The Missing Birthday

Yesterday would have been Eric’s 42nd birthday. This time of year typically puts me into a spin cycle, hurtling me towards the anniversary of his death on October 29, then to the holidays where his presence is noticeably absent, then finally spits me out sometime in January, when the frigid weather numbs my raw emotions. My brother Luke’s birthday was August 31, and mine is coming up on Sunday. We always celebrated our birthdays together, my two brothers and I. With all three birthdays little more than a week apart, it was not only convenient for my family, but was a special bond we all shared.

This year, we celebrated Luke’s birthday separately, and it felt nice.  I couldn’t help but feel, though, the void in between. With my birthday coming up on Sunday, we’ve lost the connection in the middle. The missing birthday. I’ve struggled a bit with throwing big birthday bashes for myself ever since Eric’s death because it just never felt right. It feels somehow selfish, to revel in the joy of being alive another year, when someone you love isn’t.

Maybe this year will be different. With my oldest in preschool, I can already feel a change. Fall will mean a fresh new start, and not just another reminder of Eric’s death. Maybe this year, my birthday will feel different, too.

Opening presents at one of our shared birthday parties.

Read more of Eric’s story here.

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When a father loses a son, there is no statute of limitations on pain.

After the NCAA issued its ruling against Penn State today, part of me celebrated that the egregious cover-up was being treated seriously, and part of me mourned the justice that was not done after my brother’s death, after the deaths of four other victims, after thirty years of abuse was shoved under the rug.

NCAA president Mark Emmert called the case the most painful “chapter in the history of intercollegiate athletics,” and said it could be argued that the punishment was “greater than any other seen in NCAA history. Football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing and protecting young people,” Emmert said.

That’s good. That’s a step in the right direction. But I can’t help getting mad all over again. By the time Robert Larson’s (the priest who abused my brother) legacy of sexual victimization hit the media, the statute of limitations had passed for many of his victims, and he couldn’t face criminal charges for many of them. There may be a statute of limitations on sexual abuse (which is ludicrous), but there’s no statute of limitations on grief. On pain. On depression. The “Joe Paternos” of my brother’s story are still held in relatively high esteem. Their “statues” haven’t been removed. Their reputation is hardly tarnished.

My dear father wrote this letter to Judge Ice, prior to Larson’s sentencing. His words are haunting, but powerful. He was a father, who lost a son. His baby. A boy that he still talks to every day.

…………….

Dear Judge Ice:

I sat down waiting to get a hair cut last week. My normal waiting activity is reading; however nothing was handy. My mind was on nothing. A father’s voice from a few seats away caught my attention. “Sit still, Bobby, it’s not going to hurt. There, it’s OK, the nice man is just cutting your hair …it will make you look nice for Mommy”. I caught my breath. It was as if I couldn’t get enough air and felt hot, empty and somewhat claustrophobic. I then realized that, of course, this was Saturday morning at the barbershop. Another boy sat in front of me very close to tears as his father also assured him that he was right there and everything was going to be just fine. I wanted to bolt but I couldn’t move. Like those two boys I was afraid and close to tears.

He is a father, who lost his son. A son he still talks to every day.

My heart was pounding and my stomach was knotting up. Sounds and sights started to slow down as I peered into this tunnel and the surroundings become foreign, distant and of no importance to me now. I was thinking of Eric. I was on vacation in Oklahoma, waiting for my little boy to get his hair cut. As those men around me I was my child’s protector. From Eric’s echo I clearly hear “Dad” but I look around and the lady is asking me “Sir, sir, are you ready?”

My hair is being cut and I watch the watchers as several young boys and girls are watching fish watch them from inside a fish tank. One boy now has his nose right up to the glass and is trying to stay abreast of a small fish as it goes back and forth. They all giggle. I force my mind away from them. Although she has only cut my hair a couple of times the barber mentions the articles about Eric. I thank her for her comments and for bringing it up for, if he is mentioned, I openly enjoy talking to anyone about Eric. You see, I am proud to be Eric’s father.

