away, her daughter suggested that everyone who wanted should take a puzzle of hers with them, so I brought this one home and pulled it out at the start of our “stay at home” weekends. We finished it last week, but the kittens got a hold of a few pieces that we weren’t able to find.

Staring at the final product with those 3 pieces missing, I can’t help but feel it so fitting. The puzzle is complete, but with obvious holes. Just like our lives after a loved one is gone. You can still see the entire picture, but there is a space not fillable by anything other than that piece that was there. So those spots remain empty. Some are very noticeable; others might be overlooked at a glance but are still there. Feels like our life after losing someone. And today, on her birthday, the empty spot where Ant Pat was feels very obvious.

I actually didn’t know when we bought this for her that she was also such a big MC Escher fan. But it makes sense. A lot makes sense when I think about her and the things I’ve grown to love in life- puzzles and games, MC Escher, jacks, painting kitchen cabinets, brain teasers, April birthdays, miniatures, notes of encouragement posted in our living space. Spending time in her home a few weeks ago reminded me of how much of her is in me. It was so comforting and inspiring.

Ironically, it reminds me of four words she spoke to me the last day that she was able to talk to us. After sitting next to her hospital bed for a few minutes, she grabbed the infinity scarf I was wearing and pulled me closer to her. In single, breathy, labored words she said, “Strawpump…is…in…you.”

That likely doesn’t mean much to anyone outside of my family. Strawpump is the name of the town where my dad and his 11 brothers and sisters grew up. It’s the place where our family roots are planted. That small house in a tiny town where siblings raised siblings, life and meals were simple, and a generation learned to love from a woman with a heart of gold. Thankfully, my Aunt Marion still lives in that house so we can still go back to it. But I know that no matter where I am- where any of us are across the country- Strawpump is in us.

Those four words were a breathtaking compliment from Aunt Pat shortly before her soul left this world. It was an amazing gift. Up until then, another one of my favorite-ever gifts was a refinished water pump that Rob gave me last Christmas. Not only did he refinish and paint the pump, he also stenciled “Strawpump” on it. He knows me so well. I love it; and so did Aunt Pat when she came to visit us in September.

Today is her birthday. Her first one that we celebrate without her here. I will think of her all day. I will remember her four words that bring me comfort, especially during a time of such uncertainty in life. And I’ll be thankful for 2 important things that I’ve learned from her.

1. My new life goal: To live a life that people are proud to say about their character traits: “I get that from her.”

2. When life is stressful, build a puzzle.

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