In choosing how to cope when faced with loss or sadness, people manage it in many different ways, but Foressa Patton chooses to deal with the sad times through an attitude of joy.
Born in South Pittsburg, childhood was not idyllic for Foressa. She was living in Stevenson throughout the fifth grade until her mother passed away for reasons unknown.
As a single dad, Rupert Patton raised his only daughter Foressa back in South Pittsburg but would still drive her to school in Stevenson for the next three years, just to obtain some sort of normalcy for his daughter.
Foressa became his main focus in life. He thought of her first in everything he did as he dealt with his own loss.
“Everyone loved my mom. She was very charismatic and gorgeous and just fun to be around. I was nine when she passed away, yet I was bigger than her then. She was petite and reminded me of a black Erica Kane from All My Children. Being an only child, my daddy revolved his entire life around me,” Foressa insists.
An Army veteran, Rupert worked with the Marion County Highway Department. He never remarried and focused all of his attention on his daughter even going with her to cheerleading practice.
“He became so nervous that something was going to happen to me. After my mom passed away, my whole attitude on life just changed. I started loving everybody and I didn’t want anyone to die. I would be overly sweet to everyone and that attitude carried over into my adulthood,” Foressa says.
Understandably, Foressa was out of school for several weeks, but was able to catch up on her work and passed her classes.
“My teacher Ms. Allison had the whole fifth grade come together and they gave me a beautiful dress and other nice gifts,” Foressa shares.
Having such love and support of her father and her peers helped Foressa to determine that she would not let the loss of her mother make her afraid or weak.
“At that point, I wanted to be strong so I decided that I would behave more like my mom. She was always happy and always smiling; everybody loved her. That’s when my personality became so joyful,” Foressa says.
It was important to Foressa not to be a casualty after facing a life-altering tragedy at such a young age. It was commendable not only that she made the choice to be a positive person and accept what life had dealt her, but that she realized early on that she had the choice in how she dealt with it.
“There were times when I cried, but I would always wait until I got home. When people would make comments that I was always so happy, I would tell them, ‘That is because I am with all of y’all,’ but whenever I was alone, sometimes I would be sad. I think my happiness stems from making others happy,” Foressa considers.
Foressa keeps memories of her mother with her constantly. She remembers her mother being witty and how she would imitate people. Foressa said her mom would nail it and would even imitate her just to make her laugh.
“As a girl, I wanted to be an actress. I loved watching All My Children and I was in school plays. Then when Oprah became popular, I wanted to be like her. I liked her personality and how she could just be herself,” Foressa says.
Dreams of stardom soon faded as Foressa became a young woman and got a job at Krystal so she could finance her own car when she was 18. She went to school for communications courses, which helped in her sales/marketing career. While at UTC she met a young man who later became her husband in which her doting father did not approve.
“He had two earrings and was like a rebel. Daddy thought I only liked him because he was the first black boy I’d seen who was not my cousin,” Foressa jokes. “So he took me out of UTC and sent me to Alabama A&M where everybody was black. It was like a culture shock to the tenth degree and at first it was very difficult for me to make friends. They just didn’t get me - I was just a country bumpkin.”
Foressa eventually made friends, but continued to date the young man she met at UTC and snuck off to the courthouse to marry him. While she continued school, she kept her marriage a secret from her father for six months until she became pregnant with her son Henry and later having her son Evan.
“He is still upset about it and that was almost 20 years ago,” Foressa notes. “He always wanted to walk me down the aisle. I really felt bad, because I wasn’t thinking and I was just a kid. Everything Daddy said about the guy was right, of course, and we divorced about seven years ago.”
Though Foressa has faced unhappy moments in her life, she was still able to keep it together and focus on her goals.
“We had nothing, but the boys were so happy. I didn’t want them to be a statistic, because you always hear about little black boys not having daddies, but as I had thoughts about leaving, one day when I came home from work Henry had asked me if we had to stay,” she admits.
Foressa had worked as a temp at Cigna until being hired fulltime and has been employed there for 17 years.
“Focusing on the positive and concentrating on really being happy keeps you from ‘losing it’. When you focus on other people and not just on yourself or your problems, I think it helps you through life. Sometimes I look back on my life and wonder why didn’t I lose it,” Foressa questions.
She was very close to her grandmother who passed away a few years ago. It was the first death Foressa had to deal with since losing her mother and she realized that she didn’t handle loss as well as she had back then.
“My grandmother was like a mom and was everything to me – she was my mom’s mother. After mom died, I became like her. My mom took care of people, and I became that person… I had my grandmother’s power of attorney. I took care of her needs and placed her in Life Care in East Ridge, close to me.”
“I thought I handled my mom’s death really well, but I didn’t handle my grandmother’s death very well. When I lived my life as my mother had lived, I think that helped me feel as though she were with me and that helped me deal with her death,” Foressa explains.
“Even though I planned my grandmother’s funeral, I can’t remember doing it. It was the same funeral home where my mom was and I vowed I would never go back. I buried her next to my mother and bought another tombstone - a mother/daughter tombstone,” Foressa says.
While going through the motions taking care of what needed to be done for her grandmother’s funeral, it was as if Foressa was on auto-pilot and not dealing with her emotions. It wasn’t until a routine exam with Dr. Dudek forced her to face her grandmother’s death.
Dr. Dudek asked Foressa how her grandmother was and, without thinking, Foressa answered, “Oh she is fine,” and like a splash of cold water, Foressa heard her inner voice say, “No… she isn’t fine…” and she finally broke down and cried.
Foressa learned a powerful lesson that even though her attitude of joy helped her to get through the pain and hardships of her life, that she still must own the sadness. She learned that it was okay to cry and she didn’t have to cry alone.
“If I ever admit to having a terrible day, my friends will freak out. If I am down and out of sorts, a friend will tell me they miss me encouraging them and making them laugh and that usually brings me out of it,” Foressa says.
Through her faith and the support of her father, Foressa still maintains a joy that she carries with her no matter what her circumstance.
“Even though I have gone through tragedies in life, I have learned that it is okay to cry. And whether I am happy or sad, my purpose is to help others to have a better day. I don’t tell people to have a great day …I tell them to make it a great day. My day is made when I can make someone laugh or cheer someone up. By making them happy, I am making myself happy,” Foressa insists.
“I have just seen other people go through some of the same things that I have gone through and they choose to cope in negative ways,” she says. “I say, don’t be a victim, be a victor.”