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Friday, March 15, 2019

Surrender


People ask me how I’m doing and I never know how to answer.

I do know that on most mornings I wake up and I’m surprised that I’m still here. Stunned really, how I am enduring the most devastating and unrelenting pain I could have ever have imagined—every second of every hour of every day, and that somehow, I’m still breathing.

But more than anything I'm just shocked that Patrick is not here.
I'm aghast. Astounded every time I allow the sheer horror of the accident to seep into my awareness, and to realize in that split second that I am still living ---but my precious, extraordinary son is not. 

I am still here and my child is not. 

This is a peek into my quiet mind where this one sickening thought pops into my head at random moments, like the mumblings of a trauma victim trying to grasp the enormity of their experience; although honestly I still cannot believe it. 

If you were lucky enough to have traveled in Patrick's orbit you know what I mean. He was such a force of exuberant energy and light in this world, you can't believe he's gone. He was the kind of person you gravitated to in a crowd. Even in his most absurd and funniest moments he exuded a raw goodness from every cell of his body. And Lord help you if you ever heard him laugh--in his husky, loud voice-- because you were instantly captivated. 

There are no words in a mother's language that can explain how perverse and wrong and shattering this new world feels without him in it, no way to describe how it feels when everything you thought you knew about life --is now annihilated in pieces at your feet.
 
I don't say this to make you feel bad for me, it's just a statement of fact.

Because one thing I’m learning about surviving the most devastating trauma of my life, is that truthfulness is everything. Not just honesty with others—but honesty first and foremost with my Self. 

I've learned. When you're standing in the middle of a black tunnel with no end in sight, truth becomes that flicker of light that shows you where to place your next wobbly step. And unless you make space for all those staggering emotions --without judging or hiding or pretending--you'll remain in darkness.

This is why I write...some of which I share here. Writing for me is a way of scavenging through these numb-minding moments. I pick them up. I examine them. As I try to make it through to the next moment. Although strangely, it's this ragged commitment to showing up and being present for whatever is coming at me--that seems to offer me some skeletal roadmap.

One foot in front of the other. One breath. Then another. This is how I live right now.

And I guess I have some flimsy hope that if you can see me  surviving this---a loss I once thought would kill me-- that maybe it might help you someday.

Today, on the six-month date of Patrick’s accident—six agonizingly long months of not hearing his voice or seeing him in person—I thought I would tell you about this in-between place I find myself.


I had been chatting with a woman for several minutes before she mentioned that she had tried to kill herself in the early months following her 23-year-old son’s death.

This is the messy, raw world I live in now and honestly, it feels relieving. When you’re a mother who has lost a child, you walk around completely stripped to your barest core. No more glossy ego and silly worries about what others think of you. 

In fact, you crave realness. 

Sometimes it’s as simple as running into someone else whose life has also included some profound tragedy. Only instead of the typical awkward moment that others might feel in that conversation, you edge closer. And you feel right at home.

 In fact, you welcome the details of their story, if only to be in the midst of that mystical hint of hope dangling in front of you. 

You survived this unbearable thing too? You silently think.

And even though you can’t possibly imagine clawing your way to that emotional ledge they now rest on, you want to bow your head and have them touch it with some magical energy. 

You want them to look into your eyes and tell you forcefully: Yes, you will survive all this horrendous pain. At least that's how I feel.

The interesting thing about this woman—whose name I didn’t know—is that I was instantly drawn to her warm smile and her upbeat energy. 

I would never have guessed that she had once swallowed too many sleeping pills and awoke hours later vomiting, and with her son’s voice in her head telling her, “No mama—it’s not your time yet.” 

But suffering brings mysterious powers. One minute you're talking about your child and the next second all those polite boundaries that separate one mother from another, have melted away.

Of course I felt a thunderous kinship with her.
And-- no, not because I’ve thought about killing myself.
But because I could relate to the unbearable pain this mother had felt on that one night, when she couldn’t imagine living in a world one second longer without her son. 



Of all the books I’ve received since Patrick’s accident, one of the most comforting books to me has been a memoir by an author named Mirabai Starr. 

