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Legacy of a Grizzly Attack

Author : Patricia Van Tighem
Published : 2003-02-04

I was drawn to read a book recently. A newspaper story caught my eye about a woman who had been attacked by a grizzly bear and survived with terrible injuries. This woman went on to write a book about her 20 year experience coping with the lasting pain and horror of the attack. I think most of us carry some fear of the potential for bear attack when we hike. There is nothing more exciting than seeing a bear in the wild, and nothing that gets the adrenaline pumping so fast. I have joy when I see these giant creatures lumbering around their home turf, munching on huckleberries. But, I have a very real fear that I'll surprise one coming around a bend in the trail.

It is with curiosity that I picked up "The Bear's Embrace : A True Story of Surviving a Grizzly Bear Attack" from the used list on for $1. In 1983 at 24, Patricia Van Tighem was on a hike with her husband in Waterton Lakes National Park (the Canadian neighbor to the north of Glacier National Park). The two experienced hikers walked near an unseen grizzly bear eating a mountain goat. Out of the brush and in an instant, the bear attacked them both. Van Tighem tried to climb a tree to escape the bear, but it knocked the branches out from under her. The bear chewed on her head, disfiguring her for the rest of her life.

Her book is a journey of survival. From the days immediately following the accident, and across twenty years of surgery and struggle. She has to endure countless operations to fix her face. With each operation, her distrust of doctors, nurses and hospitals grows stronger. Miracle cures turn into years of infection. When doctor's cures would not work, she was labeled as a trouble maker. The subject is very heavy, and gets heavier as the book continues. As I read it, I kept wanting the story to get better, to have a happy ending, but it can't. For her entire life, she was haunted with nightmares of the attack. She could not escape, which led to severe depression. Eventually, she was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Putting a name on her condition helped, but the pain continued.

The Bear's Embrace was written by Van Tighem to help with her recovery. It is written very well, and is frequently hard to put down. Written in the year 2000, the book was a national bestseller in Canada. The story is so personal, you feel the anger that she has at the world. She could not escape the pain. Sadly, on December 14th, Patricia Van Tighem committed suicide in a hotel room in British Columbia.



I haven't heard about this particular book. It sounds heart-wrenching. For folks interested in bear attacks and how to avoid them, I'd recommend "Bear Attacks, Their Causes and Avoidances," by Stephen Herrero, a biologist from British Columbia. His book includes some riveting details about bear attacks and is sure to put the willies into folks who are heading into bear country for the first time. He also provides good insights into bear (both grizzlies and black bears) behavior and how to protect yourself in bear country.

I did have the opportunity some years ago to interview a long-distance runner who was mauled by a grizzly in Grand Teton National Park. He was practically apologetic for infringing on the bear's territory. He came away from the attack with a heightened sense of the wilderness, the majesty of grizzlies, and nature. He also used the experience to become a motivational speaker.



Thanks for the book suggestion. The author of that book, Stephen Herrero, is quoted on the back cover of my copy of "The Bear's Embrace". He says "her story gives me new energy for my research into helping people prevent bear attacks."

On my bookshelf, I have a pocket sized book called "Bear Aware : Hiking and Camping in Bear Country", by Bill Schneider. I'm sure it doesn't go into the level of detail of Herrero's book, but it does have a lot of quick tips for staying safe, and includes some bear myths and facts. The book starts with a short letter to the author which is pretty amusing:

"Dear Bill, You'd be proud of me. I did it. I just finished a five-day backpacking trip in Yellowstone. And I didn't see a single grizzly, but at night in my tent I heard hundreds of them."


I finished the book in 6 hours because I just could not put it down. It was like walking with her (Patricia) on her journey so intense was her struggle, fight and termination to overcome the demons of her life brought on by this baer attack .
So sad that she finally walked through the last door to leave all the horror and pain behind her.
This book is much more than just a story.
Facial injuries make the most damage and scars NOT on your face but in your soul.

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