‘We’re not promised tomorrow’

Published 6:56 pm Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Wells woman relies on faith in wake of tragedy

WELLS — Tracy Muhlenbach of Wells had the same reaction as many Americans upon learning about the nation’s deadliest mass shooting in modern history at a country music festival on Sunday in Las Vegas.

“Not again. Not again,” Muhlenbach remembered thinking. “How can this be happening again?”

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She then bowed her head in prayer for everyone affected by the horrible tragedy, completely unaware that among those she was praying for was a member of her own family.

Monday morning Muhlenbach said she received a frantic phone call from her mother. Tracy’s aunt, 45-year-old Lisa Patterson of Alameda, California, had attended the Las Vegas concert and no one had been able to reach her on her cellphone.

“It was a giant concert, 22,000 people in attendance,” Muhlenbach said. “I just assumed, just like most people did, that their loved ones were going to be fine. What are the odds that someone that I knew was there and a part of this?”

But in her heart of hearts, she said she knew. She believes the whole family did.

Patterson, whom Muhlenbach described as loud and loving, would never have kept her family waiting. Something had to have been wrong — very wrong.

Even more than two days after the tragedy, Muhlenbach said her family still doesn’t know all the details.

“She had gone there with a group of friends to enjoy the concert for the weekend and wasn’t expected home right away,” Muhlenbach said. “When things started happening, they were separated, and her friends went back to the hotel room to wait for her to return so that they would know everyone was safe and she never came back.”

Family members called the posted 1-800 numbers to try to find out more, but when they finally got through, the information center had no record of Patterson. While there was a rumor that her name appeared on a list of those injured, the family could not find a hospital that had treated her either.

“There were people that were identified, both wounded and deceased, that they were able to tell the families, but that wasn’t the case for Lisa,” Muhlenbach said. “So for a whole day her husband spent going in and out of the hospitals looking through unidentified patients and finally in the morgue.”

“We still don’t have the details of what happened to her,” she said, adding that her family believes Patterson was likely killed right away.

“We know what we need to know,” Muhlenbach said. “She’s not here anymore.”

The word of Patterson’s death came at 10:30 p.m. Monday, after she had attended a visitation for her daughter-in-law’s grandfather, Gerald Frederick.

She spoke of Frederick, 81, as a quiet, sweet and spirited man who had lived a full life with children and grandchildren. He was a stark contrast to Patterson.

“She was loud, she was loving, she was the kind of person that would squeal from halfway across the room and embrace you like she was your best friend — whether you were or not,” Muhlenbach said. “She treated everyone the same.

“And yet both stories are of people that the Lord knew the number of their days,” she said.

Muhlenbach said the grieving process isn’t much different.

“It’s the same sense of, ‘How do wake up tomorrow without that person in your life?’” she said. “It just doesn’t seem right either way.”

There is something that troubles her that only pertains to Patterson’s loss, though.

“One thing that is really bothering to me is that people want to put a label on it so they can make it make sense — and it will not make sense,” Muhlenbach said. “No matter what label we end up putting on the man who did the shooting, there is still the same loss of life. We are in the same boat with at least 58 other families and friends and communities that are grieving the loss of someone whose life was cut short and that should not have been.”

She said the story is not over as soon as the death toll is counted. There are still over 500 injured, and their outcomes are unknown.

“It won’t matter to any one of them what the actual reason is that he did this terrible, wicked thing,” Muhlenbach said.

“You could be swallowed by this, you could be swallowed whole by this grief and loss,” she said of the grief resulting from the shooter’s actions. “You could be swallowed whole by this except for the fact that God has not forgotten us.”

Muhlenbach has kept that in mind when reflecting upon the shooting and the personal loss it has created in her life.

“What does [God] want from me right now? He certainly doesn’t want me calling names and wishing death on other folks,” she said. “I even grieve for the family of this man. I don’t know their situation and I don’t know their background they came from, but this is not easy for anyone involved. Not a single person involved.”

She also remembers Patterson, whom she thought of as not an aunt, but a younger sister.

“I don’t honor Lisa by being bitter and angry and full of hatred,” she said. “I don’t honor her memory. I don’t honor her family. I need to be better than that. I need to live up to her memory. She was an amazing woman, an amazing mother and a great friend — a remarkable person. So she deserves that at the very least.”

She refuses to focus on the negative criticism and political debate that such tragedies seem to stir, as well.

“We’re all created to be completely different kinds of people with unique gifts and talents. If we could just possibly recognize those amazing things about one another and the way that God created them to be used — and stop tearing each other down for the things that we don’t like about one another or don’t agree with with one another — then life would be easier and better lived.”

Does she expect utopia? No.

“But can we do disagreeing in a loving and kind way?” she asked. “Could we just stop all this ridiculous hatred and violence? It’s just too much. It doesn’t solve any problems. It doesn’t do anything but make us vulnerable to the enemy and his attacks.”

In the end, Muhlenbach said she hopes there is something everyone can learn from such tragedies.

“Personally, because I’m a spiritual person and I love the Lord, my ultimate outcome for this would be — and I think Lisa would feel the same way about this — is that you know you are not promised tomorrow,” she said. “You are not promised tomorrow. And you better make sure you are right with your God and with the people in your universe, the people that you care about, that you love, because you’re not promised tomorrow.”

She feels everyone should contemplate her reality, if they woke up and their loved one wasn’t there.

“Will you have said what you should have said? Will you have done what you should have done, or will you have petty disagreements standing in the way of the relationships that you should have had with your family, with your friends, with your community — and most importantly with your God? Don’t do that. Don’t do that. We’re not promised tomorrow.”

She knows her relationship with Patterson is not over. Patterson will be awaiting her and her loved ones with open arms when they are reunited in death. But she still grieves.

“Loss is that vacant space in your life that seems no longer to be able to be filled by something else because of the uniqueness and amazingness of each and every one of us as people,” Muhlenbach said. “That testifies to a God that created us to be that way. To meet needs in each one of us by someone else in our lives that cannot be replaced.”

Along with her niece, Patterson leaves behind a husband and three children, the youngest of which is 7.