On the day that Starr’s first book was published--a translation of the Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross ---her teenage daughter Jenny was killed in a car accident. And despite her decades of living a life of contemplative prayer and meditation. And decades of studying the lives of religious mystics and saints, and years of giving international talks about her well-traveled life, she plummeted into darkness.
She could no longer pray. She could no longer sit through a simple meditation. And she couldn’t stop her outrage and anger at God for this inexplicable loss of her youngest child.
She was in fact, like any other mother after losing her child, completely devastated and inconsolable. 

Yet the reason I kept coming back to her memoir, was because she was the first person to talk with cringing honesty about her despair, and things no one else talked about.

 On page 234 she wrote:

"I have never met a bereaved mother who did not, at some point anyway--maybe in a place so secret that it is even a secret from herself— crave death."



And no.
She doesn't mean that every mother literally struggles with suicidal ideation, she means that when you lose your child your entire world is cracked wide open and one of the most dramatic changes is this sudden and new allure you have with the Other World.

Heaven.
The unseen dimension.
The luminous spirit world.
The Afterlife.

Whatever you call it, it is now where your missing child lives.

And tell me. What loving mother doesn’t want to visit her child? What loving mother doesn’t feel the urgency to check on her child herself?  Make sure they are truly ok and (please-dear-Lord) confirm that they are in that promised light of peace and happiness.

This is the reason I've noticed a strange detachment to my physical body right now.

This is why for months after the accident--every time I got on my yoga mat in a gentle child’s pose, with my forehead resting deep in the earth,  loud, piercing sobs would pour from my chest. 

This is why I have not gone to a single yoga class since Patrick’s accident.

This is why I struggle to sit through the silence of meditation.

This is why I have not returned to the gym again.

The reason is simple. All of these actions involve my singular attention to my breath.


All of these actions require my awareness of life’s vibrant energy flowing through my physical body and it’s this stunning awareness that I should be inhaling and exhaling precious air when my son is not---that feels utterly unbearable to me.





To me it makes perfect sense.
Do you remember that feeling of oneness that existed between you and your baby? That would allow you to hear the subtle differences between your baby's cry of hunger vs tiredness?
Do you remember wanting to feed your baby before yourself when time was an issue? 

These are deep, primal instincts that simply don't disappear with chronological age.

Or with Death. 

And I wonder why nobody talks about this inner struggle I feel as Patrick's mother. It is an agonizing dilemma, to make that pivot toward Life when every guttural impulse in my body is pulling me toward my missing child.

And so what do I do, Mirabai?
How do I choose to move forward without Patrick?


And I found comfort in her words:

  "It’s just unbearable anguish" became my mantra which I uttered silently and with an ironic smile whenever the pain came at me like a freight train. Then I lay down in its tracks and investigated what it felt like be run over.
And.... a realization began to grow in me:
You are shattered, said my inner voice. Do not be in a rush to put the pieces back together. Go ahead and be nobody for as long as you can."


And so here I am. Surrendering to it all.

Six months into our catastrophic loss of Patrick and I have no idea how I've survived 182 days without him. Nor can I imagine how I will endure living the rest of my life without him.
It's simply too unbearable to contemplate.
But I do know this.
I know that I can survive this one moment. 

And today, that's enough.


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Sunday, February 17, 2019

Modern Cottage staircase. How to.



Well friends. I offer this humble staircase makeover as proof that if you keep moving along--even in slow, torturous baby steps--eventually things get done.

The week before Patrick's accident we hired a stair contractor to finally begin work on our new staircase. He had torn it apart that week, and needless to say it stayed that way for a long time.

Despite my usual DIY chutzpah this was one project I had no intention of trying; I had a clear idea of what I wanted and I knew if I wanted it done before 2025 I had to hire a pro.


Here is the staircase that comes with our 1964 circa neighborhood. 

Clearly enough room between the metal spindles to practice sky-diving. Here's Stella showing you that this staircase was definitely not up to current codes.
Thankfully German Shepherds are so darn smart. And unlike small, curious children we never had problems with Stella getting too close to the edge. I had to call her a few times to get her to take this shot.


I say this to all my friends who dread the million-little-decisions involved with house renovations: Find some great inspiration photos that capture your look! And the more the better.

I found this photo from one of designer Lauren Liess's homes and although hers was completely custom--(translation outside-my-budget) it helped me define the clean, simple look I wanted for my stairs.



