When tragedy strikes twice
Every September, Tersia Theel starts dreading Oct. 22.
If her mind forgets as the day approaches, her body doesnt. Ill cry for no reason. Ill think, Why am I feeling like this? Then Ill look at the calendar.
Oct. 22 was the day, 20 years ago, when Theels car hydroplaned during a horrendous storm on Highway 101 in Washington and slammed into a tree, shattering both of Theels hips and killing her 7-month-old daughter, Kristian.
Theel has struggled to accept the loss. It was 18 years before she could bring herself to get a headstone for Kristians grave. This year, after moving from Forest Grove back to her Washington hometown, Theel was finally feeling like I could move a little more forward, she said.
On Oct. 20, Theel was busy cleaning her fathers house, where shes staying now with her 13-year-old son, Brennan. She wanted it to be spic and span when her 11-year-old daughter, Abigail Robinson of Forest Grove, came to visit in November.
Her cellphone rang and flashed the name of her ex-husband, Tom Robinson.
Oh yay shes calling, Theel thought, assuming Abigail was using her fathers phone.
But the voice was Robinsons: Abigails been hit by a car and I dont know if shes okay.
Everything went away at that point, Theel remembers. I almost fell down. I just knew. I couldnt feel her anywhere.
On Oct. 21, while on life support in a Portland hospital, Theels last child was officially pronounced dead one day before the anniversary of the death of her first child.
Great place for Abigail
Theel moved to western Washington County in 1998, landing first in Gales Creek and later in Forest Grove. She and Tom Robinson met at MasterBrand Cabinets in Hillsboro and married in 2001 at McMenamins Grand Lodge.
At the time, they each had two children from previous marriages. Abigail was their one child together the one child, Theel says, they didnt have to share with other households.
She was kind of our rock.
Theel loves her kids very much, said Forest Grove resident Cindy McIntyre, whose daughter, Paige, has been Abigails best friend since preschool.
Were considering going up there in the next couple of weeks, said McIntyre, who feels like Abigail was part of her family.
Over the years, Theel and McIntyre took turns getting Paige and Abigail to ballet and tap classes at Forest Grove Dance Arts, to soccer practice and to Young Actors Summer Theater (YAST) at Theater in the Grove.
McIntyre also watched Abigail and Brennan while Theel spent weeks volunteering in Vernonia after the 2007 flood, setting up a volunteer center.
With all that time together, Abigail felt like another daughter, McIntyre said. She went on vacations with us. Theres really three of us who raised her.
Flashing back to grief
In November 2003, Theel was driving down to Dilley one morning when she found traffic diverted due to a fatal accident she could just glimpse up ahead on Highway 47.
A Forest Grove mother had just lost her 13-year-old son. The family was on Theels mind for years afterwards.
The suddenness of any accident-related death just rips my gut out, Theel said.
Theel remembered praying for them and wanting to do whatever she could to help.
She also found herself reliving the moment she learned Kristian had died. I am so sad another mother has to feel what I felt, thought Theel, who never had any grief counseling after Kristian passed away.
Last year, she took a grief class at Chemeketa Community College and shared one assignment with Abigail, letting her answer questions about death.
Death is when something is gone forever. And you wont have that thing anymore. And death is sad and grief in your world, wrote Abigail, whod seen photos of Kristian and heard Theel talk about her.
She would actually cry with me, Theel remembers.
When asked to think about her own death, Abigail wrote: It makes me shiver a little bit, thinking that I will not be here anymore on earth, seeing everybody. And it makes me feel sad and uncomfortable that I wont be here in 70 [or] 80 years.
Keeping in touch
Theel and Robinson had separated in 2008 due to Theel being completely stupid, she says of herself. It was relatively amicable, with Theel living just two blocks away. We didnt even have attorneys.
In June, Theel moved back to her Washington hometown, where Abigail visited for a week in August. They went mushroom picking, elk watching and fishing together on the Quinault River.
Back in Forest Grove, Abigail called her mom Oct. 11 and asked how she was doing. Oct. 22 was coming up and Abigail knew it was a difficult emotional time for her mother.
On Oct. 18, Theel and Abigail spoke again by phone and talked about how much they missed each other.
Abigail had a great relationship with Robinsons current wife, Susan Dieter-Robinson, but she worried about her mom, Robinson said.
By Oct. 20, Theel had decided to move back down to Forest Grove sometime in the next year, in order to be near Abigail and also her 19-year-old daughter, Taylor, who still lives in the area.
But by Oct. 21, Taylor was at the hospital holding Abigails hand while she was on life support and Theel sat, emotionally paralyzed, five hours north of them, begging and hoping that the doctors would not pronounce Abigail dead on Oct. 22.
As traumatic as Kristians death was, Abigails is so much harder, said Theel. I have lost 21 pounds since the day this happened, she said last Friday.
Brennan is having a tough time too. He just adored Abigail, Theel said. The first week, I couldnt get him to even eat or sit up or move.
Faith and questions
At a memorial service up in Washington, Theel read one of the grief questions Abigail had completed, where she talked about her oldest sister, Kristian.
I wish I could have known her, Abigail wrote. Its just horrible that she died. I feel I could have done something so I could see her right now. Like maybe I could have stopped my mom from driving somewhere the night she crashed.
But for all her sorrow, Abigail believed Kristian was in heaven and that she would go to heaven, too, when she died, Theel said.
That was one thing that gave her peace that shed see her sister again someday.
Theel herself isnt as sure about heaven as she used to be.
Im really having my first-ever huge struggle with my belief, she said.
How could the God shes believed in for 37 years let something as awful as this happen to her twice, she wonders.
Im not sure what I believe right now, Theel said. I hope beyond anything that there is heaven and that I get to see Abigail there.Add a comment