December 25, 2005 by

Patricia Anne van Tighem

50 comments

Categories: Writers/Editors

pvantighem.jpgPatricia Anne van Tighem, the author of a best-selling book about a harrowing encounter with a grizzly bear, committed suicide on Dec. 14. She was 47.

A native of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, van Tighem trained as a nurse at Mount Royal College and the University of Victoria. She and her husband, medical student Trevor Janz, had been married for three years when they decided to take a vacation in the Canadian Rockies.

On a sunny autumn day in 1983, the couple was returning from a hike to Crypt Lake in Waterton Lakes National Park when they encountered a female grizzly and her cubs feeding on the carcass of a bighorn sheep. The adult bear attacked Trevor first, biting him in the leg and swiping at his face. Van Tighem tried to escape by climbing a tree, but the bear rammed into its trunk three times and knocked her to the ground, then mauled her.

Trevor suffered injuries to his leg as well as a crushed nose and jaw, but he eventually healed and became a physician. Patricia lost her left eye and her face was permanently disfigured.
In the 22 years since the incident, van Tighem suffered from chronic pain, nightmares and post-traumatic stress. She endured more than 30 reconstructive surgeries and years of debilitating depression that sent her on frequent trips to mental institutions. People stared at her injuries and treated her like she was mentally challenged. To combat her despondence, van Tighem wrote the book, “The Bear’s Embrace,” which was published in Canada, the U.S. and Europe, and nominated for several awards.

“In the time right after our attack I couldn’t get the imagery out of my head. I used to write all the time and I was in the habit of it, so I started to write initially about the actual mauling and then branched out in other directions (like the hospital) in order to stop the visions cycling through my head,” van Tighem once said.

Although the couple later separated, their story was featured on National Geographic and BBC television. Van Tighem also founded a branch of AboutFace, an organization that supports people with facial disfigurements. She is survived by their four children.

Listen to an Interview with Van Tighem

Read an Excerpt From “The Bear’s Embrace”

50 Responses to Patricia Anne van Tighem

  1. Cynthia

    I read Ms. Tighem’s book a few years ago and wondered how anyone could endure such suffering. At the end of the book, it seemed she had reached a stage of healing and acceptance. She had the love and support of her husband, her four children, her parents and brothers and sisters, she was trained as a nurse, she incredibly survived a grizzly bear attack that nearly killed her and left permanently disfigured and in terrible pain. I thought this woman has been through hell, but persevered and created a life for herself and her family. I thought she was remarkable. I still think so. But I had no idea that her suffering was still so strong and constant, so much so that she needed to end her life to escape from it. How desperate she must have been to leave behind her children; what torture she must have felt, what unimaginable pain must have been consuming her. I can only hope that she is finally at peace, with no more pain. God bless you, Patricia. I will never forget you or your book. You will always be remembered as a strong, courageous, loving woman, not only by me, but by many others.

  2. valerie

    May you now Embrace your peace and freedom from pain. Your story has touched my heart, sweet Patricia Anne.
    I’d like to borrow from the previous poster (Pat M)… “Bless your family. May their present pain transform to comfort and understanding.”

  3. dashiel glewwe

    I have read and reread “The Bear’s Embrace” that I bought while traveling and hiking in Banff, Jasper, Yoho and other Canadian Parks. I could not put it down, it is such a beautifully written and moving account of her suffering and trying, mostly for others’ sakes, to repress her trauma, grief, fear and pain. Patricia you are and will remain an inspirational model for me. I am so sorry for you, your family and this planet as it is a lesser place without you. May God rest your soul and may you see with two eyes and be pain free where you are now. It is a lesson for all of us to hear and rehear what someone needs to say, and to be empathetic always with those we love.

  4. Katherine

    this book has stayed with me…..i could not put it down – and feel saddened by the fact that after such tenacity, perseverance and intermittent spells of hope she ended her life.

  5. Geoff Brandner

    Well taking ones own life is so out of fashion these days. If she was so traumatized by her accident she should have joined the recent New Jersey bear hunt and gotten some payback. Very sad all the same I think.