After the stairs were taken down to the bare bones we discovered a pin-hole leak in the pipes underneath. Which meant a call to the plumber and additional time for the wood to dry.

During this interlude we were walking around in shock and as you can imagine everything came to a standstill.

Slowly. After weeks of postponing and shaky phone calls that happened during foggy periods I barely remember, the stair contractor came back to our house. 

This is the part that might help you.
If you're interested in having a stair runner with a surged edging but don't want to pay additional costs of having new wood treads installed on each stair, listen closely.

As you can see I went with the more affordable choice: partial treads (means, only on the ends). And I kept the plywood in the middle where the runner would cover anyway.


Here's one of my inspiration photos showing a runner with the added edging on it. I was undecided about a black canvas edge or a surged edging in a darker shade of the runner. Eventually I decided against the black canvas because of the dirt.

But here's what you should know.

Because I wanted that darker edging on the runner, I would need to elevate the middle plywood area so that it was the same level with the end tread pieces. 

Are you following? I had to explain this to the stair guy.



Eventually he attached pieces of MDF (if I was in my right mind I would've asked for real wood) to the center plywood with wood glue and nails but he had to come back to re-do it, because he didn't line up the edge of the middle wood with the edge of the outside treads. 
Yes, it was awkward.


But according to the rug installer this was a key mistake.


Finally it got done. 
I think white paint on the risers and the treads lighten the look.





Here's a close-up of the newel post I had made




Close up of the surged edging and the pattern of my runner.

I toyed with the idea of an herringbone pattern because it's a classic, but frankly I was seeing it everywhere on Pinterest so I opted for this miniature diamond.





I chose a semi-gloss finish in black along with white shaker spindles and I'm happy with the contrast.

 Yes those are smudges on the rail, evidence of real life. :)




I hope this post helps you with your own design decisions if you're considering re-doing your stairs.

I try not to get too obsessed with each little decision, in the end the creative process should be a joyful one. For me especially now...I realize that using your right side of the brain and tapping into one's creative energies can provide a comforting distraction when you're going through an agonizing time. 

Enjoy each moment of your renovations. And realize that if you're able to do anything to your home--big or small-- consider yourself blessed.


love to you all,

Leslie
(p.s. sorry about the weird font changes. Blogger is behaving poorly this morning)


Linking up:
Amaze Me Monday
The Scoop 365

Thursday, February 7, 2019

on being a Soul instead of a Role


The other day I picked up a book by Richard Rohr and opened it up to some random page about Jonah.

This is the way my life seems now. I stumble on real life moments and random words that somehow make me feel like I’m a character in some cryptic mystery. That’s odd, I’ll think later when I reflect on the synchronicities at work; the weird timing, my own openness, and the curious message that ends up in my head.

On this day I scanned the two pages that tell me that I’m living in the belly of beast.

And since I don’t know anything anymore, I keep reading.

According to spiritual teachers the story of Jonah who was swallowed by a whale and taken to places he never wanted to go — is a biblical metaphor. A way to understand those dark, traumatic periods in our lives and a way for me to make sense of this bottomless pit of motherly despair that I live with now.

The tale of Jonah surviving inside the black pit of a whale’s stomach is supposed to be a story of death and rebirth. A reminder to all of us, that Death sneaks into our lives in the many forms that include the disappointments and endings and letting go that we all experience. And that these terribly lonely, depressing, overwhelming times in our lives are actually our teachers in disguise, waving us down a pathway towards transformation.

I don’t know.

Possibly.

What I do know is that when your heart has been cracked wide open and you’re walking around under a fallen sky in a world that no longer makes any sense— anything seems possible.

Maybe someday I’ll be like Jonah. Spit out on to a new shore, spiritually awakened and no longer upset with the Blessed Mother, or wanting answers from the Holy Spirit about why my son—with his extraordinary Light and Goodness-- is not here and I still am.

Maybe someday I will be living a life without Patrick here, and the thought of not hearing the sound of his voice when he says, “Hey Mama,” or watching him throw his head back and laugh while he flashes his amazing smile, won’t make me crumble under the weight of my broken heart.

But truthfully? I can’t imagine that time. That’s how dark this part of my journey is right now.

Although in the words of my eighty-two-year-old Buddhist friend Gale, who lost her son to suicide forty years ago, this is the way it is right now and that’s OK.

