Submitted by her mother, Debbie Wawrosz

A promising start

Theresa Wawrosz playing her nephew, the apple of her eye

Theresa was so smart and so talented. She took courses at the community college in her senior year of high school, graduated with honors, went to college and earned her four-year degree in three years. She was the kind of person who, no matter what she set her mind to doing, she could do it. In college, she worked at a law firm and was an excellent legal assistant. She loved doing things — anything and everything.

How her opioid use began

When Theresa was in her late teens, she started having back and knee problems, so doctors prescribed pain medication. After college, she couldn’t afford her own insurance. That’s when she got started on street drugs. A so-called friend convinced her that heroin was OK to take.

She sought help many times

Through the early years of her addiction, she tried many times to get help. She was in and out of jail, in and out of rehab, lost her home, came back home to live with us. We tried on all levels to help her get help. She wanted it so badly.

Trying again

When she came out of rehab the first time, the court said she had to get a job. A friend had a machine shop and needed a girl in the office. In three weeks, she was doing the books, running the office. Then she went out on the shop floor and said, “Show me how to run that machine.” She became a CNC (computer-controlled) machine operator. She ended up running the office and the machines. That was her.

Money was her devil

While working in the office of a machine shop, Theresa asked to learn how to operate the machines — and did.

It seemed whenever she had a job and money, she would spend it as fast as she got it, never being able to explain what she spent it on — but I could see a difference in her during this time, in her mood and her appearance. I truly believe money was her devil, and had she not had the money to buy drugs, she may have stayed clean. When she passed away, she wasn’t working and had been clean for some time, though somehow she was able to get the drug that ultimately killed her.

She loved photography

She was a gifted photographer. She loved animals and nature. Butterflies and hummingbirds, those were two of her favorite things to photograph, and she could capture them beautifully. This last four years, she lived with us, and the thing we liked to do the most was go to the park and take pictures

How our relationship changed

We had our ups and downs, but she always knew I would do anything to help her. She always told me, “Mom, you can’t fix me! I need to fix myself,” and I would always say, “But I can help get you help.” I guess, in my mind and in my heart, I didn’t want to believe she was struggling as much as she really was.

My last memory of Theresa

Early in 2017, she went into rehab and was doing well. She had been diagnosed as bipolar and she always had high anxiety, so when her closest aunt was diagnosed with terminal cancer in February, Theresa’s anxieties went through the roof. She wasn’t sleeping or eating. I truly believe she called her dealer because she trusted him. She was looking for help to cope with things, to get through losing her aunt. The night before she passed, I wasn’t feeling good, so she cleaned the kitchen and made our dinner. She stayed home that evening, but I found out later she had a visitor. I believe it was her dealer. She came upstairs from her room, made a cup of coffee and asked me if I knew where her CDs were; she wanted to listen to some music and relax for the evening. That was the last time I saw her smiling face.

How I found out Theresa had died

I found my baby girl lying dead on her bedroom floor the morning of April 15, 2017 — something I will never get out of my head. The heroin she was given the night before was laced with carfentanil. They said it went straight to her heart and she died within minutes.

How she would want to be remembered

Laughing and playing around with her one and only nephew. He’s a special child — nonverbal, autistic. She loved that little boy with all her heart. That’s my most vivid memory of Theresa — watching her play around with her nephew, taking him to the playground, climbing on the jungle gym with him, swinging him around in circles, getting into the baby pool with him in the summertime.

If I could say one thing to Theresa now, it would be

I love you, baby girl, and I miss you so very much.