In a cubicle I am answering questions before I have some medical tests done. From beyond the divider I hear, “O what a beautiful baby boy.” My mind snaps back to Eric. Oh, if they only could have seen him, if only, if only. When I awake, during the day and before I sleep I think of Eric, always.

Only now am I starting to fully realize what a precious soul we have lost.

I’ve been so focused on Eric’s adult life and his death that I, until now, was not able to clearly remember or ponder, for any length of time, on Eric’s life as a child.

Until now, God in his wisdom has, no doubt, been protecting me from this task.

With a trembling heart I will now allow my mind to remember Eric as a young, loving child. It is so terribly hard. I pray I can now do this –for I owe it to Eric.

Eric’s death is not something that I will ever “get over, move on from, find closure for, come to grips with, or not be in denial over, etc.” How can a parent “not” understand that their child is dead? Is there a “timetable” or “statute of limitation” for grieving that, on a certain date, one should start to forget that a loved one is lost? I do not fault people for thinking, and sometime saying that this is what one must do to be made “whole” again. In general people just do not know what to say and we understand that. Thank God I can still feel Eric’s hugs and even today hear his voice. No, if it means missing this experience I would rather not “find closure” or “move on” with life.

I guess some kind of “healing process” is required; however, when one is in the deepest throes of suffering ,it’s hard to think in these terms. In many ways Janet and I are having a harder time now than ever. Through experience I take some comfort in the fact that, over time, “life” and the day-to-day demands it requires will, more and more, mercifully crowd in between Eric’s death and the “here and now”. However, my life will never be the same since two policemen told me “your son Eric has committed suicide and how very sorry I am that it is my duty to tell you this.” To this day I still cannot sit on our couch in the same place that I sat when they told me this. Myself, in shock, and my wonderful sister Betty, she was the first one I called, then had the awful responsibility of contacting and informing the rest of my family. Telling Janet and our other children, Becky (33) her husband Curtis, Catherine (17) and Luke (21) was so very very painful and almost unbearable thing to do for Eric was loved so much. Becky then had to explain to her four boys just what happened to their loving uncle. It makes me so sad to see these words on my computer screen as it brings it all back to me again. As I write this through my tears I now start to understand a little about what my grandmother and mother went through when my father was killed in the Navy in WWII. She, now with three young children to raise alone, only mentioned once what it was like when she opened the door and found two officers there. Like the “policemen” they had a task I could never do.

There were so many good times. That’s what hurts the most.

Eric loved me and I loved him and, as with all of our family, we often hug and express this to each other and have always done so. Our family will be sadly and terribly affected for generations by Eric’s death. What will be passed down from generation to generation about his abuser? Will it be said that he spent 90 days in jail while others with similar crimes spent 10 years? Will it be said that it was possibly because he was a “man of the cloth” and/or some state legal issues? I wish Eric had lived to see 70 years as Larson has. Who knows, Eric may have married and had children. We have lost this as well. Who knows?

Larson has never attempted to personally seek out other victims that may be facing suicide due to his sexual abuse. The Church, in order to try to prevent the loss of another life, needs to do more. A couple of sentences in the news, comments uttered by his lawyer or four (blame shifting) articles in the Catholic Advance leave a lot to be desired. Could it be that Larson’s and the church’s prayers would have been answered if Eric had been run over by a truck instead of exposing this scandal and paying for it with his life?

There is no “statute of limitation” for the pain this man has caused. Victims will never know how lives would have been if only Larson had not been sent to their parish. Sweet little innocent boys with an open heart and complete trust in God, church and their local priest whom they called “Father” had their young lives torn to shreds by being betrayed by this “man of the cloth”.

Were the tears Larson shed in court for the victims, their families and for the harm he has caused or were they shed for getting caught? I’m sure he feels, in some way, that he is a victim also. If so, of what or made so by whom? He should feel good in the fact that he now has an opportunity to accept responsibility for his actions. He needs to pay the consequences, as anyone convicted in Kansas of molesting children would, prior to meeting his maker. As the church always recommends and touts, I wonder if they and Larson have already “forgiven” those that put him in the situation he is in now.