Maybe that’s why I keep writing.

I’m like a blindfolded traveler at the edge of a harrowing cliff, sensing that there is something for me here. Something to record. Some precious learning to be found when there is nowhere else to go. When there’s no last-minute escape or way to avoid this horrific reality that I’m faced with each day:

I open my eyes and my son is gone.

I close my eyes and my son is still gone.


Recently I was listening to a beautiful story by Frank Ostaseski, an American Buddhist who has spent over 30 years working with hospice patients. He was helping a mother tend to the body of her seven-year-old son who had just died from cancer. She was bathing him tenderly as part of their goodbye ritual, counting his toes to him and talking to him lovingly and every so often she would look over at Frank with beseeching eyes as if to say, “Can I survive this?! Can any mother survive this?!”

“And my job,” Frank says, “was simply to hand her another washcloth. And direct her back to her son, because that’s where the healing is always found, in the heart of the suffering.”

Somewhere deep in my soul I know this is true.

But like this mother, I’m still grappling with shock. I’m still wrapped in that mystical connection I’ve felt with my son the moment he left my body. It is powerful and otherworldly, this bond with him. And my mind simply cannot comprehend the idea of a permanent separation from Patrick. His body, his face, the sound of his voice. It’s all so unfathomable.

When I heard Frank’s story I felt like those mother’s words were my words. Her anguish is my anguish. Because I too, know how it feels to suffer over your son’s lifeless body. I know how it feels to wake up each morning with a pain in my chest so unbearable, I wonder how I can still be alive.

Yet here I am, still breathing.

And looking pretty normal on the outside despite the changes I feel within.

Grief strips you down to your most unguarded self. It’s a wall of pain that washes over you and leaves you wrinkled and raw and gasping for air. And then it repeats itself. Grief from the loss of your child will leave you stunned and walking around feeling strangely unprotected, in a universe you no longer trust.

This is the person I was on that sunny, October afternoon--only weeks after Patrick’s tragic accident—when I told the lady at the cleaners about Patrick.

And this is what I learned about miracles.

I had gone there to pick up some clothes; it had been the next robotic errand that had emerged out of the thick soup that was now my mind. Clouded by shock and grief, my ability to think at that point consisted of piecing together questions in order to figure out what I needed to get done. And with the Memorial Services approaching, I heard myself asking.

Could Michael fit in Patrick’s jacket? Did I have anything red to wear? Was Jim’s suit in the cleaners?

So-to-the-cleaners I headed.

The woman who always waited on me was also the co-owner of this busy shop, along with her shy husband.

I liked her. With her ebony colored hair and powdery skin, she reminded me of a middle-aged geisha, dressed in sensible slacks and polyester blouses. Only instead of warm tea, she offered chatty, kind words to her customers.

“Tell him good luck on his job interview,” she had said one March day when I picked up Patrick’s black suit, and in that brief moment we had forged a bond. One mother seeing another mother’s hopes and blessing them with optimism.

The woman had barely walked up and greeted me when I knew I couldn’t pretend. After all, she had touched Patrick’s clothes; this act alone felt like a kinship. But I hesitated. It was the first time I’d be sharing my catastrophic loss with a stranger, and the delivery of these words out into the open air felt like another layer of trauma.

 “My son. I wanted to tell you.” My voice was a whisper and she leaned forward to hear me. “He was in a terrible accident. I wanted you to know. He…he didn’t make it.”

I don’t remember how she came through that wall of counter. Or how her arms got around me so fast.
But she was holding me so tight I had to inhale. Was it seconds or minutes? That I stood there smelling the waft of white gardenia, and feeling the intimate scratch of hair on my face that wasn’t mine. This alone should have jolted me back into my role of polite customer, but I didn’t move.

The world had stopped, the other customers had vanished.

And then something happened inside our frozen hug because we both began to cry. I felt our bodies soften into muffled sobs. And afterwards—with quick precision, she scooped my clothes off the metal rack, took my hand and led me toward my car.

Out in the bright parking lot I could have been a ragged, lost child, squinting in the noonday sun and being led to a shelter, that’s how fragile I felt. Too broken to revert into my typical Miss Capable role, I watched with curious detachment as this soft-spoken woman took my keys, unlocked my door and hung my clothes carefully in the back.

