Peoria Journal Star

September 10, 2006

Focusing on her daughters

After burying her husband in her hometown of Morton, mother takes hold of 'big job'



WASHINGTON, D.C. - In the five years since her husband was killed in the Pentagon attack, Patricia Grooss-Getzfred has centered her life around her two teenage daughters.

"I really take my hat off to other folks who are raising children on their own. That's a big job," she said. "I wasn't at all prepared to do that. But I got prepared real fast."

On Sept. 11, 2001, her husband, Navy Capt. Lawrence Getzfred, 57, left home at 4 a.m. - earlier than usual - because he wanted to leave work early to get to his girls' soccer game.

His wife was running errands when she heard the news of the Pentagon attack on her car radio. When her husband didn't call, she told herself it was because he was helping others. Or perhaps he was stuck in traffic.

By late afternoon, she realized what had happened. A Navy chaplain confirmed it later that evening.

She buried her husband in her hometown of Morton and made it her goal to keep their daughters' lives as stable as possible.

The most challenging part, she said, has been "probably what most people go through when they're the only adult in the household. You don't always have an adult right there at hand to call on the phone or just bounce things off of on a daily basis.

"I'm just grateful that I have brothers and sisters that I can call, even though they don't live near me. That's been my salvation. Just somebody to hash over something that's going on."

Grooss-Getzfred has four sisters and three brothers, including a brother living in Forsyth near Decatur. Her husband had six brothers, many of them in Nebraska.

She toyed with the idea of moving closer to family members, "but it just seemed better to stay put, primarily because of the kids in school," she said.

As a military family, they already had moved frequently before coming to suburban Washington in 1997.

Her daughters, Larissa, 17, a high school senior, and Kristina, 16, a junior, play soccer, basketball and lacrosse. They're making college plans now. Fortunately, the family isn't struggling financially because her husband was a good planner, Grooss-Getzfred said.

They don't dwell on the past.

"I'll mention casually, 'Oh, this was Dad's birthday,' or something along those lines," she said. "It's easier not to do that."

The Pentagon has a memorial service for victims' families planned for Monday, but Grooss-Getzfred isn't sure she'll go. Her daughters will be going to school as usual, she said.

On the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks, she hopes that others will remember "that there were really, really good people lost that day. I don't think you realize the good in some of these people or what they actually did until they're gone. ... It was a real atrocity - on a personal basis, but also on a national basis."

A highlight for the family came two years ago when they got a dog, something the family had always wanted but had postponed because of their frequent moves.

"I think the saving grace for us has been that we have a golden retriever puppy that has helped a whole lot. That's the new addition to our family," she said. "She just provides a lot of warmth and laughter. It's kind of like having a baby."

Soon, she knows, her girls will be off to college.

"It won't be long, and they'll be out on their own," she said. "I think it's then that I can really figure out what my next step will be."


Dori Meinert can be reached at (202) 737-7686 or