My mother looked for distractions that made us laugh, things that made us smile, games, puzzles, crafts, or road trips.

I bought a jigsaw puzzle at the grocery store today. The box features an ornate cathedral with red roses and blossoming foliage. The cathedral is in Germany. The puzzle cost two bucks.

My mother and I used to do jigsaw puzzles. Big puzzles. We did them together. I was no good at jigsaws, but she was an expert.

Long ago, puzzles cost seventy-five cents, and provided hours of distraction. We needed distractions back then. We welcomed anything that took our minds off my father’s untimely death, and the gloom that came thereafter.

My mother looked for distractions that made us laugh, things that made us smile, games, puzzles, crafts, or road trips.

Once, she took us to Branson. She took me to see a Dolly Parton impersonator. The show was spectacular. After the performance, the woman in the blonde wig hugged me so tight she nearly suffocated me with her enormous attributes.

When my mother saw me locked with the buxom woman, she shrieked and started praying in tongues. She yanked me by my earlobe and drug me away. And I have been a lifelong Dolly Parton fan ever since.

Anyway, my mother loved doing things with her hands. She made large quilts from old T-shirts, she gardened, she did puzzle books, anagrams, crosswords, cryptograms, she knitted, crocheted, and painted.

She played cards with me, sometimes checkers, and she was a Scrabble fanatic. But jigsaw puzzles. Those were our thing.

My mother started each puzzle by saying the same thing:

“We gotta find the corners first, that’s how you do it.”

The idea was that once you found the corners, the rest of the puzzle would come together. Thus, we would sift through twenty-five hundred pieces, looking for four corners. Once we found them, we’d dig for the edges.

We’d place pieces into piles, then link them together. Piece by piece. Section by section. Mama and I could spend a full week on a good puzzle. Sometimes longer.

And we would talk. After all, that’s what puzzle-people do. They talk. My mother would talk about ancestors, tales of childhood, about her mother, about the Bible. And while we concentrated, she would explain life to me.

I remember one day, working on a puzzle. She stopped working. She looked at me. Her eyes were glassy. And there was obviously something she wanted to say. Something important.

She said, “You know, you’re gonna grow up one day, and you’re gonna soar.”

It was a bizarre thing to say. And it was followed by strange silence. I quit searching for pieces. So did she. Her words hung in the air like the smell of bread. She took my hand.

She went on, “One day you’ll forget all the horrible things your daddy put us through, and you’re just gonna soar. Hear me? Soar.”

It was all she said. She removed her glasses and wiped her face. And we went back to searching for puzzle pieces.

I did not think I would do anything with my life. I dropped out of school before eighth grade, I worked pathetic jobs. I once scooped ice cream for a living. That was my actual job. Ice cream.

I threw the newspaper, laid tile, hung sheetrock, pulled electrical wire, drove a commercial mower, and played piano for church choir.

But none of this has ever mattered to my mother. To her, I was flying. She was proud of me no matter what I was, or what I wasn’t. Whether I dug drainage ditches with a serving spoon, or graduated from community college with honors, I was her son.

Today, I dumped a five-hundred-piece puzzle on my kitchen table. I found the corners first. And I thought about the way our lives went.

The day my father took his life, my mother was angry at him. She was angry at the universe for letting it happen. And I was angry with God for letting that happen to her. I wasn’t fuming mad, mind you, but I was sour inside.

But I think I see things more clearly now. Our lives have been one giant puzzle. And maybe that’s how everyone’s life is. The pieces don’t make sense when they aren’t together, but you don’t give up looking. Not ever.

My mother helped me find the corners first. My wife, my family, and my friends helped me find the edges. And so, the twenty-five-hundred-piece puzzle gets put together by an Unseen Hand. And even though it resembles a big cardboard mess before it’s done, it’s no mess. It’s perfect.

I don’t have much to write today. Nothing except to say: sometimes I feel like I am soaring.

I love you, Mama.


  1. Richard C. - November 15, 2019 6:37 am

    Sweet! One of your best yet. Thanks for writing this blog. If you ever perform innBaton Rouge please let me know.

  2. Sandi. - November 15, 2019 6:41 am

    Sean, please make sure your mother reads this poignant, heartwarming post and is reminded how important she has been in your life, and still is.

  3. grantburris - November 15, 2019 7:21 am

    That was another good one, Sean. You are soaring. Thanks

  4. fromthetexascoast - November 15, 2019 8:00 am

    I can see why

  5. Harriet - November 15, 2019 8:21 am

    The best stories are when you have “nothing to write about” – or your dad.

