On December 20, 2010 my entire life as I knew it fell apart. My husband Robert, who had been battling leukemia for five years and had endured a bone marrow transplant, unexpectedly went into cardiac arrest and died at home in my arms. I was devastated.
In healthier days, Robert was a business entrepreneur. When he was diagnosed, he transitioned to be a stay-at-home dad to our three young children over the period of his treatment. This allowed me the freedom to work as a patent attorney while still trying to find that elusive life-work balance. I took an extended leave of absence when he had his transplant, and then took another leave of absence when he died.
The decision to return to work after my husband’s death was a difficult one. How could I go back to work after enduring such a loss? How would my children fare after losing their dad and then having their mom return to work? Would I even be able to function? Do I come back full-time or part-time? I was not the same person I was prior to this experience. Would I be treated differently?
I made the decision to come back at 60% capacity, and after a couple months increased it to 80% capacity. As I see it now, work has, quite literally, saved my life. The partners and associates and staff at Orrick have supported me 100%. My work gives me a meaningful diversion everyday and engages my brain and my heart. I enjoy the daily interactions with my colleagues and thrive off the support and camaraderie they provide. My colleagues don’t ignore what happened. Rather, they embrace all of me and allow me to talk about it when I want, and ignore it when I don’t.
At times I still struggle with whether I have made the right choice. But then I realize that I am a better mother because I am also a lawyer. I return home in the evenings with stories of my own to share while listening to my children talk about their days. I like that I can be a role model to them. I never want them to feel that there’s anything they can’t do, even in tough circumstances.
The decision to "lean in" again and return to work has been incredibly empowering. It reminds me on a daily basis that I have something important to contribute to my clients and my colleagues. It has also taught me that my opinion not only counts, it is valuable and even sought out.