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Mysterious Ways: The Missing Piece

Mom was dying. So why did a children’s puzzle occupy my thoughts?

Missing Puzzle Piece
Credit: Gautier Willaume

I stopped by my mother’s house to water the plants while she was in the nursing home. Mom wasn’t doing well, and the doctors had told me to prepare for the worst. But in her house, surrounded by her familiar possessions—the photographs on the dresser, the vase on the dining room table, the throw on the sofa—everything seemed reassuringly unchanged, as if Mom could just walk through the door at any minute, her old self again.

I stepped into the living room. My eyes fell on an old wooden jigsaw puzzle in the shape of a puppy. It sat in its usual spot on the bottom shelf of a bookcase. I’d played with that puzzle when I was a girl, and later, my own children played with it too. Mom would sit in her armchair and watch, a smile on her face. As I ran my finger over the puzzle, I noticed something. One piece was missing: the left ear. When did that happen? No one had been in the house except me. I searched the shelf, the floor, behind the bookcase. Nothing. Lord, I know it’s just an old puzzle… Tears choked off the rest of my prayer.

Each time I went to Mom’s I looked for the missing puzzle piece. No luck. I asked my uncle, who lived next door. He didn’t know what happened to it, either. It was almost as if the sicker Mom got, the more I needed to find the piece and make the puzzle whole.

Mom died without returning home. Nothing will ever be the same again, I thought. The job of cleaning out her house fell to me. I took a long look around. This is the last time I will see her things all together, I thought. I wandered into the living room. The puzzle. Something was different. Both of the puppy’s ears were in place. The missing piece! I ran to the phone and called my uncle. He must have found it.

“I haven’t touched the puzzle,” he said. “Where could that piece have come from?”

My surprise turned to something more like awe. I didn’t know how the puzzle piece had reappeared, but it didn’t matter. The puzzle was whole again. And I knew I would be too.

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