How An Abused Little Girl from Italy Helps Millions

Note from Becki: This is a guest post from Chris McMurry, who I met today along with his father, Preston. Their story is interesting and I wanted them to share it.

Summary“I recently contacted Becki Duckworth, the owner of this blog, about domesticshelter.org, a new, first-of-its-kind searchable online and mobile database of domestic violence programs in the US. You can read more about the free service from Theresa’s Fund and National Coalition Against Domestic Violence here.

As it turns out, Becki lives in the same community as I do. She is new to town. I figured she could use new friends. And having read her story, I thought it would be healing for her to hear a similarly remarkably tale my father, Preston, recounts about his second marriage and wife; a chronicle that gave rise to Theresa’s Fund and all the good it has done since 1992.

The origins of Theresa’s Fund reach back to the conclusion of World War II, to a ravaged Italian nation and a child fathered by a wandering shepherd and sometime coppersmith. High upon a mountain top, 100 miles east of Rome, a child was born who would, in her time, bring both heart-ringing sadness and opportunity for renewed life to people living across the U.S. Her name is Donna Theresa.

She was born the sacrifice. Emotionally detached from the events of her horrific childhood abuse in a desperately successful triumph of sanity and human endurance, the price she paid for survival was a total loss of her childhood memory. Gone forever are the memories of a broken hip and eardrums, tortured by the coppersmith’s fire and worse; then finally her rescue and adoption by loving American parents by age 5, who renamed Theresa … hoping to blot out the past … to Donna.

But children are who they are going to be by that age. So Donna unknowingly carried the physical and emotion scars of her personal tragedy into her adult life and into her first marriage with my father, Preston, himself an abused child. It was a marriage of souls at peace. It was a compassionate union. Yet childhood ghosts haunted their relationship.

They struggled privately and without complaint. They sought help. For ten years they attended weekly counseling sessions. Donna would come and go, periodically, as the exploration of the past occasionally became overwhelming. The couple soldiered on and progressed, and the decision was made to answer the question everyone must know: who am I and where am I from?

Donna was born in Agnone, Italy, a village teetering on a cliff edge, overlooking a valley of vineyards. Millenniums past, the Romans fought and died there along a meandering stream. Today the ancient discolored buildings of stone and peeling stucco cling to one another for support. The streets are shaded, cool and cobbled in granite taken from nearby hills where sheep graze in the summer months.

The sound of footfalls and bubbling fountains echo along narrow streets, but there is not a word to be heard about the secrets of the private lives living there. Some things are “as forgotten,” they say. But Donna needed spaces filled in where emptiness existed. With Preston, the couple drove east from Rome through mountain passes and across a valley back home, as though back in time to Donna’s birthplace.

Aided by a young woman, a local English teacher, they found the city courthouse, a dark and musty place. As luck would have it, the young woman’s father was the local judge. He woke the clerk of courts on the day they arrived in Agnone. Encouraged, the huge book of Births and Deaths, was retrieved by the clerk and opened, beginning the long, and for Donna, the agonizing search for her roots.

Finally, after much turning and racing down dust-covered pages, the clerk’s finger stopped. He paused, looked at Donna, then spoke words foreign to her conscious memory, uttering the name that would have a life-altering impact.

“Theresa,” the clerk whispered. “My name is Giovanni. I am five years older than you. I remember you. We played together in la piazza.” Then the rest of the story came tumbling out. Three half sisters still living; two in Italy and one somewhere in America. Different fathers. Alcoholism. Both parents deceased at early ages. There followed a visit to a long empty home where she had been born 35 years earlier on a dirt floor, and then, the refused invitation to visit her parent’s grave site.

The discovery was neither the beginning nor the end. But, it was the beginning of the end for Preston and Donna’s marriage. The trauma of discovery and the reawakening was more than the marriage could sustain. Some short time after the couple returned from Italy, Preston arrived home one night from a short business trip. He entered his home. He discovered it was empty. His beloved wife gone. All that remained were his books, clothes, a bed and his TV. No note, no message, not even a phone call. Theresa has simply vanished. And with her Donna. The date was April 23, 1990.

During the following years that my father required for recovery, from the shock of his loss, he resolved to “do something about child abuse and family violence.” That something became his crystalline clear purpose in life through the creation of Theresa’s Fund, which has gone on to help change the landscape of domestic violence services and awareness in Arizona, and now through domesticshelters.org, across the country.

In August of this year, on the very same day that Donna Theresa passed away from inoperable cancer, the new site that promises to help millions of victims fittingly and coincidentally launched. Some years before this time Donna Theresa and Preston had reconnected as friends. Before she died, Donna Theresa asked Preston to give her eulogy, which he did. She also asked that he join her second husband Frank to deliver her ashes to Agnone. Which they will do together early next year. At long last, there was peace.

Thank you Becki,

Chris McMurry
Director of Theresa’s Fund”

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One Response to How An Abused Little Girl from Italy Helps Millions

  1. Denise Hisey says:

    Becki, thank you for sharing this story. Chris, your story captured my attention from word one. Preston’s conscious choice to make something positive from such a sad situation is quite beautiful.

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