Christina “Teena” Heim was an elementary school teacher in the Bronx for over two decades. Her daughter tells her story
Today, we are sharing the story of Christina “Teena” Heim, a devoted mother, wife, and teacher who died at age 73.
Christina “Teena” Heim was told by faculty at her high school that she probably shouldn’t attempt to “bother with college” — because her grades were low. But, per her daughter Angela Nicosia, Teena took that as a challenge. She thought: “Well, I’m going to prove you wrong.”
And she did. Teena went on to receive two Master’s degrees — one in computer science and one in teaching. She taught elementary education in the Bronx, New York, for 25 years. She truly seemed to find her life’s calling as an educator, Angela tells us. Everything she touched in the classroom turned to “gold” — even when she had to turn to her own resources to support her students.
“Teaching was my mom’s life passion,” Angela remembers. “She used to meet some of [her students] at the NYC library on weekends to show them how to navigate it. She also used her own money to buy them school supplies, as the school budgets were very limited and most of the kids couldn’t afford to buy their own.”
Teena retired from teaching in 2002. Less than two decades later, just last month, the beloved educator died from Covid-19 complications.
Teena was born in the Bronx on August 21, 1946. An only child in an Italian family, she was raised in Parkchester — going to church and hanging out with friends on the street corner. It was on that street corner that Teena met Edward, the love of her life. “For six months they dated — and she didn’t know his name. She thought his name was ‘Mouse,’ because that was his nickname,” Angela laughs.
Edward and Teena married in 1970, and a few years later, they moved to nearby Pearl River, New York, to raise their two kids — Angela and a son, also named Edward. But Teena commuted into the city each day to teach elementary education at NYC Public School 36. After retiring in 2002, she became an avid golfer. She learned the sport to spend time with her husband, and at one point, she even served as president of three golf leagues.
But retirement couldn’t keep Teena out of the classroom. She continued teaching at her local Catholic school, where she helped children learn Bible passages. “Teena always had a smile on her face, and was so patient and kind to the kids,” the program’s director Marie Gartner remembers.
Beyond teaching, family was the center of Teena’s life. She loved having people over for dinner, and her daughter says her meatballs were “out of this world.”
In her later years, she frequently traveled with her children and grandchildren — and in fact, got one last trip to Disney World in October. “It’s almost like things happen for a reason, you know? It was awesome. She saw my kids in Disney, which is exactly what I wanted,” Angela told us.
This past February, before the Covid-19 pandemic ravaged New York City, Teena and her husband were on a trip to their vacation home in Boca Raton, Florida. They went out to dinner and, in an effort to snag a great table, told a white lie to the server: She said it was her 50th anniversary with Edward, although the actual date wasn’t until July. “I have a picture of that,” Angela tells us. “She got to celebrate her 50th anniversary in February.”
Ultimately, Teena spent her actual 50th anniversary in a hospital ICU.
In March, Teena, who still lived with her family in Pearl River, became infected with the virus — as did several members of her family.
“She baked an Irish soda bread for me and left it on my doorstep because we couldn’t see each other because of Covid-19,” Angela told us. “It’s the last I ate of her cooking.”
Her rheumatoid arthritis put Teena at a greater risk of complications. Teena’s symptoms escalated quickly from lack of smell to a high fever; her husband experienced no symptoms, while her son just developed a few headaches.
“I remember a vivid image of her over FaceTime, wiping her chest and forehead of sweat,” Angela tells us. “She’s like, ‘I’m sweating profusely. I don’t know what this is. I can’t explain this horrible feeling.’”
Soon enough, Teena’s severe symptoms required medical attention. She entered the hospital in late March — and ultimately spent 115 days first at the hospital, and then at a long term care facility. At one point, Teena appeared to be doing better, leading her family to think she may have recovered from the virus. But that was short-lived — after 70 days, she still was testing positive for Covid-19.
Towards the end of July, Angela, her father, and her brother received news they had been dreading from the hospital: Teena’s heart rate had dropped. “I was crying, ‘You gotta be kidding me!’” Angela tells us. “I knew that maybe that moment would happen, but there was always that hope.”
Teena died on July 21, 2020, at the age of 73. “She just did whatever she could for her kids,” Angela said. “Even up to the end, my brother was saying, ‘We can’t lose her. She did so much.’”
Our hearts are with Angela, husband Edward, son Edward, and their loved ones at this time.
This originally appeared on Medium.