  6. Yvonne S.

    I have read your very poignant, personal story. You fought so valiantly against the bear and the demons it brought to you through no fault of your own. I hope you are at peace now. My thoughts and prayers are with your family and friends. Sleep in peace, sister soldier.

  7. Alison

    I just finished The Bear’s Embrace yesterday, not knowing that Ms. van Tighem ultimately commit suicide. I felt that its ending was forced — that Trish felt she had to conclude on an upbeat note. To me, that was the real tragedy, that somehow she never got permission (from herself, from society) to permanently feel vulnerable, sad, lonely, angry, depressed. We allow people a recovery period and then expect them to be strong and bounce back. May be we expect too much.
    Her struggles were beyond what most of us can relate to. How could she possibly feel mentally well with so many physical obstacles–pain, disfigurement, recurring infection. As for ptsd, the bear mauling was one thing–what about the pts from all the surgeries? And what about the stress that society’s expected time for her mental recovery had expired?
    Trish fundamentally understood the patient’s need for compassion, quite apart from trying to “be fixed,” physically or psychologically. Sometimes we just need to be held. Wasn’t that perhaps what her final dream meant?

  8. Reg Volk

    A very interesting book and my condolences to the family who I hope are able to rebuild their lives. Patricia is a great example of how hard the human spirit TRIES to endure.
    One little question-where is Napier, B.C.??

  9. Nayana Lacasse

    I will never fully understand the pain you went through and I’m sorry. I was in the Daily P. in Trail B.C with you I was 17yrs old and was placed in the same room as you. When I met you I saw a woman who was welcoming and warm I also remmber how you would light up when you would talk about your childeren. I respect you becaues you did fight for thoes 22 years,I got your book and can’t put it down. I’m sure you’ve asked God why this road and this way.
    When I think of you I will think of you with respect,encouragement,strong and with beauty both inside and out. Thankyou for your book. I pray for your childeren understanding and peace in their hearts.

  10. Liz

    I just got got through reading Patricia’s story in 2 days. I couldn’t put it down. I’m so sorry for the pain and suffering she had to endure. Taking her own life must have been the hardest thing she had to do considering the love she had for Trevor and their children. I was amazed at her endurance and at Trevor’s as well. My condolences to her family and friends.

  11. Deborah Ball

    My heart goes out to the family, I can only imagine what they must be going through. This story it so tragic for all of you. I am sorry for your struggles and your losses.

  12. Sue Nitchie

    I just finished reading The Bear’s Embrace. As Liz posted on March 26th, Patricia had incredible courage and tenacity, otherwise she could not have completed the writing of the book and kept on going in spite of the pain and depression. I think that to only partially understand the struggle that people who suffer depression go through, we should all have to go about our daily lives with a huge 100 lb pack on our backs 24/7. Our condolances to her family, who we know have suffered along with her all these years.

  13. Martin Avery

    This is the official press release .
    Patricia Anne Van Tighem (Janz)
    August 22, 1958 – December 14, 2005
    Last Wednesday, Canada lost a celebrated author and advocate for those who
    struggle with chronic pain, facial disfigurement, post-traumatic stress and
    the challenges of raising children with special needs. Patricia Anne Van
    Tighem (Janz), mother, author, advocate and friend, died on December 14,
    2005, from the lasting effects of a bear attack 22 years earlier in southern
    Alberta.
    Few can imagine the loneliness and hopelessness of those who cannot escape
    the chronic pain, repeated surgeries and facial disfigurement resulting from
    traumatic injuries. To transcend isolation and to connect with, and
    transform, the lives of countless others, demands rare courage and strength.
    Patricia Van Tighem

  14. kerry scott

    It is April 30th and I just finished the book..and so sorry now to learn of her death..but what an incredible life . Also a message to Trevor..what a hard working devoted family man he is.

  15. raelene paille

    I HAVE READ THE BEARS EMBRACE SEVERAL TIMES. A POWERFUL STORY. I FEEL DEEPLY FOR THE SURVIVORS OF PATRICA, SHE WAS A BRAVE WOMAN.