  6. April Watson - November 15, 2019 9:58 am

    I wish there were more like you.

  7. Mary Ellen Hall - November 15, 2019 10:13 am

    BEAUTIFUL Sean!!!💙💙💙

  8. Steven Paul Bailey - November 15, 2019 10:41 am


  9. lisaweldon - November 15, 2019 10:42 am

    May be your best piece yet. Your thoughts are such gifts to us. Thank you.

  10. Marilyn Ward Vance - November 15, 2019 11:03 am

    Our family did puzzles together…brought back sweet memories to me this morning. It was something all ages could do while TALKING…not looking at phones or TV!

  11. Elizabeth - November 15, 2019 11:27 am

    Dang it, my coffee is getting watery! I want to be that kind of mom and raise young men like you, but right now they are teenagers and it’s hard. Thank you!

  12. Mark3:26 - November 15, 2019 11:40 am

    I found another “peace” this morning, thanks to you Sean. Yesterday, I ran into somebody I worked with briefy, years ago and we talked. I needed both pieces…

  13. Jean - November 15, 2019 11:54 am

    You are flying high!! My father used to do the puzzles. Very precise and ordered. His child did not quite get his finesse…but I try. Your mama should be proud of you!

  14. L. - November 15, 2019 11:55 am

    God bless your mama!!

  15. Lynda Fry - November 15, 2019 11:55 am

    I’m a puzzle person. Your thoughts today are so touching . . So real and from the heart. Your momma must be proud!

  16. Lloyd - November 15, 2019 12:21 pm

    You really do soar Sean. Can’t wait to see you in Columbus.

  17. Farrell. - November 15, 2019 12:29 pm

    One of your best!

  18. Ann - November 15, 2019 12:31 pm

    A very wise woman with a huge heart and a very special son who is soaring……

  19. Jan - November 15, 2019 12:32 pm

    You truly soar, Sean. The really magical part is … you take us right along with you! Thank you for never giving up! Thank you for sharing yourself with the rest of the world! Thanks to your Mother for teaching you such wonderful life lessons! She is awesome and so are you!

  20. sher1011 - November 15, 2019 12:35 pm

    Beautiful!!!! I cried! Thank you for your stories……now go SOAR!

  21. Lydia - November 15, 2019 12:40 pm

    Sooooo moving! Thank you,Sean!

  22. Steve - November 15, 2019 12:41 pm

    So strong

  23. Janis - November 15, 2019 12:54 pm

    Yes you are soaring. Thank you for writing this. <3

  24. Rogers - November 15, 2019 12:59 pm

    One of your better ones. Thank you.

  25. Keloth Anne - November 15, 2019 1:21 pm

    What a wonderful wonderful writing ♥️
    What a remarkable young man you are!! Continue to soar.

  26. Sharon - November 15, 2019 1:31 pm

    Weeper. I needed a weeper. Thank you Sean. I am a single mother and have been since the age of 22. There is not a more important job on the planet. Your Mother did a wonderful job. Although I have my doubts, my son tells me I did too. My very best to you, Jamie, and your Mother.

  27. Robert Chiles - November 15, 2019 1:32 pm

    Thanks for helping me soar.

  28. Bobbie - November 15, 2019 1:41 pm

    Just beautiful! Bless your dear Mamma. I see where you get your heart, compassion and thoughtfulness. It looks to me like the pieces of your life have and are coming together as they were meant to. I love the analogy …. life and puzzles. Many of us have tried to make pieces fit when they aren’t supposed to. That Unseen Hand is the One in control. Thank you for your words this morning. They are such a blessing to your readers. ❤️

  29. Marcia Lynn MacLean - November 15, 2019 1:48 pm

    Of all the gifts God gave you, I’m most thankful for your amazing memory and total recall. Your mother is most definitely the wind beneath your wings.

  30. Connie Havard Ryland - November 15, 2019 1:53 pm

    Well I can’t say anything that others haven’t already said. This one is special. I think your mom and I must be close to the same generation. My kids grew up watching me sew, quilt, cross stitch; word puzzles of all kinds and jigsaw puzzles that we all worked on, and forever with a book nearby. I tried very hard to be the mom that would raise my children to be good people. I did okay. Of the 5 that I was primarily responsible for raising, only one went astray. Thank you for your words every day. Always something thought provoking or something to make me smile. Either way, a great start to my day. Love and hugs.

