MIDDLE AGE MUSINGS  >  My Friend Pat – a Story of Resilience

My Friend Pat – a Story of Resilience

My Friend Pat – a Story of Resilience
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By Beth Portolese

I began to think about doing a story on resilience a few months ago.  It has always puzzled me how some people have these horrendous things happen to them, recover and move forward with their lives when others cannot seem to do that after something bad happens to them.   Until my mother’s death recently, I can say that nothing really bad had happened to me.  Of course, there were those bad relationships and the divorce I went through, but these were minor compared to losing my mother.  I used to think that I didn’t know what I would do without her, whether I would be able to go on.  I think the fact that she wasn’t herself for a full year before she passed helped me over this and made me realize I would be okay.  As hard as it was, my mother’s death was a natural passage of life.  How do people cope when something that is not natural happens?  It all comes down to resilience.

I have seen resilience first hand in the person of my friend Pat.  I’ve known her for more than 20 years and met her through work.  I have a deep admiration for her, considering what she went through and where she is now.  When I first met Pat, she worked in the same Human Resources department as I did.  She had a darling little boy named Shawn and lived with Shawn’s father, William.  When Pat and William got married in a beautiful ceremony in Hawaii we were all glad for her.    The years passed and I moved on from my job and Pat transferred out of HR to another part of my old company.  We kept in touch but not as often.  One of my habits is to read the newspaper everyday on my lunch break.  Now it’s online but then it was on paper.  One day I read a story of how a man had murdered his son and thought how horrible it was that a father could do that.  A few days later my friend Debbie called and asked me if I had heard about Pat.  The story I read in the paper was about Pat’s son Shawn!  Pat had come home from work one day to find the horrendous site of her son and husband covered in blood, having been stabbed repeatedly.   As Pat frantically called 911, what she didn’t realize was that William had stabbed Shawn and then tried to kill himself.  Shawn ended up dying; William ended up living, of course.  I went to Shawn’s funeral and Pat needed the support of two friends just to help her walk down the aisle of the church.  That day I thought to myself – I don’t know how Pat will go on.

But she did.  It took many months but Pat returned to work and to life.  She went back to school and got her Master’s Degree in Human Resources.  She is now an HR Manager for a technology company in New York and has a life she values.  It’s just one without her son.

I asked Pat if I could write about what happened to her and how she made it through.   Pat told me that if her story helped some people she was glad to share it.  She also mentioned that it was funny how people see us differently than we see ourselves.   She feels she is still struggling to cope with what happened, but other people see her as having moved on.  Not only did she have to deal with the death of her son, but to compound that there were some people who wondered what she must have done to make her husband do that to their son.  Pat told me that when she got back from the police station that awful day she said to herself, “now what am I going to do?”  She had a funeral to plan and family members who loved her son to call.   The media was staking out her house and one reporter actually went to her church and told members there that her family had told him to contact them for interviews.  They had not.  It was crazy.  After the funeral Pat left town for a while.  For many weeks after she got back, she slept in the den near her son’s room with a knife under her pillow because she was afraid her husband would escape from jail and come after her.

Pat told me that the reason she was able to move forward was because of all the people who helped her.

  • From the very beginning, after her son and husband were taken away to the hospital, her family all came down to the police station to be with her and support her.
  • Shawn was airlifted to a hospital in another area but passed away soon after he got there.  A woman who worked there was friends with Pat’s uncle.  He let her know about Shawn and this woman stayed with Shawn’s body for over 2 hours talking to him and stroking his head.  Pat told me how eternally grateful she is to that woman because she had been so worried that Shawn would be all alone until she got there.
  • Two of her pastors helped her with the funeral and counseled her during this time.
  • All the people who called her and came by.
  • Her sister.  In the weeks following the funeral as things settled down, Pat told me she just sat in her house and stared at the TV.  One day her sister came over and told her to ‘GET UP!’  She said that she had to run an errand but would be back within an hour and Pat had better be up, showered and dressed because they were going out.  Pat was angry at her sister for doing this but eventually showered, dressed and went out when her sister got back.  It was the start of her re-emerging.  In their conversation that day Pat’s sister explained to her that it wasn’t just her who had lost Shawn.  They all had loved him and missed him too.
  • Her boss.  A few months after Shawn’s death, Pat went back to work.  When she started to stay at work very late each night, her boss told her he knew what she was doing.  She needed to go home at a decent hour each night.  He recognized she was hiding from going home by working late.
  • The company she worked for.  Their benefit plan only allowed for a certain number of therapy sessions for a set amount of time.  The benefits people made an exception to that policy and allowed Pat to go to therapy for several years.

Through this all, Pat prayed and prayed to rid herself of the hatred she had for her now ex-husband.  She recognized that by holding onto it, she was diminishing herself and her ability to get through what had happened.  She found she still had bitterness about what had happened until about a year after Shawn’s death.  Right around that time, Shawn came to her in a dream and told her he was alright.  That dream meant so much to her and it was at that point, she was able to let go of the rest of the bitterness she felt.   When Pat decided to go back to school and get her Bachelors and then her Masters degree, one of the reasons she did it was because she thought her son would be proud of her.  She did a lot of things at that time for the same reason.  As she has moved forward, she still thinks about that but her accomplishments now have been for herself.   Relationships have been hard because of how emotional she was.  Men like to fix things and there was no ‘fixing’ Pat’s grief, so one boyfriend found that particularly hard and backed away for a while.  Now he understands and lets her get emotional if she needs to.

At the center of all of this is Pat, who is one of the strongest people I know.  She is the epitome of resilience and an inspiration to anyone who wonders how they will get through something.  I’m not sure she sees herself as an inspiration but I do; if you knew her, you would too.


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