Summary:

Paragraphs 14 & 15 read: "Shortly before she died, her mother had started a new medication for depression and was having hallucinations, Williams said. Her mother had told her doctor about the hallucinations, but she didn't get the help she needed, Williams said. Ojala killed herself on Nov. 1, 2001."

"'She was a strong person. She had been through way more than taking these pills. She loved all of us,'" Williams said. "'We had a hard life, but to this day, I strongly believe it was the pills that caused her suicide. I hope I can help someone else by talking about this. If someone's mother or brother or sister is having a hard time with a medicine, they should take it seriously.'" 

http://www.duluthsuperior.com/mld/duluthsuperior/living/14538852.htm 

Made to mother

BY LINDA HANSON
NEWS TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
Terri Williams' life overflows with children.

The married mother of two provides child care for up to five children and is a foster parent to three. And for the past 4 years, she has raised her younger brother after their mother's suicide.

Chase Kirkwood, now 14, thinks the world of his sister. Although he grumbles when she scolds him or doesn't let him buy something he wants -- such as a miniature electric motorcycle that she doesn't think is safe -- he knows Williams will always be there for him.

"I get mad sometimes, but I remember she's my mother figure," he said.

His Mother's Day wish for Williams is "to get to relax," he said. "She needs a break sometimes."

While dealing with the day-to-day struggles of life, family members often forget to show each other how much they're appreciated. Last year, Chase let Williams know by entering her in a contest sponsored by Younkers and Charter Communications to find someone who deserved a makeover.

"When I was 9 my mom died and I miss her so much," he wrote for the contest. "The loss of my mom is so sad and hard on me that if I didn't have my sister, Terri, I don't know what would have happened to me. ... She never takes time for herself or buys herself anything nice. I just wish I could give her back just a little of what she gives to me every day (herself). Terri is the best sister anyone could have."

With that letter, Williams won the contest -- and $1,000 in clothes and $250 in makeup, plus hair styling, a manicure, a pedicure and a night's lodging at Grand Superior Lodge in Two Harbors.

Discovering what Chase wrote made her feel special, Williams said.

Her life is so busy caring for children that some days she struggles to find time to squeeze in a shower. But she doesn't think she does anything extraordinary.

"I go day to day, just doing what I have to do," said the 33-year-old Duluth woman.

SURVIVING HARD TIMES

Life was not easy for Williams, her brother and two sisters when they were growing up in Superior.

Their mom, Donna Ojala, was a single mother on welfare who had grown up in extreme poverty and struggled with depression, Williams said.

Shortly before she died, her mother had started a new medication for depression and was having hallucinations, Williams said. Her mother had told her doctor about the hallucinations, but she didn't get the help she needed, Williams said. Ojala killed herself on Nov. 1, 2001.

"She was a strong person. She had been through way more than taking these pills. She loved all of us," Williams said. "We had a hard life, but to this day, I strongly believe it was the pills that caused her suicide. I hope I can help someone else by talking about this. If someone's mother or brother or sister is having a hard time with a medicine, they should take it seriously."

Their mother left a note asking that Williams raise Chase. But 10 days after Ojala's death, Chase's father, whom he hadn't seen since he was 3 years old, announced he wanted Chase. After a $10,000 legal fight, Williams and her husband, Lamond Williams, received custody.

Chase doesn't remember much about the time surrounding his mother's death. But he remembers his mother.

"She was nice," he said. "She was outgoing, sort of. She was protective, but not too protective. One time a reporter came to my school and she let me be interviewed."

Chase describes Williams as funny and sometimes strict.

TAKING CARE OF KIDS

Williams and her husband have two children: a son, Darcell, 13, and a daughter, Tatum, 23 months. The number of children in the Williams' home varies. Williams usually has three to five children in her home child care and the couple is licensed to care for two families of foster children.

Williams said she and her husband dream about having a bigger house with more bedrooms and bathrooms so they can help more kids.

"My purpose in life is to take care of kids," she said.

Williams said her two sisters, Jodi Ojala, 34, of Duluth and Shanda Yang, 25, of Brooklyn Center, Minn., give her a lot of support with Chase. The sisters were in foster care for one month when they were children and Williams believes that helps her understand what the foster kids she cares for are going through.

"I believe the hard things in life are for a purpose," she said. "It helps me with the kids. I grew up with nothing. ... Some days, there was nothing in our home to eat, but my mom always found something for us. It was a hard life, but a good life. It made us who we are today."

Kim Bunnell of Superior, who is an aunt to the four siblings, said they have been through a lot and the sisters have pulled together to make sure Chase is well cared for. "I have such respect for all of them," she said. "I love them."

Jodi Ojala described Williams as a "giver."

"She's a very good mother," Ojala said. "She doesn't take enough time for herself. She's very family oriented. She's come a long way in gaining confidence."

As Chase, an eighth-grader at Woodland Middle School, stretched out on the couch in his family's home, he listened with a slight smile as Ojala and Williams praised him.

"Chase is amazing," Ojala said. "He's so funny. When he was younger, he was so shy. It's time he takes center stage. He's so handsome."

"I can't disagree with that," Chase quipped.

"He's also a very kind person," Ojala said. "He likes animals and is artistic."

Williams said her hope for Chase is that he grows up to be a good person, and that he gets a good job and has a family. "I just want him to have a happy life," she said.

Amid her busy life, Williams continues to grieve the loss of her mother. Sometimes, she said, she imagines her mother still is alive, living in Superior.

"Mother's Day is hard," she said. "It's a struggle every day. But I'm grateful all my kids are good kids."

LINDA HANSON can be reached weekdays at (218) 723-5335 or by e-mail at lhanson@duluthnews.com.