Afterwards she took both my hands and asked me how to find the accident site, only minutes away. She seemed hesitant to let me go, promising me prayers and insisting that I keep my faith. “God will get you through this,” she assured me.

Then she was gone.

Miracle-workers

In the few months that have passed, I’ve had time to think about this powerful experience. And what I will never forget is how it felt to be out in the world so broken and vulnerable, and so unlike my usual Self. And how miraculous it felt to have a stranger—react without a second’s hesitation to my pain.

Only she didn’t simply observe my pain, she risked doing something. This shop owner –whose name I still don’t know—saw me the way that I truly felt, as a crumpled body on the floor with a shattered heart, barely getting by. And she literally held me, long enough to shine a light into my darkness and remind me that I was not alone.

Marianne Williamson calls this woman a “miracle-worker,” and says that at any moment we can choose to either judge someone or bless someone, it’s that simple.

We also can be this force of light in the world.

But it does require that we "see" outside our comfort zone.

It means being aware that the same roles that give us our sense of identity and help us feel safe-- whether it's a job title, our neighborhoods or our politics, are the same roles that create illusions of separateness. That help us erect an US and a THEM, that closes us off from the pain of others.

When the truth is, that we’re all a part of larger whole.

I think about that hug with the shop owner, and how it would never have happened if I had been operating from my stronger self. Or if the shop owner had been more logical and reserved about maintaining her profession boundaries.

And the farther I got away from this experience the more holy and miraculous it appeared.

It’s seems ironic. Here I am at the darkest time of my life, and it’s my grief that is opening my eyes to the way that grace and love suddenly appear out of nowhere, when I’m most in need.

It’s like Anne Lamott said about our really bad days. “There’s no magic cure and God is not a cosmic bellhop,” but if you’re spiritually awake and paying attention, you’ll see HIM in the eyes of some kind stranger, holding your hand in the middle of a sunny parking lot.

They’re always happening, these little miracles.

Today, I hope you see yours.


seen on the sidewalk
on my way from the beach when I was really sad


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Thursday, January 17, 2019

When a Diva slams the door on your face. A true story.




Have you ever had the worst interaction with someone-- only to realize later it was the most perfect gift you could’ve asked for?

Lately I’ve been noticing the strangest phenomena going on in my life, maybe because I’m walking around so raw and opened up. Maybe because I’m living these days on the edge of the unknown, so fresh into my grief that I’m unguarded and too broken and vulnerable to have an ego anymore.

But all of a sudden I'm aware of these interesting moments that the Universe has been delivering to me. Or maybe the truth is, we’re all receiving these little invitations to go deeper in our daily lives… and we’re just missing them.

I don’t know. But I thought I’d share this in case you need to recognize how this happens in your life too.

It all started with my “great idea.”

And it ended on one of those balmy, 69-degree afternoons in January that Southern Californians take for granted, with me standing underneath a white trellis overgrown with leafy clematis, and watching a screaming blonde in skin-tight yoga pants slam her front door in my face.

Although to be fair, she did have to stomp-up-three-steps to get to her door first, so it wasn’t exactly a ferocious whoosh in my kisser, but loud enough for the mailman on the corner to look over.

Also, to be honest I don’t generally use words like ‘diva,’ because I find them so emotionally-loaded they keep us from seeing the real person inside.

But after my brief run-in with this woman, this word literally popped into my head.

So ok, I’m going with it.

The most surprising part of being the focus of this Diva’s loud yelling, bulging eyeballs and intense finger-pointing was my astonishing lack of a reaction.

I didn’t scan the street afterwards, pink-faced and mortified by this public outburst.

Nor did I feel my typical “how-dare-you-I’m-just-trying-to-help” outrage.

I just left.

Although later I did see the warning signs from the minute I tapped on her glossy black door, and heard an irritated ‘Wait a minute!’ coming from inside.

Suddenly, the door had swung open. And I had a quick glimpse of an interior designer’s room before a full-figured woman filled the space. Her body was squeezed into black yoga clothes that hugged her tiny waist and her giant boobs. Her blonde-tinted hair that was frizzed and grey at her temples, was shooting from her head into a tall ponytail.

I smiled but she didn’t say a word.

