By Camilla Gana
As life went on after December 9th, 2016; the day that my sister passed away of a drug overdose. I never thought I’d ever have to use the words “My sister passed away” at such a young age. Growing up I have witnessed friends who have lost loved ones such as uncles, aunts, and grandparents. Being there for my friends during those tough times, I was always able to sympathize but never really understood the feeling of what it’s like to lose someone. Throughout those times being there for my friends always included having a shoulder for them to cry on, having an ear to listen to, giving constant hugs, reassure them that they’ll be okay and always reminding them they are loved. During those moments of them trying to get an understanding of how they were feeling, was almost like being a personal therapist for them. Once after going through the loss of my sister, I truly understand the feeling of what it’s like to lose someone so close to you, and it is definitely the worst feeling.
To begin with, not many people knew I had an older sister. My dad had another child from a previous marriage, from before he had met my mother. Logically, Courtney would be considered my half sister, but regardless of our family situation we were super close when we were younger. That being said, my family never liked using the term “half sister/ half sibling”. Growing up, Courtney didn’t live with me. She lived with her mother, my older brother Billy, and her step dad in South Boston. My sister and I still kept a super close bond, until she reached the high school years. She was influenced into the world of drugs, drinking, and smoking. As she continued through high school, she ended up dropping out of school her sophomore year. Since she didn’t live with us, my dad couldn’t take matter into his own hands because her mom had full custody. As Courtney continued to go on with her life, there were good and bad times.
When I was in 8th grade, she was 20 years old. Courtney no longer had to deal with the custody issues between her mom and my dad. She still lived with her mom, brother, and step dad, but they now lived in Dorchester, an area where drugs are easier to get around the streets. By that time I was thirteen, therefore I paid more attention to my surroundings, comprehending what was going on. I knew why my dad would either get very frustrated or remain humble after a phone call with my sister. I began to realize after my sister coming over to visit as often as she could why my mom would either yell at my father for bringing her to the house, or be very happy with her visit. I unfortunately remember the times where Courtney passed out at my house, once in the middle of dinner. Because I was so young at the time, my parents always told me it was “dehydration”, but that wasn’t the case.
My dad did everything he could to support her. He would bring her to rehabilitation clinics, take all her electronics away to keep her from those who influenced her bad habits, take her to doctors to get special medication, you name it he did EVERYTHING he could to help her. There was never a time when he wouldn’t help her. My dad would do anything to help his daughter, meanwhile who wouldn’t want to help their kid in that situation. Someone once told me “not everyone can be helped, some people are just too damaged,” as well as “treatment can’t help everyone, only to those who want to be helped”. Being so young, this was something I should not see through someone I love and care deeply for. Because of the situation, I began to slowly distance myself from my sister. I unfollowed and unfriended her on social media, and my parents and I decided it would be best I blocked her number for a little while. Sometimes distancing yourself from someone you’re close with reminds you of the good times you’ve once had and how much you love them.
As time moves forward, during my junior year of high school. My sister and I had been slowly, but surely, reconnecting throughout my sophomore year. Before school started in September, I was sure my sister was doing okay. I hadn’t reached out to her too much at the start of my junior year because I was adjusting to my new daily routines of school, cross country and track. I found out the terrible news about my sister passing after a fun night in Boston with my best friends. It was 11:30 pm, and at that moment I had been taking to my parents, we were all sitting down around the kitchen table talking about our night. My dad’s phone was ringing and I saw it was Lisa- Courtney’s mom. I got up from sitting down in the kitchen with my parents to go change out of my clothes from dinner. As I’m in my room my dad picked up the phone and I hear him say “WHAT!? Courtney… NO” I quietly make my way standing in my doorway listening to the conversation between Lisa and my dad unsure what to think. I felt a knot in my stomach as if something bad were to have occurred. Seconds later, I see my dad running past my bedroom from the kitchen and making his way into his bedroom with tears on his face. I see my mom go after my dad and they shut the door on my younger brother and I. I slowly tiptoed to their door, trying to listen to their conversation. I shed a tear while listening to them. Without them telling me what was going on, I had already understood what had happened. It was the least unexpected news to hear after such a fun night. I wiped the tears off my face and pulled myself together to go check on my little brother James. My life was going to change from that very moment and I was not one bit ready for it.
As days went by, the news still hadn’t hit me that my sister was no longer alive. Receiving all these messages from friends, family, teachers and mainly anyone who knew my family saying “Sorry” felt bizarre to me. I didn’t know how to react to any of this. It had felt like a bad dream. Meanwhile, I said my last goodbye to my sister at her wake. The last time I would see her face. One of the moments I’ll never forget that day of the wake was the last moment I said goodbye to my sister. I knelt down next to where she lay, with my three best friends Jeannie, Steph, and Christine all holding onto my shoulder. I whispered in the palm of my hands saying “I hope I make you proud someday. No matter what I choose to become in the medical field, I hope you follow along my journey and give me strength. I love you so much”. Long before my sister passed, she always believed and told everyone that I’d become the successful child of the family someday. My sister knew how important my future was to me. I know best to believe she did not want this to mentally affect my school and daily life. From there on out, I knew I needed to be strong for not only for myself but my family most importantly.