I understand the plea bargain agreement struck by Larson and some of his victims and I applaud them for pursuing their case as best they could. These victims, and many you haven’t heard from due to statute of limitations barriers, are indeed heroes. Our thanks go to all of to them, yourself, Detective T. Walton, County Attorney Matt Treaster, and Victim/Witness Coordinator Cheryl Ainsworth, and others who worked long and hard to send a strong message that “clergy sexual abuse” will not be tolerated and will be vigorously investigated and judged accordingly.

Possible decisions made, or not made, about Larson and his “problem”, in the past, were done with, I assume, legal and public relations problems foremost in mind. If so, everyone lost (including Larson). I pray that your decision will not be wholly influenced by these same factors alone. Let the law, and fairness to those harmed, guide you in making your decision regarding the length of Larson’s sentencing.

Sincerely,

Horace Patterson

…………………….

Read More About Eric’s Story Here

I found my purpose at the Magnolia Moon.

The beauty of the conference center’s garden was a gentle reminder that life is good. Life is to be enjoyed.

When someone tells me they enjoy reading my blog, I’m thrilled. But, when Malena Lott (founder and executive editor of Buzz Books), told me she enjoyed reading my blog, I was over the moon. Not only because I need constant validation like an insecure puppy, but because she likes my writing despite (or because of) the dark subject matter.  And how did I respond to this compliment from an experienced, talented author? Did I take the advice of my former boss and swallow my self deprecation? Sort of.

“Thank you. I really have no idea what I’m doing.” Why did I say this? Was it true? Well, yes and no. Up until yesterday morning, I really didn’t know where I was going with my writing. I feel called to write a book, but what’s my angle? The nuts and bolts of Eric’s Story have been told before, so why rewrite it? And I’m not a “woe is me” type person, so to simply write a whiny novel is not my intention. Yes, I have overcome adversity, but the pain was not simply a “blip” on my radar of life. It was real, it is real.

While listening to Malena speak at the Buzz Books writing retreat at the Magnolia Moon conference center in Guthrie, Oklahoma (an amazing place by the way), I jotted down three words on my notepad. Something she said sparked a bonfire in my brain. The title of my book stared back at me from the purple lined paper. I’m not quite ready to share it yet, but I will share these thoughts from the ‘thank you’ email I sent Malena:

…I’ve narrowed down my approach for the book I’m writing about Eric. I felt a bit lost, not exactly sure what the point of the story should be. While I started out wanting revenge (at least that’s what was in my heart), now I just want to be healed, and to help heal others. Part of me feels stuck at 16. I haven’t really allowed myself to grow up, afraid of letting go of the demons in my past. The book will dive deep into the depths of grief and anger, and expose the enormity of what happened to me as a teenage girl. It will be honest. Above all, it will be honest. I haven’t healed yet, but I feel confident it will come through this process. I don’t know how long it will take me, but I look forward to sharing the story soon. 

Her response? “Open up your vein and bleed on the page.”

Her advice is spot-on. I don’t know any other way to write his story, my story, and do it justice. I will bleed. And I will heal.

Outside My Womb, Inside My Heart: Our Story of Loss

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Coffee cup given to me by my amazing coworkers, who gave me a “surprise support” party. It was perfect. Still my favorite cup.

Be warned, there’s some harsh emotion/language in this post. If you’ve been through it, you understand. If you haven’t been through it, try to understand. 

I still remember the look on the bakery lady’s face as she handed me the small cake with the words “We’re Having a Baby” scrolled on it over the counter. “Good luck,” she said, as she winked and smiled at me. Little did she know how much I was going to need it. Not that it would have helped any.

I knew. I already knew something was wrong. I knew the moment I could barely discern a second pink line on the stick that something was wrong. Shouldn’t I be more excited about my first baby? Shouldn’t I be happy? I forced a smile, forced the laughter, but deep down, I knew. When we got home from telling my parents, cake and all, I found a small spot of dark brown blood, and my worst nightmare began.

