9/11 Through My Daughter’s Eyes

Just like any other American over a certain age, I can remember exactly where I was when the “world stopped turning” on September 11th, 2001. I was a senior in high school, and just starting my day in first-period home economics class. Lessons were paused. Mouths hung open. Tears started falling. Here, tucked away in the safety of the Midwest, the impact of what had happened in New York City shook even our tiny town. I can still remember a narrow-sighted boy from my class asking in disgust, “Why are we even watching this? It’s not like it’s going to affect us.” His words cling with me. How wrong he was. Not only did it affect us, and the world, but it affects our children.

When stepping out to take my daughter to preschool this morning. I couldn’t help but think about what the weather was like here on that day eleven years ago. It was similar to today, sunny and slightly cool. A beautiful morning. When and how would I ever tell her what had happened? Would she understand? Just then, she looked up into the sky and squealed, “Mommy, look! Look what two those airplanes did!” My heart immediately jumped, considering what was on my mind. I stepped off the porch to see what she was pointing at. “Those planes made a cross, just like in church! Just like Jesus!”

“Yes, honey, you’re right,” I told her. As I buckled her into her car seat, I felt a little better. I was reminded that there is so much good in this world, and even on our darkest days, we can still find hope.

My young daughter saw a beautiful symbol in the sky on this anniversary of 9/11.

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Momazing Monday: She is my hero. She is my mother.

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She loved him tenderly, and defends him fiercely.

I’ve always known my mother is intelligent. Super intelligent. And I’ve always known she is kind, and thoughtful and selfless. But I had no idea how brave she was, she is, until she stood behind that podium. At a national conference for survivors of clergy sexual abuse, she told the story of her son. Her baby. How he’d been abused and had taken his own life. It could have been prevented. The church had been negligent, and change needed to happen.

Her voice cracked, but did not waver. She shook her fist, she looked the crowd in the eye. She transcended the role of ‘mom’ to woman. A fierce, yet remarkably calm, woman. She was a tiger, poised and ready to protect her children, to protect your children, to protect you. And when given the opportunity to speak to our local Knights of Columbus chapter, she spoke with this same passion, this same power, to a crowd of one. Only one man had the courage to show up. While the rest were cowards, she was brave.

Below is one of the essays my mother has written about Eric. It is powerful. Just like her.

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Hope
By Janet Patterson 

I stood there, rooted in the spot, stoking my son’s hair, gently touching his cold face, fazing at my precious child. “Eric,” I thought, “oh, Eric”. Then I turned to walk down the church aisle as the funeral attendants closed the casket. Numb from shock, I joined the rest of my family, clutching my husband’s hand tightly, feeling his arm caressing my shoulder.

Now, three years later, I am sitting at Eric’s computer, the one on which he typed his suicide note, painfully recalling the series of events that culminated in his death. Slowly, painstakingly, our family grapples with the awful truth – our son was sexually abused at the age of twelve by our parish priest. How could this be? Sexual abuse happens to someone else’s child, in someone else’s family, not ours. Then reality hits.

My mind constantly reconstructs the details of Eric’s life; sifting and sorting through memories, wondering what clues I missed, what behavior I didn’t understand at the time. Why, during high school, did he refuse to be confirmed? When I questioned him about his decision, he replied that he didn’t even know if he believed in God. He could not receive this sacrament, he felt, unless he was making a heart-felt commitment.

Why, the night of his junior-senior prom, did he drive for hours on the interstate, not arriving home until seven the next morning? Tearfully, he told us that he had wanted to keep driving forever. When asked what was troubling him, he couldn’t tell us. I sensed he was in distress, but felt powerless. As he continued his junior year, he seemed better, so I relaxed, believing that his episode was one of many crises most adolescents go through.

Why, his junior year in college, did he wreck his car as he rounded a curve too fast, hitting some trees? I drove to meet Eric that morning, and we talked for hours in a park close by. Slowly, painfully, Eric revealed that he couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, that his life seemed out of control. Realizing he was suicidal, I immediately made an appointment with a psychiatrist for evaluation. After being placed on an anti-depressant, Eric seemed confident and focused.

Shortly after this, he did a complete turnabout, embracing Catholicism fervently. Daily holy hours, weekly visits to a nursing home, teaching 5th grade CCD, writing to a prisoner in Texas, continuing his pro-life activities, attending a weekly Bible study group on campus, getting confirmed – all these actions filled him with hope and enthusiasm.

