My partner of 20+ years had a heart attack last fall, on our sofa at home. He was 41 years old at the time. It was a shock for us all, and sent us on numerous runaway train rides—the kind of ride that you don’t sign up to get on in the first place, nor do you know if you’ll disembark from it unscathed. Yet the crisis presented him with a choice—to choose life, to choose health, to choose self, to choose balance, to choose today rather than tomorrow. For my husband, facing death made him see just how numerous and impactful his choices were. Each and every day following the heart attack, he made his new choices with commitment and with diligence. Within four months, he was able to change his body composition dramatically and shocked his doctors by reversing his Type 2 Diabetes. I tell this story not to silverline these misfortunes, and I realize that his story contains subsequent restorative chapters after the incident. Restoration is a form of a second chance—not everyone gets a second chance. I tell this story to share my own experience that was happening in parallel to his.
The days leading up to his heart attack, I was filled with a loving yet relentless voice from the spirits to prepare. Prepare for what, I asked. They wouldn’t say. Yet, despite not knowing, I found myself cleaning the house, stocking my freezer with homemade soups and sauces, filling my fridge and pantry with our staples, catching up on laundry and yard work, getting ahead on a pile of necessary paperwork of various types, and even trimming a Yule tree and putting up other festive decorations in mid November (something highly unusual for me to do so early in the season). Something deep within me knew that something was coming, and thankfully at the time, it felt like it would be more about commotion than of upsetting news.
For the days during and after my husband was at the hospital, in addition to family and friends dropping off food, we didn’t have to expend any energy on refuelling ourselves or looking for clean socks because of the preparations I had already made. The spirits lovingly gave me just enough information to help me prepare and not one bit extra, as they knew that if I knew more, I would be filled with dread.
I also learned through that experience of complete shock and grief what spirituality really meant for me. My usual routines of sitting with Tea, of feeding my altars, of journeying to the Otherworlds require, to a certain degree, some stability for the practices to be effective. During the foggy days of shock and worry, the rituals that helped root me were the very ordinary and familiar: washing dishes, putting them away, and getting the kids ready for bed. I became intimately aware that the small things can feel big in moments of crisis, and in my case, the common place can oscillate between grounding or unsurmountable. The hums of the fridge felt at times reassuring and other moments irritating. But in those quiet, emptying moments, I felt led to simply keep my eyes open. Presence can be found in whatever world I find myself in.
This is not to say that presence was always easy. The days at the hospital and the trips to and from felt unnaturally long and depleting. Waiting might possibly be the most psychologically demanding human experience. Since I didn’t have the energy or capacity to attend to my usual spiritual practices, I would turn inwards to connect with my spirit allies. Conversations with birds, ancient flora, and goddesses of lore were real and visceral. They were with me, and I could unravel in ways that I did not with my human counterparts. I also noticed that I did not once ask them divinatory questions or for advice. No pulling Tarot cards. I surprised myself, because I am a constant planner. Instead, I leaned on them, shared my feelings, and simply asked them to walk with me.
And walk with me they did. I would feel warmth on my shoulders. Whiffs of incense from my ancestors. Helpful psychic messages to not bother defrosting food because a friend would be dropping off dinner. Beyond my work in shamanism and magick, the psychic gifts can also be simply a form to return to my flesh and bones— to be comforted as a human. That it’s safe to be.
When this situation unfolded, I felt anger. No, not anger. I felt rage. The 20 years of me reminding, asking, convincing, negotiating, and begging my husband to care for his health, his diet, to be active. The dangerous combo of his genetics and reckless choices. And all that time, me feeling unseen, made to look unreasonable, alarmist, nagging, controlling, inflaming. When it happened, I was stunned. The potential nightmare became the very real nightmare. And the slap in the face of knowing I was indeed dismissed all those years, that perhaps I did have legitimate worries.