The radiologist confirmed what I already knew. Our baby had formed in my tube, my right tube, and there was no way to save her. (I’ll always know she was a girl.) I was alone, so alone. The jerk of a doctor (who was later written up for his manhandling of my emotions) informed me that his “daughter had this happen in both tubes, so there goes extending the family.” Jerk. Then, he informed me I needed to drive myself to the hospital for emergency surgery. Jerk. To top it all off, he patted me on the back and said, “Go Get ‘Em!” Jerk, jerk, jerk!

I drove, in a daze, to the hospital. My husband met me there, worry flooding his puppy-dog eyes. After what seemed like an eternity, they told me there was an alternative. They could give me a drug to dissolve the baby. Dissolve our baby. “Aren’t there any other options?,” I asked, “Can’t you relocate the baby to my uterus?” I knew this wasn’t possible, but I was desperate. No, there was no option. And the drugs meant there was a chance of saving my tube. Like a lamb to slaughter, I had no choice but to let them inject me. And wait.

Two weeks went by, and to my doctor’s amazement, the baby had continued to grow! I was proud. Our daughter was a fighter. Proud and sad. So, so sad. My husband and I would melt together in a puddle of tears at night, helpless and hurting. As it turns out, they’d only given me half of the required dose the first time around, and I had to get another injection. Insult to injury. And I waited. Waited for my child to stop growing. Even as I type this, I can barely see through my tears.

I continued to go to work at my 8-5 through this all, a numb shell. I began having sharp, crippling pains one afternoon, and my (former) OB (idiot) told me it was probably just “constipation.” She advised prune juice. By the time I made it home that night, I could barely walk. I fell to all fours in the living room, and begged my husband to take me to the ER. When we arrived, I informed them of my condition, and they were nonchalant. “I have an ectopic pregnancy!” I told them, “I could die!” Still, they made wait, doubled over and sobbing.

Finally, a room was open. They made me walk. All of the wheelchairs were taken. I grasped onto my husband’s arm, barely able to move my body forward. They told me to lay on the table. I couldn’t. The pain was so intense I couldn’t straighten my body. I screamed. I remember seeing my shell-shocked husband pushed into the corner of the triage room while I was injected with morpheine. Then, the panic set in. I tried to pull out my IV, tried to escape.

Finally, after the drugs flooded my body, they were able to tell me (again) what I already knew. My tube had ruptured.  I was bleeding internally. I needed emergency surgery. Family was called, prayers were said. I remember waking up and hearing the end of a word. “Ectomy.” I knew enough about Latin to know that meant something was removed from my body. My tube. Salpingectomy.

I was convinced I would never get pregnant again. I was told that this was a “fluke,” unrelated to any scar tissue or malformation, and that I shouldn’t have problems in the future. I didn’t believe them. After all, they’d screwed up royally so far. I found this blog post I’d written (never published) shortly after the ordeal:

So, I guess I need to write about my struggles. That’ll help, right? Sometimes I just want to flick my womb to get it to wake up. I mean, how the hell hard is it to get pregnant? Crack-whores do it all the time. But, I’m the one-tubed wonder, leaning a little to the left. Even I have to admit that I’m embarrased at how pessimistic I must sound. I have become a more positive person lately. It wasn’t really a conscious choice, but rather a survival mechanism. After all, what choice do I really have? Negative people annoy me, and since I can’t get away from myself, I’d better straighten up.

Our first baby was due in September 2008, and that same month, I peed on a stick again. BFP (big, fat positive). I told my husband, “This time, everything is going to be ok.” And it was. Our darling Anna was born in June 2009, and I can’t imagine life without her. I mourn the loss of our first child, but I know I’ll meet her someday. There are two scars on my lower abdomen to remind me of her, scars that have faded with two subsequent pregnancies, but still remain. Fitting.

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These earth angels will meet their heavenly sister someday.

She formed outside of my womb, but not outside of my heart. She will forever be our angel baby, stubborn and full of life, just like her sisters. I’m so blessed to have my two daughters here on earth to hold in my arms. And if you’re going through the same thing, don’t lose hope. If you want to be a mother, you will be. Whether through natural birth, adoption, step-children, or other arrangement, you will be a mother. You will.