Easter weekend, he proudly announced to us that he wanted to become a priest. in my heart I knew he would be a good priest, caring intelligent, and faithful to our Lord’s teachings. After graduation, he headed to the East coast as a candidate for a seminary program. He wrote letters telling of his feeling that this was truly where he belonged. The night before he was to fly home for a short visit, the directory asked him to wait in a room, that he needed to talk to him. After waiting three hours, shortly before midnight, Eric was told that he was not being accepted, that he was to take everything with him the next day, and not to tell anyone there that he would not be returning.

On the way home from the airport, Eric stunned us by saying, “They didn’t want me”. My heart lurched, my mind reeled, alternating between anger and disbelief. He was given no explanation, he said, but told us that God must want him somewhere else. Over the next few days, I watched as parishioners asked Eric where he would be studying for the priesthood. Bravely, he told each one, “They didn’t want me”, leaving them puzzled and surprised. After Eric’s death, while going through a box containing his papers, I found a paper dated a few days before his departure from the seminary. At the top of a detailed set of notes in blue ink, he had his perpetrator’s name written in red. Evidently, he had revealed his sexual abuse, leading to his rejection by the seminary. How much pain he must have gone through, finally confiding his painful secret, only to be turned away so callously. But he continued trusting in the Lord, continued teaching CCD, and making holy hours.

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My mother (center) helps raise awareness of clergy abuse by telling his story.

A few months later, Eric took a teaching position at a Catholic preparatory school two hundred miles from home. Fluent in Spanish, he taught English as a Second Language, Spanish, and religion. After over a year teaching, he had begun fasting, unknown to us, evidently trying to please God and to have a sense of control over his life. By the time we realized that Eric was in trouble physically, and mentally, he weighed only about 170 pounds, far too thin for his 6 feet 8 inch height. Entering a hospital psychiatric unit, he attempted to combat his anorexic condition and battle with psychotic depression. Asked if he had ever been sexually abused, he denied that he had. His psychiatrist was troubled by Eric’s illness, sensing that the root cause had yet to be discovered. Over a month later, Eric returned home, where we cajoled him to eat and to drink, as he had no desire to do so. Eventually, with medication, he grew stronger and healthier. For the next three years, he was a successful computer salesperson, receiving gratitude from his many customers for his courteous, professional help.

Once more, however, his weight began to plummet. Fearing hospitalization, he attempted to regain control of his life by going back on his medication. Deeply troubled, he sobbed uncontrollably one night in our living room, his best friend beside him. He dreaded hospitalization, but we succeeded in getting him admitted for treatment. As a different hospital this time, he had the good fortune of having the same psychiatrist. She was convinced there was a missing link, that some unknown cause lay at the root of his illness.

Two days later, when Becky, Eric’s older sister, visited him in the ward, she told him that we hated his idea of God, a vengeful God Who could never be pleased. We viewed him as a loving and merciful God. Asking him if he always felt that way about God, she was surprised at his answer, “No, it all changed when I was twelve”. Then he revealed his molestations but didn’t wish to talk about it in detail. Becky consulted with his nurse, sensing that this revelation was crucial to her brother’s recovery. Later, the nurse found Eric in his room, beating his head on the floor and against the sink. After putting him in full-body restraint, the staff heavily sedated him and placed him on suicide watch. A sexual-abuse therapist began sessions with Eric, and we were hopeful that healing could begin with his long-buried secret finally exposed. He returned home about six weeks later, eventually resumed his job, and decided to move in with a friend from work. A little more than eight months after he disclosed his sexual abuse, Eric left work one Friday with no explanation, sat on the porch of his friend’s house smoking a cigarette, and then sometime that afternoon placed a gun to his head. When his friend arrived home from work, he was faced with a nightmarish scene. The police could find no suicide note, but acting on a hunch, Eric’s friend went to his computer, searched among his files, and discovered one entitled, “Hope”. Dated six days before his death, the note revealed Eric’s intense struggle to please God, yet always falling short of His expectations. With that, our handsome, intelligent, compassionate son was gone.

Now, three years later, I feel compelled to tell his story. As a grieving mother, I beseech those who read this to risk facing the true brutality of clergy sexual abuse. Abuse victims are all around us- they are our sons, daughters, grandchildren, fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, husbands, wives, and friends. Please pray fervently that survivors may be treated with understanding, acceptance, and love. Let your diocese know how you feel about the clergy sexual abuse scandal. Be willing to support survivors in their difficult task of recovery. Hold diocesan church officials accountable for allowing perpetrators to continue molesting in parish after parish, excusing these actions by saying they received “poor medical advice”. First and foremost should come the needs and safety of children and adolescents. If our Church fails to safeguard our children, where is its moral credibility?

As agonizingly painful as this tragedy has been, we cherish every day we had with our son. If avoiding this pain would require never having had Eric in our lives, then I gladly embrace the pain for the honor of being Eric’s mother.

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Read More of Eric’s Story

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.