Patty Wetterling shares coping strategies during COVID-19 pandemic

With uncertain times upon us and many people struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Patty Wetterling shared some thoughts Wednesday to try to help those dealing with so much during this time.

Wetterling, whose son Jacob was kidnapped 30 years ago, said she and her family had to deal with many unknowns and much anxiety after Jacob was abducted. During those times, she developed coping strategies she said might help people today.

In a letter, Wetterling urged people to hold their loved ones close, let go of what-ifs and always thinking about the worst-case scenario, stay in touch with family and friends as best as possible, and "look to the light and share your love."

She added that although things are tough, everyone is in this together, and together we'll get through it.

You can read her full letter below.

Dear Friends,

None of us have ever lived through something like what we are going through today. We draw inspiration from past challenges that we have managed, and that inspiration helps us move forward. I don’t know if this might help, but I hate the sense of helplessness, so I wanted to write down a few thoughts about what the world is going through right now. 

We, our family and friends, are not unfamiliar with some of the dynamics of the crisis our nation is undergoing with the Coronavirus. It’s an investigation. We get that. Nobody really knows who or where it will spread. Nobody knows if they are safe. They are uncertain about how to keep their loved ones safe. There is tremendous fear, and it is taking way too long to solve or turn things around. 

Living with fear and unknowns for nearly 27 years, we managed to find ways to cope. Maybe some of our coping strategies will be helpful for you. 

Hold your loved ones close. Right now, we may be experiencing a sense of “too close” with schools closed, and most of our social outings no longer an option. The reality of having your immediate family in close quarters due to restrictions put on all of us can be extremely trying. In addition, with many of us telecommuting amidst background confusion and noise, stress can reach a boiling point quickly. 

After Jacob’s kidnapping, we were surrounded by family and friends, and we were so grateful. At the same time, I so wanted my regular life back, with kids going to school and Jerry working while I either worked from home or managed our home needs, getting out of the house to socialize or shop at will. After October 22, 1989, I was terrified for months and afraid to leave our house because of the “What ifs?” What if Jacob called? What if there was a ransom call? What if the investigators needed something from me? At the same time, my sister Nancy told me that one night there were 27 people that slept over at our house. What we were living through was all so new, scary and unknown. My advice is: 

Let go of some of the what-ifs. Get outside when you need to, using precautions. Imagining the worst-case scenario is simply not helpful, and it can drive you crazy. Hold on to the facts as they are given to all of us. 

Some of us today may be experiencing just the opposite, an inability to hold children or grandchildren at all because of the recommended social distancing. It can be so lonely. We try and appear “OK” so that nobody worries about us, but deep inside we long for things to return to “normal.” We miss that closeness. Along with everyone else, we remain hopeful that COVID-19 will start to subside as quickly as possible, although the experts are telling us that it will take some time. I hated it when people tried to tell me to prepare for the long haul. I couldn’t do it. Patience is not my strong suit. I lived day to day as best I could. 

Today, keeping in touch with loved ones is a little easier. You can Facetime regularly or play games together on the Internet. For example: yesterday, my youngest grandson called me first thing in the morning to read me a book. He’s in Kindergarten and just learning to read. He was so proud, and I was so honored. It made me smile all day long. 

Take away fear as best you can. Our children were also scared when they were little. As careful as we tried to be, they heard the news in the background, or they would overhear friends or relatives talking, and there were so many questions. How long will this last? Are we safe? Who did this? Many of our journey’s questions are being repeated during this outbreak. How long? Are we safe? Is this person safe? Is it OK to go here? 

The way we survived the very long search for Jacob was simple. We chose to speak honestly and at an appropriate level for children. Fear does not keep us safe. Fear is debilitating. Hope is empowering. “We are washing our hands carefully to keep us and everybody else safe.” “We can have a play date through Facetime.” “You can teach your friends a dance or practice your Spanish on the computer.” 

Kids love distractions. They can paint or color happy pictures to send to nursing homes with a note. “I know you can’t have visitors but maybe this picture will make you smile. I’m sending sunshine.” We were so blessed and lifted up by similar extensions of love and care from people all over the world. Today’s world makes communication even easier. Reach out with love and support. Send thank you notes. Share positive energy or ideas on Facebook. 

I think back to my suggestions in 2016, of how we as a community can get through the hardest of times…with a few expansions: Create joy, say a prayer, light a candle, play with your children, help your neighbor, eat ice cream, hold hands (virtually), communicate with friends electronically or by telephone. Sing, dance, journal, share funny stories or jokes, look through photos, remember good times. 

Look to the light and share your love. There are amazing things being done every day by creative, caring people and when good people pull together, amazing things can happen. 

We know it is tough, but we are all, literally, in this together. We will survive these tough times and things will get better. We will pull through if we don’t give up hope. Be smart, follow the public health expert’s advice and never give up hope. 

Sending my love and support to families everywhere, 


Patty Wetterling