  31. Betty F. - November 15, 2019 1:54 pm

    That was one of your more profound pieces. Beautiful…

  32. Marge - November 15, 2019 2:05 pm

    Thank you, Sean, for ALWAYS helping me start my day with your heartfelt stories. Please continue soaring❤️

  33. Barbara Pope - November 15, 2019 2:31 pm

    Super mama–you are soaring and I am so disappointed I won’t be able to hear you in Columbus tonight. Hope you’ll be in Phenix City or Opelika soon.

  34. Marcia Lynn MacLean - November 15, 2019 2:33 pm

    Of all the gifts God gave you, I’m most thankful He blessed you with an amazing memory and total recall. Your mother is most definitely the wind beneath your wings.

  35. Bkr - November 15, 2019 2:39 pm

    This one made me cry-again. You make us all soar with your words and heart. Thank you

  36. Phil S. - November 15, 2019 2:42 pm

    Not much to write today? Man, that was a sermon, my friend! There are pulpits all over the country that could use your down-home wisdom and Godly spirit. I truly believe that He is using you and your beautiful talents, Sean, Whether you realize it or not, you are helping many with the jigsaw puzzles they struggle with. Your mama did a fine job of raising her boy. Keep soaring.

  37. Lisa Snow - November 15, 2019 2:44 pm


  38. Sheri - November 15, 2019 2:46 pm

    Your column today about puzzles was just right. My husband and I work puzzles together. It’s great for talking and much better than tv. You also mentioned family which is something that is missing these days. Thank you for sharing these memories of you momma with me. Her words to you were exactly right, you are soaring,

  39. Beth - November 15, 2019 2:46 pm

    I always look forward to sitting down and reading your newsletter. It is like home. Thank you

  40. Deborah Moss - November 15, 2019 2:57 pm

    Buddy, this is one of your best! A wonderful tribute to your mother and I am happy you can honor her and all she’s done for you and your sister. God bless you.

  41. sparkerlpc - November 15, 2019 3:40 pm

    You are soaring higher than you know. Those who fly the highest never really realize it. I echo what others have said, please make sure your Mama reads this. Hugging your neck from here!

  42. Anne Isbell - November 15, 2019 3:58 pm

    You soar every day in ways you cannot imagine. You are a bright spot to me every day when i check my inbox. You bring laughter, tears, and most of all the reminder that we all matter and more importantly that what we do matters, every day, in big ways and tiny ways. We all matter.

  43. Karen Irby - November 15, 2019 4:02 pm

    Sean, for not having much to say you sure said a mouthful! You’re so blessed to have your Mama-I’d have given anything to have one like her. A loving, caring mother can obviously help a child get through the worst that life can throw at you. God bless her for doing that for you, and you for sharing your thoughts with us every day. Love you!

  44. Ala Red Clay Girl - November 15, 2019 4:03 pm

    Simply beautiful!

  45. violet robinson - November 15, 2019 4:34 pm

    hi sean I like your heartwarming story about your mother and what she done for you and your sister keep soaring

  46. Linda Moon - November 15, 2019 4:43 pm

    “Find your noble distraction”. That’s a phrase I’ve often used for myself and others. My enormously furry distraction gave me a big hug this morning. Road trips are often wonderful and noble distractions, too. I know two mamas who helped their children to Soar. Give my love to your mother for leading you to the Unseen Hand. Mothers like her are priceless and noble! You ARE soaring, Sean!!

  47. Edna B. - November 15, 2019 4:44 pm

    I hope your Mom reads this. You have a wonderful day, Sean. Hugs, Edna B.

  48. David P B Feder - November 15, 2019 4:49 pm

    You’re doing the best and most honest, human kind of soaring, Sean. You’re soaring with an eye on those who are floundering to fly in order to be an example to and teach them and to give them the encouragement they need to join you.

  49. Dawn Bratcher - November 15, 2019 4:58 pm

    What a beautiful analogy of what has been in progress for most of your life. Your mother prophesied your future as God gave you hope. Our lives are journeys, with different paths for everyone, where we are supposed to learn, grow, and love others more, like our Lord. May God bless you continued insights, growth, and LOVE!
    Love You, Sean.

  50. Steve - November 15, 2019 5:13 pm

    I don’t want to be mean. I’ve thought about this for months. Today was the day to say it. “ One day you’ll forget all the horrible things your daddy put us through, and you’re just gonna soar. Hear me? Soar.” “One day you’ll forget the horrible things your daddy…. “. Forget. Forget. Of course you can never fully forget your fathers final actions, but it disturbs me to see you reference that in every column. It’s as though you’re letting his actions define you. Those were his actions, not yours. I’ve never stood in your shoes. I’ve never experienced the pain you have. Or how that shaped and altered your life. Maybe it’s wrong for me to even broach this subject. So don’t listen to me. Listen to your Mama. You are so much more than your fathers actions.Your puzzle still has a large black hole – missing pieces. Listen to your Mama. Don’t let that define you. I love you Sean. Just like so many others, I love you.


