August, 2009, Brooklyn, NY
In December 2004, Patricia’s oldest son was charged with murdering his girlfriend. Tormented with grief and unable to sleep, Patricia saw a late-night infomercial for the Church on television and called for a Book of Mormon. What she has learned about forgiveness, compassion and the warm embrace of the Saints has carried her through the crushing experience.
Something happened to me the other night. I had problems sleeping because of the heat. I don’t have an air conditioner because it makes me and my granddaughter ill. It was so hot, I took off my undergarments and went to sleep. I had the worst dreams, my confidence level went down, all the things I am handling came into my head. I felt as if I was about to lose everything, I felt like I can’t handle the situations in my life. I became a very weak person. I became convinced the only way out of this is to pack up and leave the United States, to go home to my country of Trinidad, give my granddaughter Christina back to her mom, not thinking at all of how that would affect her. I became this uncaring, weak minded person. My thoughts were to just give up and go. It was the worst feeling I have had since my baptism.
I got up feeling so very sad, not knowing where to turn. It was warm and I was perspiring. I took a shower and put on a clean set of undergarments. It was too early to leave for work, so I went back to bed, only this time my courage to face anything came back, the sadness went away. I asked myself, “What were you thinking to uproot Christina again? That would be devastating for her.” I felt as though the Patricia I know was back. That was when I realized it was because I had put my undergarments back on. They are my shield of strength and courage. It was yet another story for my spiritual journal.
I have two sons, Kirton, who is 38, and Mike, who is 34. Both are college graduates, Kirt from Hunter College in New York City and Mike attended the University of Maryland. Kirt liked history and reading. He will read anything from comics to politics, and he liked reading the encyclopedias as a child. We had a good life: I worked and they went to school. My husband moved out when Mike was in middle school. We are legally still married, but we have been separated for almost 20 years. He will not accept or sign divorce papers, I don’t know why. We will never get back together. He did step up though when the boys were in college. He paid for their education, so they never had to work while attending college.
Would you describe what happened to your son, Kirt, and how it affected you?
Kirt was once the center of my attention. I missed him when he moved out, but he would always pass by on Fridays with his dinner. He liked Mediterranean pizza, no meat only vegetables. He took good care of his health and his teeth. He suffered, however, from very deep depression. He hid it well. During Thanksgiving in 2004, I felt something and asked him if he wanted to get help. He said he could handle his depression on his own. His girlfriend of eight years had recently moved to Connecticut and he was traveling back and forth to see her. I thought that was making him tired.
On December 14, 2004 my world changed. It changed in a way I would never have expected. I got a big blow to my head and heart. I was at work when I received a call from a nurse in a Connecticut hospital: Kirt had tried to commit suicide. I went to the hospital only to find out his girlfriend was dead. She had been killed. I asked Kirt if he had anything to do with her death, and he said, “No mom, how could I?” I always trusted my sons so I believed him then. It was when I got home my world started to turn over: I called his hospital room, only to be told that he was being questioned by detectives. I spoke to the detective, and he told me he was arresting Kirt for the girl’s murder. My only question to him was, “Did he confess?” He said no, but Kirt was with her, had opportunity and motive. Kirt had been at the girl’s Connecticut apartment where he drank some Vodka. He didn’t even like beer, so this was very unusual for him. But he was also on some pain medication for braces he had just had put on his teeth. His girlfriend had another guy at the apartment and she yelled at Kirt and called him names and said the other guy could give her more than Kirt. Kirt told me that he got in his car and drove home. When she was found dead, the other guy who was there that night gave Kirt’s name to the police. About a year after that horrible night, Kirt he wrote me a letter telling me he believed he did kill her. He doesn’t remember how or with what, but he thinks he had to have done it.
That night, he was charged with the death of the girl. I screamed and cried and curled myself up in a ball, I had no idea what to do. What I did not know at the time was that I had guardian angels with me. A friend of mine arranged for a lawyer in Connecticut. Everything happened so fast, I was in a dream. My son, my quiet, polite son, who did not believe in anyone taking another life! My Lord knows how much it hurt. Every bone in my body ached, then the first time I saw him in handcuffs and leg irons, I thought my world would end. I wanted it to end, there was nothing else, or so I thought. I barely existed.
My son took a plea bargain, which was what his lawyer suggested, but the district attorney at his sentencing confirmed there was no proof he had killed the girl. I was running out of money, I used my annuity and my pension, so I could not put up any more fight. I had to let it go. I lived in shame, I hid from the world except to go to work and home. The only joy I had in my life was Christina, Mike’s daughter — my granddaughter– who lives with me. My son has abandoned his own daughter to live with another woman. I have lost all faith and trust in this son also. I thought I was a great mom: both of my sons went to college, never having to work their way through school. I was always there for them, before and after their dad left. They got the things they needed, they were never without anything. I even took a week vacation to spend with Mike in college, which he asked me to do. I attended his classes with him, had lunch, met his friends and took notes. I believed that I was a good mom, but it seems to have been in my dreams, because now I have woken up and it is not so.