I wrestled internally. The myth that a “good” and supportive wife should only feel concern for her sick husband was at odds with the very real woman I am who has very real and conflicting feelings. I was confused by and ashamed of my rage. The rage related to my perception of feeling negated whenever I approached the topic of health. How I would be called “extreme” for making two veggie sides for a meal. How he would eat nutrient-dense meals sparingly and 10 minutes later open a bag of chips and a can of coke and anchor on the couch for 4 hours straight. The hissed arguments of how to feed our children. Me unwillingly becoming the “bad cop” because the “good cop” thought it was appropriate to feed them sugary cereal and bacon for breakfasts, A&W for lunches and then fried chicken for dinners on a weekend I went away for work. The guilt for making the heart attack about me, instead about him. What kind of wife would think about herself in times like this? Aren’t full bellies good enough? Does it always have to be about cauliflower rice and kale? Why wasn’t I able to turn my attention to him fully?
And when I did, the anguish was so great that it was no wonder I almost preferred to simply focus on the anger. How do I reconcile that this might be my last time with my love? Or how much his life might be altered going forward? Sharing physical space together. Sobbing when he wasn’t looking when I went on “fresh air” breaks outside of the cardiac unit because if he saw me ugly crying, it would only add more to his burdened heart. Noticing his lips tasted like stale hospital air. And in the evenings, after picking the boys up from their grandparents’ house, I did my best not to wander down “What If” lane too much. Easier said than done.
And the blunt but heavy throbs of realizing that it wasn’t about him at all. It was the other partners before him. My own parents. This whole fucking world. How I (we) was often told that I didn’t know what’s what, that I wasn’t feeling what I was feeling, how I should think, how I should be.
Adding proverbial salt to the wound was just how many people aren’t prepared to confront grief, even if what one is grieving about is a circumstance and not necessarily an actual death. It was startling to discover just how poorly equipped we as humans are at comforting each other. When my husband came home from the hospital and I was dropping my younger son off at preschool, I ran into a (then) close friend. When she saw my drained, distressed face, she insisted that I had gotten it all wrong. It could have been worse, she chided. Another said, with what looked like an oozing, forced lifecoach-esque smile, that it was a chance for me to develop the strength I didn’t think I had within. Along with insinuations that I must exclusively focus on buffering the kids’ trauma, and can take care of myself later. And the unrelenting influx of religious family members that preached how the heart attack is a message from Jesus, an altar call to ensure one’s eternal ticket to the beyond-the-pearly-gates club. Positioning the heart attack and the shock on the family as steps in a spiritual journey to becoming better people. It didn’t matter if one was religious, generically spiritual, or just positively toxic — who wants to be told this kind of bullshit, especially when you’re in the midst of going through it? I wanted the pain to stop, not to “develop strength”. And if the pain can’t go away, I wanted to know there are people who have my back, rather than be made to feel shame and isolation. Heartbreaks (and heart attacks) should not be exploited and seen as targets of conversion to sell the commodities of salvation dogma or wellness (hellness) soup.
The people who showed up with long hugs, hot food, strong tea, offers to do the laundry or watch the boys, to drop off things to the postal office—physical, embodied things. That was what held me.
I needed the holding so I could continue with my quivering rage. For being edited, censored, and silenced. The heart attack was a reminder of the enormous crater left by all the small, cumulative emotional blows. Just like how inconsequential a potato chip may seem. It’s not the one chip. It’s the bags and bags and bags of them. You forget you’re snacking on chips if that’s the only thing you snack on. I became aware of how our wounds from childhood become the burdens we carry into adulthood; this wasn’t psychological rhetoric—I was living proof. We continue to look for puzzle pieces that will match original experiences, and once they fit, rather than making us whole, the original hole only gets bigger.
And so his heart attack felt like my own heart’s attack. He made it an invitation to heal his body’s feeding patterns. I made it an invitation to heal my heart’s feeding patterns. I came out of it realizing that I STILL had my own work to do, and that the work is never done. To continue to ask myself beyond the re-membrance and re-awakening I’ve already experienced, what other performative behaviours and masks persist. Masks are designed to cover up truth or another reality. Wear the mask long enough and you forget you’re even wearing one. I had grown fearful of myself because I was what I was hiding from full view.
founder, spirit communicator + shamanic intuitive
If you enjoyed this post, and would like more, please feel free to share with your friends. I also welcome you to join my mailing list!