Pat Grant and her granddaughter, M'aleigh Andrzejek share a moment outside the National Field Archery Association while M'aleigh takes a break from archery practice.

Life after the loss of a loved one is never easy. Every day brings new challenges, and grief triggers seem to lurk behind every corner in the days, months and years following the loss of a close relative or friend. Pat Grant of Yankton is no stranger to these feelings.


She lost her husband, Jack Kastengren, in April of 2010 to colon cancer, and only eight months later she had a new reason to grieve when her 33-year-old daughter, Misti Andrzejek, died from complications of Huntington’s disease.

Over the last year, Pat, along with her 11-year-old granddaughter, M’aleigh Andrzejek, have struggled to overcome their grief and rebuild their lives.

“I keep my grief to myself a lot,” Pat said. “There are tears when I’m alone. The memories hit me before I go to bed. Usually they are good memories, but there are still tears.”

Losing Jack was hard on the family, but at the time, Pat said she was focused on caring for Misti and M’aleigh and didn’t have a lot of time to grieve properly. When Misti died later that year, the effect of losing them both hit her at the same time.

“I slowly started putting away their things. It was really hard to give their stuff away or pack it away and realize that everyone had just gone and it was just the two of us alone,” Pat said.

“Jack and I were together for 15 years and married for a year and a half. When he found out he was sick, he was very worried about making sure M’aleigh, Misti and I would be taken care of.

We got married at the courthouse Oct. 31, 2008. I wore a sweat suit and he wore his work clothes. Misti and M’aleigh were there in Halloween costumes. It was a fun day,” she continued. “It’s hard to not have Jack around. We were together for 15 years and he was a carpenter. When things break, I always think ‘Why didn’t he tell me how to fix this?’”

Pat said she found it hard to stay home after Jack’s and Misti’s deaths.

“There were just so many memories in the house,” she said. “It was hard for M’aleigh, too, because when she would get home from school or wake up in the morning, she always expected to see her mom. When we would leave the house, I would panic for a minute that I had left Misti. She went everywhere with me, so it was hard to get over that feeling that I had left her behind.”


M'aleigh poses with Ken Buhl, one of her archery instructors after she presented him with a traditional Native American star quilt.

Pat said M’aleigh had dreams of her Grandpa Jack and a few of her mom, and they concerned her a bit, so she sought counseling for M’aleigh to help her deal with her grief.


“It was explained to us that we are all made up of energy; and Jack and Misti are still around us in energy form,” Pat said. “For me, that was a very positive realization. It comforts me to think they are still with us. It’s good for M’aleigh to know that her mom and grandpa are always with her.”

M’aleigh’s counselors also suggested she start an extracurricular activity, and they gave her a list of activities available in the area.

“For some reason, she saw archery on the list and said she wanted to try that,” Pat said. “She’s been immersed in it for the past few months.”

During the summer months, Pat would drive M’aleigh to the National Field Archery Association Center and she would practice for afternoons at a time. Pat said M’aleigh looks forward to the day she can go hunting and hopes to use her skills to get a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner this year.

“Archery is M’aleigh’s therapy,” Pat said. “Every time she shoots an arrow she gets a little release. Since she started archery she’s standing up a little straighter and holding her head up higher.”

Pat explained that, when Misti’s Huntington’s disease began to progress rapidly and she was very sick, M’aleigh didn’t want to leave her mom.

“She stayed out of her social circle. She didn’t go to overnights at friends’ houses or to birthday parties,” Pat said. “She is a lot more grown up than friends her age because she’s dealt with more than the average 11-year-old.”

Since Misti’s passing, Pat has pushed for M’aleigh to spend more time with other kids.

“She’s been a little more outgoing and able to be with her friends a little more,” Pat said.

M’aleigh has also gotten to spend more time with her dad, who lives in Riverton, Wyo.

“He’s always wanted her to come and stay with him, but she would never accept an invitation when her mom was alive because she didn’t want to leave Misti,” Pat said. “She has gone and spent time with him since her mom has died. I think it’s important for her to spend time with him, and I know it would make Misti happy.”

Pat said she has been trying to stay busy with the disability advocacy work she started during Misti’s lifetime and little projects she had put off.

“I promised Misti I would paint her home,” Pat said. “When I was caring for Misti and my husband was sick with cancer, I just didn’t have time. Now I seem to have too much time, so I’ve been painting and working on the rest of the house.”

She has also become more connected to her spiritual side.

“There are a lot of Indian traditions I’m trying to pass on to M’aleigh,” Pat said. “It was very comforting for me to have spiritual leaders at Jack’s and Misti’s funerals.”

Recently, Pat had a traditional star quilt made for one of M’aleigh’s archery instructors, Ken Buhl. The star quilt is a traditional gift of appreciation. Buhl has been M’aleigh’s mentor, and Pat arranged a surprise ceremony to give him the gift.

“Doing archery has really been one of the answers for M’aleigh, and it’s important for her to show her appreciation,” Pat said.

“She makes me proud in so many ways.”

Pat has also spent a lot of time in prayer.

“Every morning I get up at 5 a.m. and have my coffee and cigarettes on the porch before the traffic starts. Praying was one of the first things that helped me get through the loss,” she said. “God is all around, and I like to take the time in the early morning before anyone is up to talk to Him. That prayer time has really helped me realize that I have received a lot of blessings, too. I have a lot of supportive friends who are there to listen to me talk or cry.”

The compassion of neighbors has been one of the most uplifting parts of Pat’s and M’Aleigh’s journey thus far, Pat said.

“When Misti was sick the last time, M’aleigh was in and out of school and Misti was in and out of the hospital,” Pat said. “One of her teachers brought groceries to the house. The (Yankton) school board sent money. I’ve never seen a more supportive school system.

“There were lots of people who were always there to do the little things that you don’t even think about but that take so much pressure off, like keeping the coffeepot full and making sure we ate. Even since Misti’s death there have been nice things. Misti loved bears, and one day we came home and found teddy bears on the porch. We have no idea where they came from. A few times we’ve come home and found an envelope of money or a box of groceries on the porch with an unsigned card.”

It is moments like those that give hope in contrast to the moments that seem so final.

“Both Jack and Misti died at home under hospice care. When they came and took Jack’s hospital bed his death became real to me,” she said. “With Misti, I helped Kevin (Opsahl of Opsahl-Kostel Funeral Home) load her into the hearse. I watched her drive away knowing it was the last time she’d be going out of the driveway.

I was adamant that I was going to be with her until the end.

I was there in the beginning, and I didn’t want to leave her alone at the end.”

Although losing one’s spouse is a horrendous experience, Pat said losing a child is still much worse.

“Losing a child is the worst thing in the world, no matter what their age,” Pat said. “It was so much worse losing Misti than my spouse. I loved Jack so much, but Misti was my baby. It’s just a completely different type of loss.”

Pat is thankful that she and M’aleigh have each other, and she said they find strength and inspiration by remembering Jack and Misti and living in a manner that would make them proud.

“I’m really glad I have my spiritualism. It would be a lot harder without that. There are many, many people I’ve met here in Yankton who have helped me tremendously with the healing,” she said. “It’s always going to hurt, but some moments it’s not as bad.”