How did this experience lead you to the Church?
One week I was so ill, I stayed under the covers in pain, but the doctors could not find anything wrong with me. I had difficulty sleeping, I slept for 10 to 15 minutes at a time. It was at this time, one night — or early morning — when I could not sleep I turned on the TV and caught the end of an advertising program for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Always being sort of curious about the Church, I called for the tape they were advertising. This was about 2:00 a.m. in the morning, but when I called I got a person on the other end. The person asked if I would like someone to come by and meet with me. All along I assumed Mormons only live in places like Utah, Missouri or Arizona, not New York, but I said yes anyway. Later that day I received a call from a young man. He introduced himself as a member of the Church and asked when he could come over to meet with me. We set a date for Thursday of that week. But still I figured, “This person cannot come from those Western states to meet with me!” I was unprepared for them, and they showed up promptly at my door on the day and time that was set.
When I saw these two young men, I had to invite them in. They told me about Joseph Smith and my silent thoughts were, “Why would God show up in the United States?” But I listened, because I was impressed by their knowledge of the scriptures. They offered me a book, The Book Of Mormon, and as a silly New Yorker I asked how much the book cost. They said it was free! Wow. Before they left they asked if they could say a prayer with me, and I agreed. When the young man prayed, I thought, “What a strange way to pray.” However, I promised to read the book and they said they would be back. I took the book with me the next day on the train. I took the ‘R’ train which would take longer so I could read. I started to read and did not understanding anything, so I put the book away. I planned to give it back to them and say, “This will not work out.” But one of the elders told me, “No one understands it at first and we are still learning from to understand it ourselves!” That made me feel better.
The next day, again I tried and began to understand it. I even did the worksheet at the back of a handout they had given me. This truly surprised me and it felt wonderful. The feeling puzzled me. I continued to read and to listen to them pray. Their prayers touched me. After about two weeks they invited me to the church. They told me that there were two Mormon families living in my building! I said they must be new, I would have known, because I thought I knew everyone in my building since I have lived here for over 30 years. When I learned who the families were, I could not believe it! One was Susan, my friend of five years. I had babysit her children and watched her apartment when they went away. One thing I’ve learned about being LDS is you do not have to push the religion on anyone, or wear it on your shirt sleeves. The fact that Susan had never pushed her religion on me made me want to be a part of this Church.
After several visits to the ward and lessons from the missionaries, I knew I wanted to be a member of this Church. The teaching of the scriptures, the way they prayed, the sacrament meetings, the testimonies, the honesty of the members, it was what I wanted, or, rather, needed in my life. The members welcomed me every Sunday. I was made to feel so very loved and supported, even though they did not know I needed support at the time. I was carrying the world on my shoulders because of Kirt’s crime. I walked with my head down in the streets. I thought I was the only person with this sort of problem. When I decided to be baptized, I felt I needed to tell the missionaries and Susan and my other LDS neighbor, Jeff, about my son in jail. It was painful and shameful to talk about, but I knew I had to. However, when I did tell them, there were no shocked expressions or no one pulled away. It was an embrace I had never felt before, no contact but I could feel the acceptance and embrace without the touch. I had never experienced anything like that in all my life. I knew this was the place and people I wanted to be with for the rest of my life. I have finally found the true meaning of Christianity.
What had been your experience with Christianity up until that point?
I was born and raised a Catholic in Trinidad, West Indies. I was christened, had my first communion and confirmation and we went to church every Sunday as children. When I came to this country, I went to church for a little while, but quickly grew tired of it. It was after Christina came into my life that my thoughts about going to church changed. We went to church every Sunday morning since her birth. One Sunday when she was about two years old, we got to the church and she sat down on the steps and said she did not want to go to church. (Children in that church had to be very quiet, there was nothing for them to do until they were old enough to attend classes for first communion at 6 years.) For some reason I did not force her, and we went back home. We met a family — Susan and her husband and kids — that day outside our building waiting to go to their own church. I didn’t know what church they went to, and I didn’t ask. So no church for a long time.
When my son went to jail, I went back to church to see if I could find some peace. I tried talking to the priest but he never seemed to have time to listen. He was only interested in how much money you put into the church. There was no one else. The other members all had their cliques and that’s who they stayed with. I tried to get comfort out of the sacrament or the sermon, but nothing. I had heard other people talk about reading the Bible when they wanted answers, only I did not know how to look for the answers or even how to pray except to say the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the I Believe, the prayers I grew up saying. I said them over and over but still no answers or peace, no courage or strength. One night I wanted so bad to end my life, I called my sister she told me to call Unity [a Christian hotline]. I did, but the person was so sleepy, she hurriedly said some sort of prayer, which did nothing for me. I knew I had to face this alone, so I stayed alone with my thoughts of dying. It was during this time I made the call and that changed my life, my way of praying and studying the scriptures and the Book of Mormon.
