HASTINGS, Mich. (WOOD) — To say Matthew Pattok has been through a lot for a 17-year-old is an understatement. When he was 4 years old, his parents lost custody of him, his 3-year-old brother, and their five older sisters.
“That was because there was a bunch of neglect and abuse,” said Matthew Pattok. “I remember our dad was pretty angry all the time, and I didn’t see my mom very much. She was either in her room or in the kitchen, although none of us spent much time in the kitchen because they didn’t really feed us.”
His grandparents, not wanting them to go into the foster care system, fought for custody. As they started their retirement, they also started raising a new family.
Jerry and Sandra Pattok were both teachers at Hastings High School and were focused on their grandchildren getting a good education.
“They always emphasized how important that was. They saved quite a bit on the side for us to get to go to college.
Their grandparents’ influence had a lasting impact on the Pattok children. The sisters are all in college or have graduated, while Matthew and his younger brother finish up high school. Matthew took eight Advanced Placement tests last year as a junior and earned scores of 4 and 5 on all of them, with 5 being the highest score possible.
The love from his grandparents helped the siblings through many years, and things seemed to be going well for them until the beginning of 2020.
Jerry Pattok died of lung failure in January 2020 after dealing with lung issues for a while. Sandra Pattok found a new home in Hastings closer to the school and moved the grandchildren in.
“Less than a month after we moved in, in late August, she died. That was very unexpected, we didn’t see it coming at all,” Matthew said.
He then went on to brag about his older sister, Emily, who stepped up and took over as a guardian for him and his younger brother.
“We were still children. We’re both under 18 and Emily is now 21, raising two kids, her siblings,” he said.
In that sense, the pandemic helped their cause because she was finishing up her degree in economics at the University of Michigan. She was taking classes virtually leaving her able to stay in Hastings to look after her brothers.
Despite the challenges of “basically a bunch of kids living in a house together,” Matthew credits that togetherness with getting them all through the trauma of, essentially, losing two sets of parents.
“It’s like a team dynamic. If one person’s not doing so well one day, the rest can function and help them out, do our best,” Matthew said.
Aug. 26, 2021, is the one-year anniversary of their grandmother’s death. The grief they feel has not gone away, but Matthew advises anyone else who has experienced that kind of loss and struggling is to lean on the people around them.
“Something that helps is just talking to people about it. If you’re dealing with something on your own, it’s going to be really hard even if you think you’re really strong on your own, you will be 100 times stronger with even just one person. If you can talk to someone about what you’re going through and what you want to do,” he said.
Matthew plans to follow his grandparents’ dreams for him and his siblings by pursuing a degree in computer science. He’ll graduate from Hastings High School in the spring of 2022.