  16. DeLana

    I had read the book right after it was published, but just finished it a second time after my husband, one-year-old twins and I encountered a Florida black bear (which did not threaten us) in the woods; I just learned of Patricia’s death.
    My heart goes out to the family. It may be incomprehensible to most, and only those who have ever been suicidally depressed (as I was 10 years ago) will fully understand. Patricia was a remarkable woman, a true inspiration. I will never forget her.
    Best wishes to her family.

  17. sean almond

    I learned of Patricia’s death in the newspaper. I read the obit and finally bought the book. What a tradegy. Not like Tredwell was practically asking to be attacked by a grizly in Alaska. I agree with another reader who said the uplifting ending felt forced. It would have been just as imspiring to end with a question mark about her future. Life is unfair, full of suffering. She wrote beautiflly and i was touch by her story. I’m sorry there will be no more stories from her. God bless her soul and her family.

  18. JEAN COLEMAN

    I HAD MARKED DOWN “THE BEARS EMBRACE” MONTHS AGO AND FINALLY PICKED IT UP AT OUR LIBRARY IN OKOTOKS. I ALSO COULD NOT PUT IT DOWN UNTIL I HAD FINISHED READING IT. I AM NOT A GREAT READER BUT THIS BOOK WAS VERY INSPIRING. I LEARNED TODAY ON THE INTERNET THAT PATRICIA HAD PASSED AWAY IN DECEMBER. HOW TRULY SAD AFTER ALL SHE HAD ENDURED. I HOPE GOD HAS GIVEN HER PEACE IN HEAVEN. MY SYMPATHY TO HER FAMILY

  19. Karen Shaw

    I read “The Bear’s Embrace” about 2 years ago. I could not put this book down. I had to keep reading it until it was finished. This book was beautifully written and so moving. I passed this book onto other friends of mine who had never heard about her. I live in a small town just north of Nelson. I had the honour of meeting Patricia one day in our mall in Nelson. I told her what a wonderful and inspirational book she had written. That this book had truly touched my heart, because of what she had to endure all of the years after her attack. I was so glad that I was able to talk to her. I will never forget her. It was only a few months ago that I found out that she had ended her life. You “Patricia” will be greatly missed!!!! May God Rest Your Soul and may God give your family strength in this sad time.

  20. Laurie Whyte

    I just finished the book in the last hour, and went online to thank her in writing for writing this inspirational story. I was surprised and sad to hear of her death. I have PTSD. My husband, my son and I were in a serious automobile accident in Nova Scotia on August 27, 2005. My 11 year old son died in Halifax on September 6, 2005 from brain injury. He donated his organs and saved four lives. My husband left me in March 2006. Her book continues to change lives. Patricia’s story gives me hope for my eventual recovery from PTSD.

    • Pat

      Your story is also tragic. I hope life dealt you a strong future after the pain you were handed at the time of writing this.

  21. alexandra dence

    I read and obsessively re-read Patricia’s book during a particulalry awful time for me physicallly and emotionallly. Her honesty about suffering helped me get through what I had to get through. I don’t know what I would have done without her account, because as has been said on this site, we’re not allowed to talk about suffering — esp. suffering that isn’t resolved according to conventional ideas of “long enough”. I agree with the tribute that suggested that the ending of her book was forced. It reads as though some editor told her she had to end on a “hopeful” or “positive” note, that the reading public would demand such an ending. I wish she had been allowed to tell the truth and in a way her suicide did just that. I remember reading one review of her book that expressed impatience with her suffering – it was that impatience, in large measure, I think that made her suffering all that much more unbearable.

  22. Lorie

    I just found out this evening from my daughter that our dear family friend, Trish, had passed away.We are so deeply saddened and stunned by this belated news.
    Trish came into our lives when we lived two doors down in Calgary in 1987.Her daughter Molly and my daughter Ashley became close friends and Trish and family became important in our lives.Trish was a quality person and we loved her standards in how she raised her family.On her dark days I would babysit her children and try to be there for her.I loved her down to earth way, her sense of humour and having tea with her.Her kids are absolutely amazing and I treasured the time spent with them. We moved to B.C. and then years later they moved. I really ached for our time on 25th street.We exchanged yearly letters and pictures and we were able to visit the family in Nelson when they were building their dream home.Trish’s book is a treasure to me and made me understand her even more.She is out of her pain, but the world lost a very wonderful human being.

