What's Left of Me
What followed Patrick’s death was a blur. Life as I knew it was over. My purpose was gone. I had no sense of self anymore. Worst of all, I felt responsible for his death in a way. I had made it my mission to save him - and I failed. I thought I was being punished for the choices I had made in life in some way. Never mind the fact that he had been diagnosed with just about the worst possible thing you can have - nope, somehow it was my fault. All of those negative thoughts that ran my life for the years before I got sober felt like they were being broadcast on a loudspeaker 24/7. Guilt dripped from my pores.
Immediately after Patrick's death, the rage of his family which had been present and palpable throughout our relationship and his illness was unleashed. They accused me of stealing money from him. They enlisted the lawyer who I had hired for Patrick
set up his estate to come after me. The details are not important, but it was ugly. I was horrified that anyone would think I would do something so terrible during the time I acted with more integrity than perhaps ever in my life. Eventually, I relented, because I could no longer mentally handle the fighting. I also knew that no matter what I did, they were never going to love and accept me. I had to let go of the hope that somehow, someway I would be able to convince them that I was not the image they conjured up of me. I had to accept that their opinions belonged to them and had nothing to do with who I am, nor were they any of my business. Letting go would require a lot of painful work, but it was necessary for me to move forward in any meaningful way.
I started grief counseling about two weeks before Patrick died. About six months later I was having constant nightmares and flashbacks that became debilitating. I could not find my way out of reliving those last days of his life. I was diagnosed with PTSD and had to take another leave of absence from my job. Yet again, I felt like a failure because I could not just "get my sh*t together" and function like a normal person. Everyone else was moving on with their lives and I couldn't. Truthfully, I don't think I wanted to. It was like holding the pain was evidence that our love was real, that it had not all been a dream that turned into a nightmare. I was afraid that if I allowed it to become anything but a festering scar that somehow I would be judged even more harshly. I underwent several months of intensive hypnotherapy to work through the memories and make them less terrifying. I was depressed to the point of suicidal most if not all of the time - not in an actively-planning-my-demise way, but in a "You know, if this ended, that would be fine with me" way. I am pretty sure that I would not have survived the two years after he died without my therapist.
It was suggested to me that I try a grief group, which was a short-lived endeavor. I was the youngest widow/widower by over 20 years, and I got sick of people telling me "Oh sweetie, but you're so young - you have your whole life ahead of you to move on and find someone else." They actually said that with straight faces, thinking it was somehow helping me. I was disgusted. I didn't want a long life without Patrick. I actually found myself jealous of those in their latter years because, I thought, at least they are closer to being reunited with their partners! At least they got to live out their love stories!
I had more rage inside of me than I am normally willing to admit on a public level, and it was killing me. But, the lights needed to stay on, and with all of the debt I incurred over the year I spent out of work, I kept pushing on. I was in survival mode, and did whatever I could to not drive off a cliff. For a while that involved buying all the things and putting myself into even more debt. I had three surgeries because of my chronic pain, including on my back which was bad for years but destroyed by the months of transferring Patrick in and out of bed, but I was never free of that pain. I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and the joints in my hands were so swollen I could hardly move them in the morning. I got a full back piece tattoo in his memory and several other smaller ones. The amount of ink I had done was pretty astounding, even for me. It was my fearful ego's way of begging me not to forget.
One of my strangest coping mechanisms was buying sheet cakes and eating them for every meal until they were gone. I bought a LOT of cakes, people. I literally started going to different bakeries because I thought the employees would notice how often I was there. I remember once a bakery worker asked me if I wanted to have anything written on the cake. I almost screamed, "Yes, have it say 'My F*cking Cake!" but instead I quietly declined while avoiding eye contact. It was so sick, and so much like my behavior when I was drinking. But, I did what I had to do to keep my eyes on the road in front of me. (It turns out, though, that I'm not alone - if you haven't seen Tina Fey's Saturday Night Live sketch on #sheetcaking, I highly recommend Googling it.)
For two years, I sought guidance from everywhere I could think of – my recovery mentor, my therapist, an energy healer, numerous doctors, a naturopath, and a life coach, to name a few. Every single one of them in some way, shape or form told me that the answers would come through prayer and meditation. I did not have any interest in that answer, so I continued my search through different sources, but it all turned out the same. It seemed there was no getting around seeking healing through the Divine.
