I Was Looking The Other Way When Death Surprised Me

I didn’t see him coming.

Woman coping with unexpected death Bianca Marolla | Canva, Dilara Irem, RDNE stock project | Pexels

I thought I was prepared for death. My mother has been dying for months; I have a cat with a brain tumor and another cat who is getting up there in years. When any of them die, it won’t be a surprise. I’ll be as ready as one can be.

What I wasn’t ready for was the death of someone outside of those three.

But Death is a trickster and hates to be predictable. He refuses to operate on anyone else’s timetable and does what he pleases.


I found out as I was waiting for my mother to die that Death came along and took my friend, Pattie, to the hereafter.

When I heard from a mutual friend that Pattie was in the hospital — it didn’t sound especially serious.

She was in her seventies, had Multiple Sclerosis (MS), and had some health issues this past year, but Pattie was also the most positive person I know, and she was resilient. She’d gone into the hospital on a Thursday, and I fully expected her to be out by Monday, laughing about the experience.

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I’d heard about Pattie before I’d ever met her — she was a psychic. 


My friend Lissa had done a one-woman show and had talked about her psychic. Since Lissa was the owner of a theater, soon, everyone was going to see Pattie, who wasn’t only a psychic but an empath.

I had to check out Pattie’s skills for myself and made an appointment. Pattie lived in the same town as me but on a cul de sac further up in the hills. It was remote enough that deer came into her garden and ate her flowers, but not so far that she didn’t get trick-or-treaters.

Walking into Pattie’s house as she requested, I felt strange, and I always knocked and called out when I entered. She usually had four or five cats sleeping in boxes scattered throughout her living room.

Pattie was seated at a table in a little room with a cat in her lap and a tumbler full of iced tea at her side. She was a large woman with vivid blue eyes and a warm smile.


She enjoyed her work and loved people, and she didn’t fear the spirit world as she often communicated with them.

I Was Looking the Other Way When Death Surprised Me

Photo: Matheus Bertelli/Pexels

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After my initial consultation, I saw Pattie regularly for a few years.

I’d crack the both of us up with my opening questions, “What do you hear?”


What were the spirits telling her that I needed to know?

Besides her psychic abilities, Pattie could read people, and much of the time, it felt like she was reading me more than she was getting info from the great beyond.

I also encouraged her to use the tarot cards with me as I felt the cards gave structure to our sessions and gave the proceedings a gravitas. The tarot cards made me feel she was being guided, not making things up on the spot.

Eventually, I couldn’t rationalize paying a bunch of money to an unlicensed therapist, but we stayed friends.

We went to a couple of dinner theater productions, and out to eat (which was challenging after she had weight-loss surgery,) talked on the phone, and sent texts and cards.


She was immensely proud and supportive of my writing, and I shared my favorite stories with her. She was one of my supplemental mothers who loved me unconditionally and always remembered my birthday.

I said before that she was an upbeat person — someone who made the best out of a tough situation.

One time, Pattie fell down the escalator at Target. Rather than being embarrassed, she befriended the paramedics, asking their names, finding out their stories, and making them laugh as they loaded her onto a stretcher and into the ambulance.

I thought this time in the hospital would be another event, but it turned into a funny anecdote about how Pattie had charmed even the snottiest surgeon or caused all the nurses to fall in love with her.


“I don’t know if this is the right thing to do or say,” my friend Poppy said, “but Pattie is dead. She died in her sleep.”

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Yes, Pattie died how I wanted my mother to go — peacefully and in her sleep.

Death had gotten his wires crossed, or maybe it was deliberate on his part.


Why now?

Pattie loved Christmas and would often decorate her house to maximum Christmasness. I sent her a Christmas card last week and wished her a happy and healthy New Year.

I’m not ready to mourn her — my grief has already been parceled out. I’m at full capacity, and yet, I do grieve because not grieving is the same as not being grateful for knowing her and having someone as kind and good as she was in my life.

How often have Lissa, Poppy, and I discussed arranging a group lunch date with Pattie? We always put it off for when we weren’t so busy or for other silly reasons.

We thought there’d be plenty of time to get together — we didn’t know Death was lurking nearby.


Pattie may be gone, but I’m not ready to say goodbye.

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Christine Schoenwald is a writer, performer, and frequent contributor to YourTango. She's had articles featured in The Los Angeles Times, Salon, Bustle, Medium, Huffington Post, Business Insider, and Woman's Day, among many others.