Rhonda Cagle

Puzzle Peaces

In Uncategorized on January 7, 2012 at 4:27 pm

I find them everywhere these days, these pieces to a puzzle. Little bits of colorful cardboard, their uneven edges speaking of a picture that is incomplete – missing. Each of them serves as a metaphor for these past few days and I find myself trying desperately to pick up the pieces. Fit them together. Make sense of the colorful chaos. Give to grieving parents, family, and friends – to myself – a picture that makes any kind of sense. But key pieces are missing. And no matter how hard I try, I can never find or replace them – never complete the picture. Never answer the questions of “why” and “what if.”

Shaelee, my goddaughter, loved jig saw puzzles. Her mom, Susie, and I are best friends and our daughters – our only children – have been best friends since they were five. Susie and I would often find our girls in Shaelee’s bedroom, lying on the floor, working puzzles together. Their little brows furrowed in concentration, their attention would center on a hole in the picture, and their fingers would move piece after piece, trying to find the right fit.

Little girls grew into young women. Little difficulties grew into large problems as Shaelee and her parents grappled with a new puzzle known as mental illness. Each diagnosis of a new disorder brought new medications and new psychologists and therapists. Susie’s hands never stopped moving as she worked to help Shaelee put the puzzle together, trying to find the corner pieces that would give some structure and stability to a picture that had yet to emerge. It never quite did.

One last time, Shaelee laid on the floor, surrounded by her puzzle. One last time, she tried to put the pieces together. One last time, she gave up in despair – the gun in her hand forever ending the possibility of completing the puzzle.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Shaelee’s room these past few days. Her grieving parents have wanted pieces of their daughter back – pieces of her life. The ruby necklace passed down from her grandmother. The new dress she had just bought and her favorite pair of shoes – something to bury her in. Her iPod and phone charger so they can listen to her voice and her music one last time.

The room remains just as it was when Shaelee left this earth. Standing in the midst of it, it’s not the blood and carnage that holds my attention. All I can see are the pieces to her puzzle, outlining the area where she last laid, symbolizing the jagged pieces she could never quite make fit in this life.

I wish to God we had been able to help her put the pieces together here on this earth. I know with equal certainty God now holds her and has helped her complete the picture that eluded her in this life.

But there’s still a mom who will never again hold her baby girl. There’s still a dad whose last image of his child is where he found her body, surrounded by pieces to a puzzle left unfinished. Shaelee – her beautiful singing voice, her blue eyes, her laughter, and her impetuous quest for life – are now missing pieces in their own life puzzles. And there are so many pieces now scattered and strewn about.

There is only so much a best friend – a godmother – can do. Planning a funeral and meals, calling family and friends, only goes so far. All I can do is pick up what I can. And I can pray, asking God, in His mercy, to help them make peace with the pieces. It’s not enough, but it’s all there is.

  1. Oh how my heart aches as I read this. Our son, who struggles with mental illness, was recently hospitalized after a suicide attempt. It is so sad to see how his mental illness is indeed fragmenting. It is like he’s trying to solve a puzzle without all the pieces. My heart goes out to your best friend and her husband. Praying for you and Meghan as well.

  2. Rhonda, I am so sorry for your loss. I my grief I found that words said to me were not as comforting as my words to others. This is a beautiful post, thanks for sharing.

  3. My heart broke as I read this. Praying for all concerned. This is my greatest fear with Max…

  4. It is a heartbreaking loss. When I found out the other day I found myself sitting here sobbing, praying for you all, and for all the kids I know who struggle so much with mental illness, and their parents who love them. I’ll continue praying. God’s peace and comfort to you all.

  5. Oh Rhonda, thank you so much for putting into words what many of us have struggled to put into thought, much less words. So beautifully written. So heartfelt.
    I can’t begin to tell you what an honor it was to have gotten to know you in these past few days. We witnessed miracles yesterday. We witnessed the mighty hand of God in every aspect of Shaelee’s memorial service. What a blessing.
    You are such a gift to Susie and Lash.
    And I am forever changed by what we experienced yesterday.

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