Patricia van Tighem

Patricia Van Tighem, 47; Wrote Book About Near-Fatal Grizzly Mauling


December 25, 2005|Valerie J. Nelson | Times Staff Writer

Patricia Anne Van Tighem, who was almost mauled to death by a grizzly 22 years ago but survived to write a harrowing memoir about the brutal assault and her struggle to cope with it, has died. She was 47.

The lasting psychological and physical effects of the attack she chronicled in “The Bear’s Embrace” led to Van Tighem’s suicide Dec. 14 in a hotel room in Kelowna, Canada, her family said.

“What we keep reflecting on is not why she died when she did but how she lasted this long,” said her brother, Kevin. “She’d had countless surgeries, chronic pain and major episodes of post-traumatic stress.”

In 1983, Van Tighem was hiking with her husband, Trevor Janz, in the Canadian Rockies near Montana when a grizzly protecting her cubs and an autumn meal pounced on Janz.

With staccato sentence fragments, Van Tighem recounted in her 2000 book the horror of watching the bear savage her husband: “Two more steps forward. I stop. A bear? From the side. Light brown. A hump. A dish-shaped face. A grizzly. Charging. And Trevor. Fast. He half turns away. The bear’s on him, its jaws closing around his thigh, bringing him down.”

When she climbed a tree to try to get away, the grizzly clambered after her. The bear swatted her down and began inflicting the damage from which Van Tighem would never recover.

“Crunch of my bones,” she wrote. “Slurps. Heavy animal breathing. Thick animal smell. No pain. So fast. Jaws around my head. Not aggressive. Just chewing, like a dog with a bone.”

Two hikers stumbled upon the couple and helped them to a hospital, where each spouse was desperate to find out how the other was doing.

“Trevor finally just … bellowed, ‘Trish, how are you?’ ” Van Tighem said in a 2003 documentary on Canadian television. “And apparently, I yelled back, ‘I’ve had better days.’ … The whole emergency staff had a good laugh at that one.”

Her facial injuries were extensive. The left side of her face was nearly destroyed, her cheekbone absent, her left eye blind, the eyelids gone. The back of her scalp was missing. “I feel sick to my stomach,” she wrote about looking in the hospital mirror. “What I see isn’t even me.”

Her husband’s injuries were not as disfiguring. The third-year medical student’s jaw and nose had been broken but his spirit was still intact.

“I was young and wild, and I thought … lightning never strikes anywhere in the same place twice. I’m virtually immortal now, and isn’t it great to be alive?” Janz, now a doctor, recalled in the documentary.

Remembering Patricia van Tighem


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