There is a tendency in all of us to put our loved one on a pedestal. No one wants to speak badly of the dead. I didn’t either for a long time. But at some point, I had come to realize that I still carried some hurt, some resentment, some anger, even hate. How did I know this? Because those feelings were still easily triggered by events that resembled his less-than-admirable characteristics displayed by other people. Remember lesson # 5 about connecting the dots? Well, I finally did that and learned that I had some buried feelings toward my late husband that I carefully concealed because it didn’t seem right to harbor those ugly feelings. Angry and hateful? Me? Resentful? No way! I am a kind person! Well, that was the story I told myself.
Sure, my late husband was a wonderful man, but not an angel. He had flaws but he was not the devil either. He was a human being with all the good things in him and the shortcomings as well. The truth is, people can have a loving quality displayed on one side, sweet on another side, and completely thoughtless on a different side. They can have a polished side, along with a scratched side, next to a muddy side and a pristine side. But one side doesn’t reduce or cancel the other. They just fit together like a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle. Some pieces are boring, colorless, and downright unattractive while other pieces are vibrant, lovely, and beautiful. We need all the pieces to create a coherent, complete picture.
It takes copious amount of courage to see ourselves and our loved one in this way. We can only learn this by working on our own puzzle first. It takes a lot of work and strength to look inwardly to discover all the puzzle pieces we have, let alone accepting them as our own. Most of us want to show those beautiful pieces, and we either hide, deny, or downplay the ugly ones. As a result, our puzzle will have missing pieces and create an incomplete picture with holes in it. And unconsciously, we do the same for our loved ones.
Out of respect, out of decency, and to meet society’s expectation, we paint those holes with what we believe is an appropriate remembrance of them. When we do that, the whole picture is, of course, somewhat distorted. But we find it comforting, so we just let it be. I was no exception. But the moment I learned to discover and accept all of the pieces in myself and own them with dignity no matter what those pieces look like, I could begin to also accept all the pieces in my late husband’s with dignity, with no shame, no blame, and no regrets.
So I began to take an inward journey. First, I studied the pieces that hold my childhood wounds. I paid attention to the rejected and abandoned pieces. I listened to them with compassion. I got to know the crooked pieces that contained anger and resentment and tried to understand them. I befriended the dark-colored pieces that painted fear, shame, and guilt. I learned to love them unconditionally. I noticed how humility and inner critic dance together at times. Then, I sat with creativity, courage, and vulnerability and we are on first-name basis now. I met loving kindness pieces, generosity, and curiosity who introduced me to the other pieces called the joker and the fool. I eventually got to see tenderness and forgiveness in their natural habitat. The further I walked on this journey the more pieces I discovered, the more complete the picture became.
I slowly realized that the image of who I thought I was when I was younger was not completely accurate. Slowly, I learned to rearrange the pieces to fit together in the right place to form a more complete picture—one without missing pieces.
Taking an inward journey is healing. When we purposely explore our heart and soul to discover and look at all of the pieces that make up who we are, we become whole. When we are whole, we become less judgmental of others. We become less triggered by others’ “annoying, bad, frustrating” characteristics (which are also in us) because we have made peace with them in ourselves.
These days, when I look at all his puzzle pieces, I can honestly say, “I admire you, I am grateful for you, I forgive you, I understand you, I apologize to you, and I love you because you did your best, too.”
This has been the longest inward journey I have ever been on, and not the most comfortable. But it is the most important one to continue, because the insight and wisdom I’ve gleaned (and will continue to glean) along the way are so worth it. Wisdom, I concluded, leads to a happier life. And isn’t happiness the very reason we do anything at all?