  23. Lorie

    For Laurie Whyte.I am so glad you were able to read Trish’s book.You have been through so much also.To think your sons legacy is giving life to four human beings is amazing.For yourself, from a fellow human being, speak loud enough until you are heard and validated and if there is no response speak loudly again.Someone will answer you finally..I did.
    Take care
    Lorie

  24. Charyle

    I have just finished reading Patricia’s book. Eloquently written, I felt I was living her experiences through the entire book, and kept willing her, and therefore myself, to keep going. The end of the book, the dream where the bear gently embraces her rather than destroying her, was sudden and out of character: I kept turning the pages back and forth, thinking I’d missed something. The end was so abrupt. Nevertheless, I felt the urgency to thank and congratulate Patricia for her incredible effort and insight to share her experiences through her writing. I am deeply dismayed to learn of her death. I’m so sorry there was no other way for her to gain peace and release from her suffering. The world has lost a remarkable person. My heartfelt condolences to the family. I hope you are all healing well.

  25. sharon

    I usually don’t read books, but a friend from B.C.suggested I should for motivation in our sport(Squash).I did read Trish’s experience while in Cuba, as well as 3 other friend’s who saw my expressions. I thought it was important to share her experience with a few of the Cuban guards on the property( Their are no predators on the Island) who spoke very little English by showing them the cover and Trish’s picture.They were so sad for her and couldn’t believe that such a big bear existed. They wanted to understand how it happened and how she lived throughthru such an experience.

  26. Barbara Turpin (McClarty)

    I had the pleasure of being in Trish’s writing class in the Kootenays. She never wanted the attack sensationalized. It wasn’t her style. She wanted to do good and bring about hope for others.
    She engaged others quietly. Her writing was gripping and I so enjoyed her as a peer.
    I saw Trish when I was visiting Nelson in 2005. It was wonderful to see her.
    Trish was an extraordinary writer.
    She loved well.
    And was loved well in return.
    I sense your peace at last.
    Quiet dreams to you.

  27. #1 Fan

    I read her book over and over again always crying when i finish. She’s a insperation to anyone who has survived a bear attack. I believe pain is something everybody must endure. Yet i can;t help feeling the pain she felt was more than anybody should feel. When i broke my neck the pain was unberable but you know what i read while i laid in that hospital bed. THE BEARS EMBRACE!

  28. Taylor Cotriss

    A few days ago I learned of Patricia’s death and became very saddened. I read her book a few years ago, which was given to me by my grandmother. I am now doing a book report on “The Bear’s Embrace” which I am proud to do. I am truly sorry for her loved ones.

  29. Carol Kozicki

    I had the honor of meeting Patricia in Kelowna in Oct 2005 I really felt for her. I thought she was a amazing woman and don’t know how she endured all the pain mental and physical. I got her autograph and got her book, sadly i lost it in a house fire in 2007. I was saddened today as i read she passed away. Rest in peace patricia

  30. Karen Chu

    I have only now learned of Patricia’s death. It is a huge shock. I knew her in New Zealand and found her to be a true friend. Encouraging at all times. She will be missed by many. I would love to read her book. If anyone knows where I might obtain a copy. I would much appreciate it.

  31. Carol Salerno

    I was up all nite rereading “The Bear’s Embrace”. I feel like God led me to pick it up again last night for some reason. Maybe to help me deal with my own depression. I was still crying this morning from reliving Patricia’s pain through her book. I decided to go online to maybe write her and ask how she was doing. I sat there stunned when I read she committed suicide. And also that beforehand her and her husband had separated. I am so terribly distraught for how much she suffered in her life physically and emotionally. Why God? Someone said her life was a lesson for others. Why should she have had to suffer so much to teach others compassion and empathy? Lord, you better make it up to her big time! God Bless Patricia Van Tighem!

