Remelinda Tecson was known as a complex, loving person who was fiercely devoted to her patients. Sadly, the COVID-19 crisis set off a series of unfortunate events that ultimately led to her suicide.
Her daughter, Ashley Tecson, is speaking out about what happened to her mother and her struggle with depression during the pandemic. She doesn’t want to misconstrue her mother’s death by blaming it on the coronavirus. Instead, she’s focused on improving mental health among healthcare workers.
The Hero of the ICU
Remelinda Tecson was born in the Philippines, where she graduated from nursing school before immigrating to the U.S. in the 1980s. She first landed in Missouri before moving to Chicago, where she worked as an ICU nurse for the better part of three decades.
Her colleagues remember her as a passionate workaholic who didn’t mind working 16-hour shifts. She was a single mom raising Ashley all on her own. Her daughter remembers seeing her mom for just a few hours after school before she had to go back to the hospital, and then it was back to being cared for by babysitters.
Ashley says she knew her mother was dealing with lingering trauma, but she never talked about it. She says Remelinda was raised “not to complain or talk about feelings and just get over it,” Ashley said. To “pull yourself up by your bootstraps and never let anyone know you’re hurting.”
Ultimately, the ICU nurse used her profession to avoid talking about her feelings and ongoing depression.
“We clashed a lot because of that, and I know it wasn’t easy for her to figure out how to deal with an emotional American daughter,” Ashley added.
She remembers finding out that depression ran in her family, even though her mother never mentioned it. She could recognize it in herself from a young age, but it wasn’t until her mother’s sister died in 2011 that she knew her mom needed help. She says Remelinda was open to seeing a therapist, but never committed to the idea.
Ashley says her mom would compartmentalize her different “attributes.” She was the provider to her family, but was shy to strangers. She could then turn around and be the “life of the party” among friends. “I loved my mom and she loved me,” Ashley said. “By no means was she a bad mother — by no means was she a bad anything.”
She also noticed a change in her mother’s behavior as her depression got worse.
“It was basically a lifetime’s worth of buried pain and emotion that she couldn’t make sense of,” Ashley said. “She wasn’t herself. She told me she couldn’t see the beauty in colors or landscapes anymore, that she couldn’t remember how to pray, and didn’t see the point in celebrating a new year. She couldn’t pour a glass of water or turn on the TV for herself. Sometimes she would just sit in silence, and you could tell that her mind was in a downward spiral. It was scary and heartbreaking, and I was doing everything I could to help her.”
Witnessing the Devastation of COVID-19
Remelinda worked on the front lines of the pandemic in Henderson, NV, but her own health started to suffer when she discovered mold growing in the house she’d just purchased. As if working in the ICU during a global pandemic wasn’t enough, she also had to sell her house and find a new place to live.
In the early days of the crisis when little was known about the virus, Ashley says her mom became “incredibly frustrated” with how the hospital failed to protect its own staff, the spread of misinformation, and how “the general public wasn’t taking (the virus) seriously…how she was putting her life at risk for people that didn’t even care enough to try to protect themselves by staying home or wearing masks,” she said.
By this time, Ashley had moved home to be closer to her mom, but that meant Remelinda had to be careful not to spread the virus to her daughter. “By the time all that would be done, it would be time for bed so she could do it all again the next day,” Ashley said. “I also think bracing for the mass wave of cases amplified her anxiety exponentially.”
In the lead up to Christmas last year, Remelinda tried to take her own life. Ashley found her mother and rushed her to a local hospital. She spent a week in the facility before being discharged around New Year’s Eve. Ashley says her mom wanted to quit her job as a nurse because she was afraid of the stigma that comes with attempted suicide.
Ashley put her mom in a partial hospitalization program where she started to show signs of improvement, but it wasn’t enough. “She was learning how to open up, but it was incredibly overwhelming for her,” Ashley said.
On January 19th, Ashley found her mother dead in her bedroom. “I have been through a lot in my life,” she said, “But that is by far the most traumatic.”
Making Sense of Tragedy
After the death of her mother, Ashley has been trying to make sense of what happened.
“A lot of people want to blame the pandemic for my mom’s suicide, but to me, that feels misleading,” she said. “She had held in so much, never healed from her past, and didn’t know how to let anyone help her. She had come this far just by sheer willpower, but that’s not a sustainable way to live. When you add any kind of unexpected difficulty on top of that, it’s enough to topple over the edge.”
She says her mother would often “carry the weight of the world alone,” which may have played a role in her death.
“My mom taught me to be hard-working and responsible, but only as a means to go out and enjoy the world. She taught me to be independent — almost to a fault. She was a strong woman and continuously proved that she didn’t need anyone else,” Ashley added. “She also inadvertently showed me the flaw in that thinking — even if you don’t need anyone, having people to support you makes life a lot easier and even enjoyable.”
Ashey created the Remelinda Tecson Memorial Fund in honor of her mother. The funds will go towards the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.