Caroline Turner took up oil painting at six years old. She painted a rabbit so immaculate, it looked lifelike.
Caroline Turner continued to draw life into the world around her throughout her 23 years. She would’ve turned 24 in September.
The young artistic girl from Hollywood, Florida, who loved trips to Disney, fashion and playing with Barbies, grew into an artistic woman studying psychology at UF with dreams of being an international lawyer, said Tamara Sessa, Caroline Turner’s mother.
“She had a great love of life,” Sessa said.
Caroline Turner, who died by suicide on July 8, always rooted for the underdog and lifted the spirits of those around her, including her mother and sister, who lived in Virginia while she was at school in Gainesville. Caroline Turner’s memorial will be held at Trinity United Methodist Church, at 4000 NW 53rd Ave., on Sunday at 2 p.m.
“She was a pleasure as a young girl up until she became a young, young adult,” Sessa said.
Sessa will receive an honorary diploma from UF in Caroline Turner’s honor, who had a passion for learning. She was valedictorian of her high school class after having difficulties throughout her educational career, mainly due to mental health problems, said her sister Marina Turner.
“She came a long way in many ways, and I felt that I needed her degree,” Sessa said.
Caroline Turner was five years older than her sister, to whom she was like a second mother, Sessa said. Caroline Turner was protective and thoughtful. She drove from Gainesville to Virginia in late April to be there for the birth of her nephew and help take care of the baby.
“She was a beautiful person inside and outside,” Sessa said. “She just had a goodness and a good soul. She was a kind, good person.”
Sessa has goals of working to advocate for mental health awareness in honor of her daughter’s legacy.
“Marina and I want to focus on mental illness awareness and to talk about it,” Sessa said. “I don’t think enough people are comfortable with talking about it.”
Marina Turner looked up to her sister’s genuine nature and ambition. Through advocacy, Marina Turner wants to use her sister’s story to make people realize that taking their life is not the solution.
“She had a really long battle with mental illness and she wasn’t really reaching out for help when she was feeling depressed,” Marina Turner said. “She wasn’t really asking for help when she needed it, and I think that’s really important for people.”
Universities nationwide, including UF, have seen an increase in the mental health needs of college students, said Ernesto Escoto, the UF Counseling & Wellness Center director.
“They are certainly not alone in this,” Escoto said. “We know that roughly one third of students on college campuses are struggling with any number of mental health concerns at any given time during their college years.”
Resources offered by UF include the Counseling & Wellness Center, U Matter We Care and GatorWell. Utilization rates of counseling centers have gone up steadily at UF and nationally, he said.
“Seek out help, reach out to someone, whether that’s a friend, family member, faculty and staff, resources that would be available on campus,” he said.
Despite the internal challenges she was facing, Caroline Turner brought life to those around her, including her best friend, Deania Mazotti, 19. Caroline Turner and Mazotti met as co-workers at McAlister’s Deli and became best friends the day they met.
Mazotti said Caroline Turner added joy to her life for two years.
“Caroline was always the person to tell everyone, ‘It’ll get better,’ and ‘Don’t stress about a lot,’ but I don’t think people realize that she was actually feeling that way more than anyone,” Mazotti said. “She was just indescribable as a person.”
Caroline Turner set her goals high, and always achieved them, Marina Turner said.
“She was a really, really kind hearted person,” she said. “She was one of those rare genuine people that always put other people before herself, and that’s what eventually led to her doing this, because she just kept giving away pieces of herself.”
If you or a friend is in distress, contact the national suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255.