  32. dianne

    I just finished reading the book I purchased in Banff after hiking through grizzly country. I am amazed at the amount of time both Patricia and Trevor hung on for so long after the attack. They both suffered so much.It’s time we all accept that fear and pain are unbearable at times and more people should be more understanding and forgiving. Because it could happen to any of us.

  33. Lorie

    My heart is thinking of you today,my friend.Time does not take away this ache inside. I will always treasure the friend you were to our family and the ideals for which you stood.Your legacy is your beautiful children.
    Hugs,
    Lorie

  34. Sarah

    what a beautiful lady. may God bless you and grant you his grace and may he watch over your family and give you the power to watch over them too. you are free from pain in paradise.

  35. Brad

    Having just finished Trish’s book, I am awed at the struggle that some are burdened with. Both Trish and Trevor were yoked to a massive load.
    The Bears’ Embrace, in many ways, was a love story; and a heart wrenching one. His determination to be… mirrored by her inability to regain an assemblance of normalacy creates a deep sadness for both.
    Please do not judge those whose struggle ends this way. While unfathomable to most, until you have truly lost hope no one knows how utterly dark each moment becomes.
    Blessings to her family.

  36. Ass Kick'n Cousin

    Just a quick reply to Geoff Brandner’s Post of January 22, 2006:below in brackets.
    “Well taking ones own life is so out of fashion these days. If she was so traumatized by her accident she should have joined the recent New Jersey bear hunt and gotten some payback. Very sad all the same I think”
    Let me say this, as Patricia’s Cousin: You obviously have lived a very sheltered life, your understanding of true suffering is clearly minimal, and your lack of tact and compassion is nothing short of disgusting. Taking one’s life is not a fashion statement, nor a trend, it is a personal decision, and you can be sure, one never taken likely. It is obvious you have not taken the time to read her book, I suggest you do.
    And to suggest taking part in the senseless slaughter of bears in retaliation, is just offensive on so many levels.
    It is my sincere hope that in the time since you posted your childish words, that you have found the opportunity, and the courage to grow, and better yourself.
    It is also my sincere hope, that one day I will meet you, so that I can personally help you understand both the depth and breadth of extreme suffering.

  37. Leila

    Trish,
    I did not know you, but I can only imagine the hell you were going through. You amaze me, and I know that you are free of pain in Heaven as a beautiful blonde-haired woman with both your lovely blue eyes. RIP angel.

  38. Matthew

    I kept a note to myself to read the book after first reading the review of it in the Globe and Mail almost 9 years ago. While in Portland, Oregon this summer I stumbled upon a copy at a used book store.
    I read the book this past week. Like most of you I could not and would not put it down until it was finished. I started it in Calgary and finished it on the plane to Ottawa. I gave the book away to the person I was sitting beside and told him that it was most inspiring story and to please pass it on so that others can read and learn about Patricia’s most remarkable story.
    While in Ottawa I recommended the book to a friend. She borrowed a copy from the library and like all of us she could not put it down until she was finished.
    Only today do I discover that Patricia is no longer with us. I am saddened. My heart goes out to all that knew her and to her children and family.
    A truly remarkable story by a very brave and courageous woman.

  39. Brenda

    I just finished reading Patricia’s book and was so terribly saddened to find out that she has since committed suicide.She must have had an amazing spirit to have lived through so much physical and emotional pain. I hope that she has found her peace at last. My sincere condolences to her family.