What was it about the Gospel that touched you most at this difficult time in your life?
Reading the scriptures and praying as I heard the elders pray, my life started to change. It was then I realized that I could also save Kirt and his girlfriend. I prayed and started to walk with my head up again. I blamed myself for giving birth to a person who might have taken another person’s life, and it was not until I read the Book of Mormon that I realized I was not responsible for my son’s action. Without the Church, without the word of God and Joseph Smith I would have not been able to ease the pain in my heart.
I have two dear friends in my ward, Susan and Jeff. They and their families are the other Mormons that live in my building, and now Jeff is my home teacher. When talks and parts of the scriptures seem foreign to me, I call on Susan to help and this she does, regardless of what time it is or what else she’s doing. Jeff is my strength, he see in me what I think I have lost: courage. He is always there to pick me up and I love them both so very much. From the very first day I set foot in the church I have been made to feel needed and wanted. The Relief Society sisters are so very remarkable. They have rallied with me in my sorrows and pains.
When I received my first Ensign, it was after my first General Conference. I read the talk given by Elder Bruce D. Porter on “A Broken Heart and a Contrite Spirit” and I read the 51st Psalm. It blew me away. I was on the train and for some reason could not breathe, I wanted to get out of the train. When I did I called Susan, I asked her to explain to me if I had read and understood clearly that Kirt can be forgiven if he seeks the Lord’s forgiveness. We talked for a long time. The words of the talk give me hope and courage. My concern is his future. He is not a bad man, it’s just that he cannot live with himself, he wants so badly to die. I knew it would be hard to convince him that he can be forgiven, but for me, just knowing that he can be forgiven and that I can see him after my death makes a huge difference. In that same Conference, there’s President Thomas S. Monson’s talk on the mark of virtue: “Our actions are preceded by our thoughts, and when we commit sin, it is because we have first thought of committing that particular sin.” I took the blame for a while for not seeing the pain my son was in and doing something to help him.
I have passed on what I’ve learned to Kirt. He has said he cannot not live with himself thinking he caused the death of someone he loved, or having to say on an application where he was for 6 years and why. But even though he has not shown any signs of belief he has stopped attempting to take his life. He is still clinically depressed but not suicidal.
Only my sister, Jeff and I have visited Kirt in jail. He is still in prison and looks terrible. He has stopped showering and brushing his teeth. He looks like an insane person. Having the Gospel in my life is the only thing that has gotten me through this ordeal. Being able to pray like we do is such a blessing, I can say exactly what is in my heart to Our Heavenly Father. I have been able to openly talk about the bad judgement my son made. I no longer hide from the world. Giving up coffee and tea was nothing compare to the blessings I have received. I was given my dignity and my courage back.
What has been your biggest challenge in joining the Church?
Having to accept for financial help from the Church. A couple of months ago I was so backed up with my maintenance and I was trying to keep up with the mortgage. My home teachers came to visit and asked if there was anything they could do to help me. I said no, I was OK. When they left I realized I had lied to them, so about 2:00 a.m. I got up and sent them an e-mail, sort of clearing my mind about the lie and also hoping they would not see it for a long time. But they did and went to the bishop, after asking a family member who I thought could help me and being turned down. The Church offered me help. I was so ashamed, but desperate, I had to accept it to keep a roof over Christina’s and my heads. I tried missing church but was too guilty and wanted to be honest and stand up to the fact that I was losing my confidence all over again.
I did however, keep up with my tithing, leaving my mortgage unpaid for 2 months. I received a letter from the bank saying they were going to default on my loan because I owed them 2 months’ mortgage payments. I called the bank to let them know I would give them the money when I got paid that Friday. The person at the bank said, “You are paid up. We received your payment of last week.” I did not send out any money, I had none to send, no one knew what was going on in my life, as this I did not even tell my home teachers. I called back the next day and was told the same. It blew me away. Then I thought maybe they took it from my husband’s account, and if they did he will call me soon and call me the worst of names! They did not take out his money, but somehow it was paid. I thanked the only person who could do that: the Lord Jesus Christ. No one else could have paid it, no one knew.
At A Glance
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Marital status: Married but separated for 18 years
Children: Two (38 and 33)
Occupation: Medical biller
Convert to Church: November, 2007
Schools Attended: Graduated high school in Trinidad, attended New York Business School
Interview by Neylan McBaine. Photos by Julie Darger.