Recovering From Loss: A Puzzling Step-by-Step Guide

Cheryl Leutjen
3 min readJul 5, 2022


  • One jigsaw puzzle of any design or shape (but less than a thousand pieces recommended)
  • Baking sheet (optional)
  • Whatever shreds of patience you can muster


  1. Dig out your largest baking sheet from the kitchen cabinet — unless it sits in the sink covered in grease, then skip this step.
  2. Clear the kitchen or dining room table, whichever is more easily freed of the daily detritus. Use a corner of the kitchen floor if no table is available, brushing aside the crumbs from any pandemic-induced baking spree before sprawling.
  3. Open the jigsaw puzzle box and dump the pieces on your baking pan — this will help corral the runaway pieces, giving some bounds to the task at hand — or on any other chosen surface. Notice how the jumbled mess may resemble your own feelings of brokenness, chaos. Does the lack of clarity in the “picture” make you feel like quitting? Stand in solidarity with every jigsaw puzzle builder across time in trusting that some sort of coherence will evolve. Or not. You do you.
  4. Turn over all the pieces so that the printed sides face up. This takes time and patience. You may wish to allow some days (weeks) for this, if even this simple act of “righting” feels too hard. Don’t rush yourself, and don’t censor yourself either. Curse at will.
  5. Now separate the pieces with a solid edge, the ones that give you some sense of knowing where they go, from the more sadistic pieces that refuse to give you the consideration of a clue. Express any gratitude you feel, to receive even these smallest hints of guidance.
  6. Next, sort the solid-edged pieces into groups of similar colors and patterns on your building surface. Experiment with connecting two pieces, becoming aware of any feelings of frustration or fury that arise if not a match. Pounding ill-fitting pieces in punishment is acceptable and may even be necessary for continued work.
  7. Notice how this act of building, making a solid line, bringing some sort of order to chaos, even if punctuated by pounding, feels. Consider the emotions this process evokes — unless you’re sipping the cooking sherry you found when you went looking for a pan and now feel nothing at all.
  8. Continue assembling the edges of the puzzle, taking breaks to smoke, to meditate, to cry, or to laugh maniacally, as needed. But avoid Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google Photos, your messaging app and anywhere else you risk encountering depictions of happy-loving coupledom.
  9. Accept that the solid edge you are building will include, inevitably, include one or two blank places because there are definitely some puzzle pieces missing from the box. There always are. Until they sometimes show up, but far too late to gratify your longing to able to finish something, ANYthing, right now. Don’t give those missing pieces the satisfaction of ruining your sense of accomplishment. In fact, give yourself a pat on the back for making it this far.
  10. It may be time for another break.
  11. Consider the remaining shithead pieces with all four sides of randomness, the ones that give you no clue. Curse them while shaking your fist. Now, delete your ex-lover’s messages from your phone. This may feel impossible, but allow the very existence of these shithead pieces to remind you of the lack of respect you’ve suffered. Then press delete.
  12. Sort the shithead pieces into groups based on color, pattern or whatever comes to you, taking into consideration your frustration tolerance and how much your hands are trembling.
  13. Now go delete those messages. For real, this time.
  14. Begin connecting the shithead pieces to the edge pieces, and then to each other, listening to an encouraging podcast or “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” by Bob Dylan, as needed to keep going. Or maybe you’re more Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Getting Back Together.” You do you. But avoid Adele at all costs.
  15. When your puzzle is complete — or when you decide it’s “complete enough” — speak a word of gratitude for your commitment to your own healing. Then fling the entire thing onto the floor.
  16. Walk away. Somebody else will clean up this mess, right? That’s what your ex-lover assumed, and you can, too.



Cheryl Leutjen

Teetering on a tightrope between more conscientious living and eco-madness, I write about responding to the challenges of our time with heart, hope, and humor.