After a great deal of soul searching, I realized that it was on the day of Patrick’s diagnosis that my faith in the Higher Power which had gotten me sober and carried me through all of life’s challenges had died. I figured that if this was “God’s plan,” then I had no use for or interest in God. For two full years after Patrick died, I wanted nothing to do with God/Source Energy/the Universe, whatever you want to call it (I use these interchangeably). It was the loneliest time of my life, because not only did I shut out God, I shut out those closest to me. Deep down I knew everyone in my life would eventually leave, so I thought that if I kept people away, the pain would be less. Of course, all this did was further my depression, and allowed those dark places in my mind to live freely in the open.
Finally, in July 2017, there was a crack in my hardened exterior and the light of my Higher Power started to creep back in. I had been meditating using an App on my phone at the suggestion of a friend for a week when I heard “I’ve missed you.” I broke down and sobbed. I felt the love pour back in, realizing it had been with me the whole time, but patiently waiting until I could receive it.
For the past few months, I have gone from shunning God to completely living in faith. I have known that I hated my job for a long time - years, in fact. As a litigation attorney, my job was literally to fight every day. It was so contrary to the needs of my soul that it finally made me physically sick. I spent the entire month of September 2017 with severe nausea and being unable to eat on a regular basis. I went to the hospital once where they said I had gastroenteritis, but it just would not get better. Tests showed an enlarged liver, but my functioning was fine. I also was having a terrible flare of my rheumatoid arthritis, which had been relatively well-controlled. Nothing explained it, except for severe stress and soul sickness. I could literally no longer stomach the work of helping insurance companies save money on workers’ compensation claims after having to fight tooth and nail for Patrick’s care when he was sick. Being a part of the insurance defense grind where my worth often felt distilled down to a sad-faced emoji on a monthly billable hour report was not just making me unhappy – it was killing me.
Through meditation, I learned that I was being asked to take a step out in faith. The Universe was telling me that it was time to leave my job, and that I was not going to be able to see what the next step was until I did so. It was also made clear that I should not renew the lease on my apartment I shared with two roommates – another unhealthy situation, through no fault of theirs – which ended in November. I was terrified, but I knew that I would not be able to move forward until I let go of my attachment to being a lawyer and the identity I had worked so hard, and put myself into so much debt, for. This truly was asking a lot of a girl who never takes a step until she can see the next dozen, but it had to be done. So, I had a conversation with my boss, who was far more supportive than I expected. She applauded my bravery and told me I would always be welcome back. I left that job after five years, put all of my things in storage, and moved to the beautiful Central Coast of California to take some time for myself.
Nothing, I repeat NOTHING, in my life looks the way I thought it would. Or should. I was supposed to be married, having babies, making partner in my law firm and buying a house. I wasn't supposed to be a 34 year-old widow with crushing debt and equally debilitating emotional trauma. It just isn't supposed to look like this. But it does.
So, here I am. I don't know where my story is heading. I do believe that if I continue to seek to expand my awareness and consciousness, and focus on my desire to bring love into the world, the next step will become apparent. At least I hope so. It's certainly on its own timeline and I have no say in the matter. I am just doing the footwork as a soul occupying this body and learning not to judge what it looks like.
Today marks 2.5 years since Patrick's death. I still miss him every day, though the experience has evolved. It used to be like walking around as an open wound where anything that touched me was excruciating. Now, it's like getting hit on the funny bone - something will strike the Patrick-sized hole in my heart and it will hurt like hell, but the pain subsides faster and doesn't constantly live on the surface most of the time. I think he would be proud of the person I am today and the dramatic change from living a life from a place of control and fear to one of surrender and faith. I didn't hide from my grief. I have done the necessary work. I have accepted that some of it will always be there. I have gotten to the guts underneath the grief that still need some attention. More is being revealed.
All I have to say to the Universe at this point is bring it on. If I have not been irreparably broken yet, I see no reason to believe I won't find my way out of this period, too. I've got this.
Perhaps this is the start of my book after all.
Lisa O'Leary is a lawyer, cat mom, widow, sports enthusiast, truth seeker, soul searcher, meditator, and consciousness practitioner who is actively engaged in quieting down the mind to allow the song to play.