In fact, she just stood there, her dark eyes, blinking rapidly. And for a quick second I remember something strange and milky about her face. The carefully drawn eyebrows, the taut skin around her eyelids and her puffy Angelina Jolie lips, frozen and half open.

“Hi, I just want to introduce myself. I’m Leslie. I used to visit the 80-year-old woman who lives behind you. And well, it’s a long story. But she just got evicted and left before she could get her two beloved cats.”

She was still staring.  “So, I’ve been checking back, trying to feed them and catch them for her. Ah. Do you know the cats I’m talking about?”

Wham-bam. She came to life. A flaming, wild-eyed Medusa right in front of me.

 “Yes! I knooow those cats!! Those people should not be allowed to have animals! I should’ve reported them a long time ago. Those cats have been coming into my yard, leaving their hair and their shit and I am sick-sick-sick of it.”

Gulp.  I tried to reassure her. “Well, the woman lost her husband (sympathy maybe?) and she’s moved now. And so have the people in the front of that duplex. And I heard the owner is renovating the whole place now….”

“Don’t you DARE tell me about that owner! You know nothing about him. That man has been letting that property go for years!! I won the 2018 Newport Beach Landscaping Award do you know that?! And I know a thing-or-two about property. And that man has been letting that place go for ages! And wait-a-minute. Are those the people that left their trash out front?

She stepped outside and her face was red.

This was not going well.

The funny thing is, Jim had warned me when I told him about my idea. I had been making two trips a day trying to catch Tiger and Smoky Joe before the weather got bad or the coyotes got them. As an animal lover I couldn’t stand the idea of them being out in the cold all night when they were used to being inside.

But with my fatigue and grief, the whole situation was starting to drain me.

I knew that Smoky Joe was too old to jump but Tiger was always hanging out on the roof behind his yard. Because it was impossible to see from the street—I had a great idea.

I told Jim. I think I’m going to ask the neighbor to let me put a little cat shelter on top the flat portion of their garage. Just in case it rains until I can catch Tiger.

He gave me a weird look.

Leslie. Not everyone feels the way you do about animals.

I was honestly shocked. What? I didn’t understand why he was sounding so negative.

Turns out that The Diva is the owner of Tiger’s favorite hang-out spot, and apparently not only does she have a hatred for cats, she happens to have one of the most immaculately landscaped yards in the area.

All of a sudden, she was eyeing me suspiciously.

“Wait. What do you want from me? Why are you here?!”

I swear I had visions of the green-faced witch waving her crooked fingernail in Dorothy’s face. Only I was Dorothy.

Maybe Jim was right. A cat shelter on her garage roof wasn’t a good idea.

I remember mumbling something about property lines that made no sense at all as I walked towards the gate.

In fact, the mention of property lines antagonized her.

“Property lines? Don’t you even think about catching those animals on my property! I’m ready to call animal control right now and have them picked up.”

I was already under the trellis when I turned around to see her jabbing her finger in the air.

“I don’t need this shit! Do you know that?! I just lost my husband at Thanksgiving!”

And Ka-BOOM. That was it.

In that second my heart softened. So she had lost someone too. Ignoring her shrill voice, my mind flashed over the days since Patrick’s loss in September and how excruciatingly fresh it all still felt for me. And I thought of how painfully recent a Thanksgiving death would feel.

 I waited for the next pause and I said in a quiet voice, “I am so sorry about your husband.”

But she looked back at me with disdain.

 “No, you’re NOT!!! You don’t even know me!” Then she turned toward her front door and yelled over her shoulder, “Get those animals off my property. NOW!”



And there it was.

The moment that American Buddhist, Pema Chodron calls the perfect teacher.

I knew something vitally important had just happened before I turned the key in my ignition and pulled away from the prettiest house on the street, with the screaming lady now inside. Only I had to see all the ugliness for myself, for the message to crystalize into these precise words:

I will never let grief destroy my life. Ever
And I will never let grief do that to my family.


I realize now that meeting the Diva that afternoon—like a lot of blow-ups that happen with others—had nothing really to do with the topic we were talking about. Instead, it was my eye-opening lesson about grief and suffering.

At the most tragic time in my life when all my certainties have melted away, and as I struggle to cope with the catastrophic effects of Patrick’s passing, I needed to be reminded of the most important choice in my life right now.

