On Mother’s Day this year, Pat (Patricia) Gerretsen, 49, wife of Peter Gerretsen and co-partner in the firm of Gerretsen Film Productions, will be at home with her husband and children. Last year on Mother’s day she was in hospital recovering from neurosurgery, but afterward she suffered a stroke. Pat spent last summer and fall in hospital recovering from the effects and battling back to health with an indomitable spirit. She’s home now and doing very well.
The story of Pat’s illness and her determination to recover is one of true grit in unexpected adversity. It is the story of a loving husband and children who stood by her, cheering her on to recovery and back to her rightful place at home as just plain mom.
Her health problems began on February 25th, 1989, when she developed an excruciating headache. Peter rushed her to hospital where she underwent emergency neurosurgery for a ruptured aneurysm (a thinning of the wall of the blood vessel). She recovered well, but on May 10th, she was rescheduled for a second operation “to clip a few remaining small aneurysms.” She suffered a stroke post operatively, which left her partially disabled. She lost her ability to speak and her right side was paralyzed. After five months of intensive therapy in hospital, she has regained partial use of her right arm and leg but both are still a little stiff. At times, the right word eludes Pat but her quick mind and her sense of humor remain untouched.
The Gerretsens are independent film producers who formed their own company in 1974. They have been partners in marriage, in business and now in Pat’s recovery. Peter concedes that long before women’s lib he started household chores with Pat because she shared in his business day. This division of labor evolved naturally, especially after the arrival of their three children, Phillip 14, Becky 10, and five-year-old Mary.
At work they are partners in their film productions. Peter writes the scripts and directs the film, and Pat is the company administrator. They work out of their home to cut costs and be nearby for their young children. Both are longtime pro-lifers and have produced such first class pro-life films as- Two is a Crowd, The Slippery Slope, The Kidnapping of Baby Doe and more recently, Night Friend, the story of a runaway adolescent girl.
Their feature films are on Video Cassettes and some have appeared on T.V. Over the years, they have made documentary and educational films for pro-life groups that include Right to Life, Birthright and Campaign Life Coalition.
Just recently, Peter completed Grief of Miscarriage, an educational video for St. Michael’s Hospital where Pat had had her surgery. He would like to do more of this kind of education video while Pat recuperates because she can help him edit at home.
The Gerretsens’ personal and professional contribution to the pro-life movements has been substantial. Jim Hughes, National President of Campaign Life Coalition says, “Their creative talents have helped us to form many of our political strategies and policies. In the early days their financial generosity often helped us through rough periods.” Of Pat, he says fondly, “She’s practical and unpretentious. She knows how to puncture your balloon if you get too puffed up.”
Peter has appointed himself to be in charge of Pat’s recovery. She acknowledged. “I’m so lucky to have such a good man as Peter.” He visited her twice daily during her first month in St. Michael’s Hospital, and daily for four months while she underwent rehabilitation. Every evening he would take her out for coffee. They would amuse themselves with their “box of cards.” With Peter’s encouragement, Pat would practice saying words she had forgotten.
The day Pat came home from hospital, like a good nurse, Peter had a wheelchair awaiting her. She refused to use it. Moreover, she insisted on walking upstairs ‘to powder her nose.” Nervously, Peter asked her “How will you do it?” He and their son Philip stood behind her as she started up. Then instinctively, Philip lifted her stiff leg up each step until she reached the top. Here, still nervous, Peter asked, “How will you get down?” She replied, “The same way I came up.” And she did – but in reverse.
Meaning of her illness
After Pat’s second operation, she remembers the activity around her, but she could not speak. “It was a helpless feeling. I soon discovered that illness is a very humbling experience and teaches patience. It also gives a new appreciation for the many things we take for granted (like talking, walking and independence)”, she recalls.
A deeply religious woman, Pat believes “suffering is a gift.” Of her setback, she says, “it didn’t shake my faith at all and I wasn’t unhappy. In fact I saw it as an inspiration and it deepened my faith.” She laughs, once, I tried to say the Rosary but it all came out backwards.” Her ability to laugh at herself is typical of her refreshing and amusing character.
Remarkably, she is undaunted by little setbacks. She just dismisses them, thinking, “oh, forget it.” Later she will try again and will often succeed. She says, “One of the blessings of illness is that it takes away feelings of need and desire.” She feels at peace now and is no longer restless to achieve things, which she once thought important. She reflects, sickness has changed my priorities. It has given me a deeper faith and appreciation of life and love.”
Pat and her family are back to normal routines. While the children are at school and Peter works at home, she goes to speech and physical therapy three times a week. Everyone has a job to do. She jokes, “This place is like a workhouse. Peter has the kids doing things they’ve never done before.” For instance, last summer when Pat’s mother came every afternoon to help, Philip and Becky did the groceries.
She acknowledges too, how their family has been helped by The Hope Group, at nearby Blessed Sacrament Church. A parishioner, whose wife suffered a stroke a few years ago, began the group.
Twice a week, one of the group delivers a delicious home-cooked meal to the Gerretsens, who can’t express enough appreciation for this generosity.
As a special treat, Pat loves to go out for lunch, walking to Mary MacLeod’s Shortbread Shop near her home on Yonge Street. Here her good Scottish friend, Mary, welcomes her warmly. These two women share a common bond of triumph over tribulation. A dozen years ago, because of a family crisis (and later a bout of cancer), Mary turned her superb cooking skills into a successful small business. Today, customers flock to her quaint little shop for a homemade lunch or to order sweets “for take-out.” Mary understands Pat’s struggle for recovery and she believes she’s improving all the time. She also remembers Pat’s support when she needed it.
“Gift of suffering”
Of Pat’s setback, Peter says, “Just because Pat walks slowly and the right side of her body doesn’t quite work right, her contribution as the mother of this family is not diminished.” He says that the secret of her recovery is a strong desire to live normally within the limitations at home, where they just treat her “like one of the gang.”
However, to those of us who can walk quickly and whose right sides work all right, Pat is an inspiration. By struggling for a comeback, she transmits a clear, hopeful message: Sudden adversity is a challenge and with faith and patience it can be dealt with.
To those around her, Pat’s indomitable spirit and her understanding and acceptance of the “gift of suffering,” radiate an unmistakable inner peace and beauty, like that of a rainbow after a sudden rainfall.
Happy Mother’s Day, Pat!