  51. Lori Klein - November 15, 2019 5:30 pm

    Oh, my heart, Sean. My momma’s daddy, he shot himself when I was 20. My mother was 44. There’s never a good age to lose your daddy, and certainly not that way. She’s been amazingly strong about it, as have you. Thank you for bringing fresh courage to those who are just now wondering if things will ever be ok again. They will. I promise they will. You will soar.

  52. Judy Riley - November 15, 2019 5:55 pm

    Wonderful tribute to your Momma!!! I also love jigsaw puzzles….and I’m passing the tradition on. My daughter loves them and now I have a four year old G-grandson who also loves to work “puhzulls”!

  53. Pat Thomason - November 15, 2019 6:29 pm

    I love them all, but today is a special one. Thank you.

  54. Shelton A. - November 15, 2019 7:41 pm

    Speechless…thanks. God bless…

  55. Anne - November 15, 2019 8:29 pm

    You are soaring , Sean. I’m so happy for you and your readers. The best part is you’re taking us along for the ride. Thank you!

  56. Susan I Gleadow - November 15, 2019 9:03 pm

    Once agian, most beautiful!

  57. Katherine Young - November 15, 2019 10:18 pm

    Dear Sean,
    My brother took his life in 1963 (in Birmingham) when he was 16 and me almost 13. Mama, Daddy, my older brother and I have suffered as you and your Mama have. Martin’s dog, Balsha (a Balkan king), lay on the floor after the funeral and cried, too. I revisit scenes from the aftermath as you do. One day, not long after the event, Daddy passionately declared his gratitude to God for giving us Martin for 16 years. This saved me from being mad at God. You, Sean, through your unique, delightful, and gentle humor, along with the compassion you give, offer folks encouragement like your Mama did for you. I believe that giving love heals us and keeps the ravages of depression at bay. She and your prescient wife knew your gifts before you did!
    Thank you for sharing…

  58. Tray Earnest - November 15, 2019 11:30 pm

    Wow. That just might be the best one you have ever written. We are all rooting for you. Keep soaring.

  59. Gaynell Lumsden - November 16, 2019 2:11 am

    Wow! That is profound! A bit of Genius – I’d say. Yes- you ARE Soaring. You and your family are a beautiful piece of ART.

  60. jack - November 16, 2019 2:59 am

    A fantastic read. I loved it. Well except this part:
    I threw the newspaper, laid tile, hung sheetrock, pulled electrical wire, drove a commercial mower, and played piano for church choir……. I did all that, except the piano thingee…… And I ain’t famous, musta been the piano????
    Naw, son just joshing, you done good and I am 80+ years old and the pieces did finally come together. We do have a piano in the living room and I am up to playing ‘Coon-Shine’, maybe there is help for me yet.
    I do enjoy every post of yours I am able to read.
    Sherry & jack……

  61. Patti - November 16, 2019 2:08 pm

    Sean, you are a talented writer and humorist but your frequent references to your father’s untimely death are overbearing. I hope you will seek grief counseling, yes, even after this long time. You are a good person who needs to lighten the load.

  62. Trina - November 16, 2019 4:57 pm

    You brought tears to my eyes and an ache in my heart! Thank you from another puzzle worker!

  63. Christy Taylor - November 16, 2019 5:56 pm


  64. Pat - November 18, 2019 9:06 pm

    How sweet…memories are running down my cheeks!

  65. Carol - November 19, 2019 11:41 pm

    She loves you More ❤️

  66. Dru Brown - November 24, 2019 1:56 am

    What a great mother.

  67. turtlekid - December 11, 2019 12:39 pm

    Tears. A reminder of why we should not consider suicide, because others suffer much more than we can comprehend. Been there a few times. Praise GOD I am here to finish the job I was meant to do.

  68. Ann Biggs -Williams - December 11, 2019 3:00 pm

    Finding the corners. Aren’t we all? Thank you internet circuit rider!

  69. Ken Dedeaux - December 11, 2019 5:02 pm

    Might be your best ever, Sean. I appreciate you.

  70. Martha - December 11, 2019 7:55 pm

    Your mother knew a great secret……… There is joy out there… but often you have to hunt for it. Sometimes it’s the search that makes it great joy. Never stop looking & searching. It’s well worth finding


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