It’s a choice we all face every day. But I think heartbreak knocks us down long enough to glimpse the truth.

The reality is that life is always presenting us with opportunities to either open up or shut down in the face of scary, aching, uncomfortable situations.

I have a choice to be open and real and experience the fullness of my heartbreak even though it’s a suffering that feels completely unbearable at times. Or I can choose to shut down. Collapse. Over-medicate, deny the feelings inside me. Or hurl anger and blame at others without ever looking deeper.

Becoming bitter instead of a better person.

Thank you poor, suffering Diva for the gift of reminding me of who I plan on becoming.


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Tuesday, January 8, 2019

My first post after Patrick's accident.




The other day I told Michael I was thinking of returning to my blog, but whenever I think about hitting the 'publish' button on a post now I feel insecure.

He looked curious so I kept talking.

I said what I really need is to be completely truthful and raw and unafraid with my words because I realize this kind of writing will help me heal. But what I mean specifically, is that I need to write about the accident. 

I need to write about the knock on our door at 7:30 that morning. And the horrific feeling in my gut when I threw open the door and saw a female officer and man in a brown tie and wrinkled shirt, standing there holding a clipboard, looking grim. Asking us to verify if we were Patrick's parents. Please. Please tell me he's OK I remember pleading. But instead of an answer the dark-haired officer asked to come inside.

I need to write about these moments because they happened. They are real and heart wrenching but I know that telling the truth will  mend my brokenness. And god knows I need mending. Even with the strange disconnection I feel with my body lately, I know there is trauma lodged inside every cell in my physical self. I see the signs of trauma inside my mind and in my heart spilling out in my ragged sleep and in the graphic images that invade my thoughts.

In case you don't know yet

The worst thing that-could-ever-happen-to-Me, happened.
And now, every second of the day I'm just trying to keep moving. Putting one foot in front of the other. Trying to string coherent thoughts together. Using distraction to ease the pain. But it's always there, this whirling vortex of disbelief and despair that's ready to suck me out of the present moment. And when I'm least expecting it, hurl me into a devastating new reality I just can't believe. 

Honestly, we're all still stunned.

I used to believe that God would never allow anything to ever happen to one of my kids because He knew I would never survive it. I think I actually uttered these words out loud, even allowed my Mama's tender heart to feel comforted by this sweet logic--so much that not once, ever-ever-ever did I prepare for the possibility of losing my child.

Anything else dear Lord, I'd quietly whisper.

I can handle anything but THAT.

And then it happened. 

On September 15, 2018--not even four months ago-- the unfathomable loss I said I could never survive happened and now my beautiful son Patrick is gone. Our brightest light. The most completely irreplaceable-bigger-than-Life person I've ever known, the one person I thought I could never live without.  Gone.

Taken in an accident that was so profoundly, deeply unfair.

Maybe you already know this. If you follow me on IG, I've slowly dripped out this shattering news in an effort to keep myself grounded in reality.

But even now as I tap out these words on my laptop they appear bizarre on my screen.

Even though I see the basket on our dining room overflowing with condolence cards that I've carefully read and cried over, Patrick's absence from our lives is still so achingly raw, so emotionally unbearable that I can't fully grasp the realness of it.
Patrick gone from our lives?

I just can't believe it.

Sometimes when I'm driving alone or walking to my car in the grocery store parking lot, I hear myself repeating those words.
Probably out loud, who knows? The odd thing about a heart that's been ripped wide open is that the boundaries between your inner life and outer life become blurred.


Was I sleeping or am I awake?
Was I talking to myself or talking out loud?

Either way it doesn't seem to change the words that spill from my heart. "Oh my God. I just can't believe it."

But then I feel Jim nudge me in the dark. Les, his voice tells me. You're moaning in your sleep again.

This is where I am right now and it's a surreal experience. One minute I'm trying to endure the worst kind of suffering my motherly-self can imagine. Being in a world without my son. Trying to justify my own breathing when I know Patrick's has stopped.

And the next minute I'm having an amazing conversation with Michael, and I'm being flooded with the kind of gratitude that shakes me softly by the shoulders and penetrates my pain just long enough to remind me of my blessings.




