A Year without Theresa Lang

By Amee Bohrer

For the past year, I’ve tried to live the way Theresa Lang did: boldly, with joy.

And a year later, I stand humbled.

How did she do it? How did she love so much, and pursue happiness with such zest?

Her short life, only 29 years, shattered the collective hearts of the Joliet community. I’ve never seen a memorial service packed the way hers was for such a young person. There was a line out the door. Usually you only see that for people who have been teachers or community leaders for decades.

I’ve never seen men cry the way some of my closest male friends did for Theresa.

A year ago, I was thunderstruck with how much her death affected me: for 15 years, Theresa had been an acquaintance. And yet I sobbed like she was a member of my family at her beautiful funeral Mass.

I had just been getting to know her better, she had asked me to go to a concert with her the weekend before she died. I had said no, thinking I would have another chance.

This year I’ve tried to be kinder. I’ve prayed more. I’ve cried a lot more.

I’ve laughed more.

I resolved that by the first anniversary of her death, I wanted to make peace with some old hurts and reconcile connections that were broken if possible.

I’ve dared to forgive, and asked for forgiveness in a way I never was brave enough to attempt until I lost the light of Theresa. I didn’t succeed in all my attempts; sometimes I was too afraid, and others I’m still working on.

But even in those situations, I have a new sense of empathy and compassion.

We met in youth group during high school, because our parishes shared a youth minister.

I went to St. Paul the Apostle, and she the Cathedral of St. Raymond Nonnatus, both of Joliet.

I don’t remember the first time I met Theresa, but I do remember a retreat we both attended at St. Charles Borromeo Pastoral Center, in Romeoville.

And because I’m a sentimental fool, I still have the affirmations from that retreat. I meticulously put them in a binder, and now I’m glad I did.  Affirmations were little notes we wrote to the other students, small group leaders, and youth group staff to make the experience special. Even if you had just met someone, you were encouraged to write them a simple note to say you enjoyed meeting them.

Luckily, I have two affirmations from Theresa saved. One is yellow, a piece of scrap paper, written in pencil. The second looks like it was ripped from a spiral journal or notepad, written in blue pen. Both times, she spelled my name right—a detail that many overlook. Some of my friends for years periodically spell my name “Amy.”

But Theresa paid attention to details. Both are signed, “Big Hugs, Theresa Lang.”

The messages were simple. But the point is, she took time to write them. At these retreats there were sometimes 20-50 people. It was impossible to write them to everyone, and some people chose to only write a few that were more in-depth, to their closest friends.

Theresa made time to write one to a girl she had just met, me.

Mostly, I regret that I never realized what an incredible friend was on the fringes of my life, and never ventured beyond being acquaintances with Theresa.

She was a blazing spirit. She hugged you with her whole heart.

When I feel a sudden urge to do something ridiculous and fun, that’s Theresa.

When I feel confident enough to talk to a stranger and find some little thing in common, that’s Theresa.

And when I can throw my head back and cackle until I lose my breath, that’s Theresa.

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