I was terrified. Theresa was missing! My precious three-year-old daughter was missing. The daughter with frizzy curly hair that covered her head in an afro-like blond bonnet.
Her mother was grocery shopping and left me to supervise Theresa. I turned on a sports event for just a minute to catch the score, and then I got up to hold her, but she was gone. A frantic search through every bedroom, under every bed, in the garage, and in the yard. We lived in a safe and caring neighborhood across from the University of Houston campus in Clear Lake, Texas.
My heart thumped loudly as I imagined the worse possible scenarios: perhaps a kidnapping, a car drove up and stole her from us, or even worse, she stepped out in front of a vehicle and was struck.
I began pacing the neighborhood like a wounded lion, screaming for her. Theresa, Theresa, Theresa, where are you? I began knocking on neighbors’ doors, imploring them to help. Bob and Alice next door had not seen her; neither had their next-door neighbors. It was a Saturday morning, so fortunately most all our neighbors were home. Our entire neighborhood was helping me search.
I thought of calling 911, but not quite yet. Surely, we will find her soon.
The gnawing in my stomach grew more intense. I began to pray for guidance, and I was led to double back and check our own back yard again. Theresa had discovered or created an escape hatch through a loose slat in our fence, a fence just like everyone in our neighborhood had that was made from 6-ft.-by-6-inch wooden planks. Apparently, she had used this escape hatch previously, but we had not discovered it.
Theresa’s Real Escape
That was in the fall of 1994. On Saturday, December 16th, 2017, Theresa walked into a gun shop, located in the Woodlands, and purchased a revolver, was taught how to fire it, and drove around the corner, just a few blocks from where she lived, and “escaped” this world forever.
This time, there was nothing I could do. Theresa had chosen to take her life, with the viciousness of a pistol that she had purchased minutes before her death. This time, I would not find her in our own backyard, pleasantly playing with our family cat, Daisy. No, this time, her escape was irreversible and ugly, and has left me and her family in grief and sorrow.
Theresa was like many young girls; she laughed a lot and loudly, was timid about boys, but not about being herself and being completely authentic. She seemed to possess wisdom beyond her years, insights that most people rarely think of.
The Surprise of Suicide
She contemplated nature, God, and the human psyche. Sometimes, I felt she could read my mind. In school, she was nearly perfect; straight A’s, no problems with teachers (they mostly all loved her). She cherished a few close friends.
When Theresa entered her senior year in high school, something had happened that I was not aware of within her mind. She had become depressed and disillusioned but didn’t show any signs of her discontent. She held it within. Theresa’s grandmother had suffered with mental illness, but rarely did we think about that as a possibility with Theresa, because she seemed to be doing well.
All outward signs pointed toward normality and health. From age 16 until she died at age 26, Theresa progressively, relentlessly, and sadly became very ill. She methodically alienated all her high school and college friends (she graduated from Grand Canyon University in three years on a full academic scholarship); she would not embrace the appropriate mental health care she really needed, because she attributed her behavior to a stomach microbe disorder, and she stopped coming to any family gatherings for holidays, weddings, and birthdays (including her own).
Theresa had become mentally ill, and she could not come to accept her disease.
Why Are We Afraid of Mental Illness?
What is it in our western society that makes us so uncomfortable that we cannot accept mental illness as a disease?
Why are we afraid to be with people suffering from mental illness?
Who in your family may be suffering from a mental illness, but is afraid or ashamed to let you know?
Are you willing to be a referral resource for someone who may be struggling with mental illness?
Theresa’s in a safe place now, and she is at peace, but is sorely missed by family and friends. The contribution she has made in this world is complete. My heart aches for the loss of her presence in my life.
Don’t let the sun set on any day without telling your son’s and daughter’s how much you love them, and listen to them with your heart, not mind, to what they have to say.
Learn more about Rev. John Beerman here: Unity Community Church – A positive path for spiritual living (unitydunedin.org)
Read more about suicide: Coping With the Loss of a Teen by Suicide – Open to Hope