We were sitting on the sectional in the living room--Michael and I-- right next to the Christmas tree that had surprised Basha, my grief counselor. On that afternoon, bright sunshine had been pouring through the branches, saturating the ornaments in a yellow glow and Basha had blurted out,

"Leslie I don't think you realize how good you're doing. Just so you know. There are some mothers who wouldn't be able to get out of their beds at this point."

I think I offered a weak smile. I tried to appreciate what she was saying but since I know I am one of those mothers who could easily be in a dense pile on the floor--just not today--I say nothing.

This is something I've learned from these darkest days following Patrick's accident, and it's what Anne Lamott says about grace.

She says "grace meets you exactly where you are, at your most pathetic and hopeless, and grace carefully loads you into its wheelbarrow and tips you out somewhere else. In ever so slightly better shape."

I like this humble description of grace.

I have no other explanation for how I'm functioning besides being lugged around in a mystical wheelbarrow, leaving behind a trail of simple tasks. Christmas decorating. Visiting my 80-year-old friend. Going to the office even-when-I-cry. Writing these words.

It's a mystery I can only explain by Love. As hokey and clique as that sounds it's been the one consistent truth through all this crazy grief, all those unsolicited acts of caring and compassion--gifts of grace--that keep coming from everywhere, our families and friends, and Patrick's friends. People that Patrick touched from so many places. People that loved him and want to share stories of him. In person, by text messages, by mail.

This is how we've been surviving. How we made it through our toughest Christmas ever, swaddled in the love of Patrick's tribe. Now ours.

I always knew that love was powerful, I just never knew it could sweep you up and carry you along on those days when your feet can no longer hold you up. 

I never realized that love--in the form of an early morning text--from hundreds of miles away at the exact moment you're being flooded with heartache, could have the power to get you out of bed.

It's amazing really. So many inexplicable happenings that I consider to be small miracles since Patrick's accident.

I tell Michael I'm thinking of writing about these things on my blog but then I think about the kind of blog titles going through my feed and I start to feel doubt.

I stare at the fashion and beauty tips. The how-to style-your-home-after-Christmas tips that I used to care about, and I realize the absolute last topic that any woman especially mothers, want to hear about is the D-word.

And I don't blame you if you're one of those people.

I totally understand if you want to get as faraway as possible from the idea of losing a child.

In fact, I remember that feeling.

The overwhelming agony you feel for the mother in that situation and the relief and gratitude you feel about your own kids, and then the guilt about feeling so relieved that this horrific thing that happened to this mother didn't-happen-to-you-thank-god. And before you know it, you're texting your kid again just to exhale that relief all over again.

You can only be where you are 

The conversation with Michael that day helped me shed a layer of my self-consciousness. It's so crazy how we do that. How we look around at others for some kind of confirmation. Do I fit in here or do I fit in there?

Well I've decided that the real lesson I'm supposed to be learning has nothing to do with what to share and where to share it. On this blog or on another platform. 

The deeper lesson I'm supposed to be learning is that we can only be where we are. Right now.
Without any apologies, or denial or shame for whatever might be causing us pain. We have to keep living from an honest place and that's how we find our way through uncertainty and darkness.

I think that's why comparing ourselves with others can be so wounding, because we can end up feeling like where we are right-at-this-moment-in-our-lives is not good enough.

I don't know if you can relate to anything I'm writing about in this post, but maybe something I say here might help you feel less alone. That's my simple hope.

Because I don't know if I have anything to offer you. 

I used to think I had some meager wisdom to share, but after watching my big, handsome son walk out the front door on a sunny Friday in September, never to see him again, I feel the full weight of Socrates' words:

"I know I know nothing."

This is me. I know nothing now. I'm not saying this to put myself down or to make you feel a certain reaction, I'm just trying to express how outrageously upside-down and completely shattered my entire life appears to me as I write these words.

I used to think I knew what my future looked like. How my life would be. I once thought I had some control. I once was afraid of death.

Now none of those things are true anymore.

For Me, a woman who used to say to her friends over a nice glass of Cab, "as long as my kids are OK, my life is great," there is nothing more traumatic that could have happened in my life.

Do you wonder how you would go on living in the face of such an unbearable loss? 

Well, I do too. 

This is where I am right now. This is my journey.


sharing this post with old friends:
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