  40. callie meyer

    i had to write a biography about her.
    At one point in her life she thought a bear attack was impossible. Now everything seems to be going against her. She doesn’t trust anyone. Her name is Patricia Van Tighem. She and her husband Trevor were mulled by a bear. They were rushed to the hospital and in the years that came they started a family and Trish began to get infections.
    Their hiking trip started out like any other but ended in their attack. What happened was, on the start of the hiking trip they smelled a dead carcass that was off the trail a little ways but they paid no attention to the smell. They stayed the night on the mountain and the next morning they headed back down the mountain, that’s when the attack happened. They were then rushed to the hospital and endured many long hard hours of surgery and reconstructive work on their faces. When they were well enough to go home, Trish was still scared and afraid. She coped with what fallowed, and returned to her job as a nurse.
    Two years after their attack, Patricia became pregnant. Her baby was a girl they named Nicola. They moved to New Zealand from British Columbia, two more years go by and Trish is always sad, then she learns she is pregnant with twins. Daniel their baby boy is healthy, but their new daughter Ellen has Down syndrome. They move back to British Columbia and Trish becomes pregnant, but miscarriages. She is diagnosed with depression and becomes pregnant for the fourth time and has a healthy baby they name William.
    Since Nicola turned one Patricia has been sick. When she had the twins she was diagnosed with depression and she wouldn’t do anything but stay in her bed and cry. Trevor takes her to a psychiatric ward because she just keeps getting worse and worse. When she is there she tries to kill herself but survives, Trevor and her family are devastated, so she promises never to do it again. Before she miscarried Patricia decided to get a Proethisis, to cover her right empty eye socket, which had to come out because it rotted. She ended up contracting cellutis and it spread to her blood stream. When she had her last child Will, she was moved to the psychiatric ward again, she keeps seeing images with cut up bloody torn faces, when she asks for help and to make the images stop the doctors lock her in a room. When she got the Proethisis, she had to get bolts in the side of her face to keep the proethisis on, the bolts caused many infections. The bolts needed to be removed and Trish complained about a lump on her lower cheek. When they were removed the doctor told her that the bone around the bolts were mushy and rotted. Also the lump on her cheek turned out to be an abscess. They removed it all from her face and most of the infections went away. Now she could be a part of her family’s life again.
    Patricia’s mulling was the start of her long and painful recovery. She started out well but her mood changed and it went down hill from there. Her experiences inspired many people to always live their life to the fullest. Another thing she taught people is to never take what you have for granted.

  41. laurie boyes

    My husband bought the book for me in 2000, I have read it many times and shared with friends, who never even heard of Patricia. My husband and I have had a few encounters, no physical, but none the less terrifying. I hope Patricia, you are educating those who you abide with now, you are My hero. Laurie

  42. Dee Unity

    Dearest Patricia,

    Finished your beautiful work entitled The Bear’s Embrace today after having purchased it in the magnificent mountains of our Jasper National Park.

    I suffered and cried with you, I know too well the pain of dismissal by steely automatons masquerading as medical staff. I am a retired, 20 year combat medic of the Canadian Forces seemingly sistered with PTSD for my life. Like you, I had some good days and the nasty, unrelenting black ones have at times been an eternal nightfall.

    I thank you for your work which has imparted and left with me the scent of the rose known as Hope.

    Blessings to you on the other side of the Veil.

  43. Pat

    After a devastating car accident in 2013 where a drunk driver hit my daughter and I head on, a friend gave me this book to read. I had not heard of it although I have lived in Nelson for 15 years. At first I thought, this is not a good book for me to read, she is so depressed, from page 1. But I was hooked into the story, her life, her trials, her decisions. I was struggling myself, with the trauma the car accident had left my body in and was worried this story would put me deeper into a state of depression and not be able to continue with my own recovery but I was wrong. Patricia’s story did have to be told. I was actually forced to feel the opposite of her depression. I would not let myself go there. I thank Patricia for that. I pray she is in a happier place, no pain.

  44. Marion

    Ich habe das Buch von einer Klientin bekommen. Auch heutzutage rührt dieses Buch und ich finde es traurig zu lesen, dass “Trish” es nicht geschafft hat, (so) weiter zu leben. Niemand kann sich in ihre Situation versetzen, denn niemand hat das so erlebt wie sie. Es zeigt, dass es im Leben nicht immer eine Lösung gibt, die gefällt, bei aller Mühe (medizinisch, familiär, freundschaftlich usw.) die geleistet wurde. Für sie war die Vorstellung vom Tod wohl die Erlösung. Es ist zu wünschen, dass es wirklich so ist und sie ihren Frieden von körperlicher Pein, seelischen Qualen und sozialer Ausgrenzung erleben darf.

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