Here and there, we all come across those crappy nights where our thoughts control our mind. Nights like those happened way too often following the days after my sister passed. Mine consisted of looking out into sky with music blasting through my headphones. Gazing at the stars one night after it all happened, I remembered the tattoo that my sister had on the back of her ear– a star. I continued to constantly looked out into the stars at night, and even on the cloudy nights I saw this one bright shiny star that stood out so much compared to the other ones. There I kept to myself, always remembering that it was my sister always shining down outside of my house. Courtney was so fond of stars. The morning after, I dragged my mom to take me to a Pandora store where I bought a ring. I wear this ring everyday on my right hand index finger. If you look closely enough at it, you’ll see that it’s a ring band full of stars. It gives me comfort that I always have my sister shining down on me. If I were honestly ever to lose this ring, I’d lose my mind. I’d be like Christina from Grey’s Anatomy, when she lost her eyebrows before her wedding ceremony. I’d go ballistic.
As much as I wish I could’ve stayed home to be with my family, I had to go back to school sooner than later. I hadn’t taken too much time for myself before going back to school, but it was okay. But before going back to school, I had gone to track practice first. I had reached out to my track coach Kim, who I am very close with and told her all that happened. I explained to her that running is my stress reliever and how I would greatly appreciate if I could go to practice. I overjoyed when she said I could go to practice, despite me not going to school. That first day of going to practice was well needed. Being around my friends and teammates, doing what I love was the best decision I made. It was raining on that Tuesday afternoon, so practice was indoors. Because I hadn’t gone to school, I had to be a little sneaky and try not to run into any of my teachers when entering the building. Entering the main doors of my highschool and walking down the main stairs to the cafeteria, not only did I see my teachers, I SAW EVERY SINGLE TEACHER OF EACH DEPARTMENT IN THAT CAFETERIA ALL AT ONE MEETING. “AH SHIT!! WHY DOES THIS ONLY HAPPEN TO ME.” I think to myself in a panic. My stomach dropped. I put my hoodie on my head and tried not to draw any attention to myself and walked quickly to the gym. I knew that I was fine and that any teacher would’ve understood, but I just wanted to avoid the awkwardness of running into any teachers and the awkward conversations with it. Safe to say, getting all the negative energy out of my system that day by running was the best feeling.
The first day going back to school felt weird. I felt more nervous than excited, mainly unsure what to think. Walking through the halls, I had the best of friends who were walking alongside me, watching out for me and would distract me throughout the day. But the moments I was alone, there were times I felt panic and played with the rings on my fingers to avoid making awkward eye contact with anyone and the conversations of people asking me if I was okay. Thinking to myself, I wanted to be the last of anyone’s concern right now because my goal was to be okay. My mom needed to make sure my dad was okay. The last thing I needed was for someone to talk to me about my sister during school, which would probably make me more upset than I had already had been. With the help of my best friends Jeannie, Steph, Christine they made my first day back at school good socially.
While I was socially doing well that first day of school, the next thing was approaching each of my teachers. I was slightly more nervous with the thought of approaching my teachers because experiencing something so big, I wasn’t sure how they would react and if they would be understanding of my situation. The last they heard from me was the night after Courtney had passed away. I had made a group email with all of them, explaining the loss in my family and my situation. The first teacher I had seen that morning was Mr. Buck, my history teacher. That morning we were presenting projects, but Mr. Buck kindly offered to allow me to present on a different day if I wished. I ended up deciding to get it done and over with, so I presented. After class Mr. Buck gave me his deepest sympathy along with telling me how strong I was for going up and presenting, which was so kind. I then headed to my next class, Spanish. Ms. Aragon had spoken to me outside in the hall to me before class had begun and she gave me her condolences. She was a little speechless and unsure of what to say, but let’s be real, I wouldn’t know what to say either. She had assigned a project but informed me not to worry that I would be excused from needing to complete it which was so nice of her. Then it was my favorite class of the day, Chemistry. I had received a kind email from my chemistry teacher Mr.Bridge earlier that morning, so walking into class that day had felt like it was a regular class period, thank goodness! After chemistry I had lunch, which I had sat with my friends Christine and Jeannie in the library to get away from the loud lunchroom setting. During lunch, sitting with both of my friends and telling them about how my day was going and having them distract me left me with a sense of reassurance and comfort. Once the bell rang to attend the next class, I began having an anxious feeling as if there were butterflies in my stomach. I wanted to avoid seeing my resource teacher (study hall) Mr. Philpotts. As I’ve witnessed him with other students, he’s always being on top of some students with completing their work. As for my case, I wasn’t sure if he would immediately discuss work that I needed to catch up on when I really felt I really needed a break that period. Therefore instead of going straight to his class, I began walking around the school with Steph- one of my other closests friends to stall time so I wouldn’t have to go into the classroom. Fifteen minutes after roaming around the school, Steph needed to go back to her study class. I was left alone, unsure of what to do. I had walked by my english teachers class Ms. Pleats and although I had her class the last period of the day, I thought it’d be best to talk to her and see what I had missed. But before going in there, I saw Mr. Philpotts at the end of the english hallway and he had spotted me. I open the door and rushed inside Ms. Pleats room with adrenaline racing through my body, paranoid as hell and began blabbing my mouth to her about who knows what. She was a teacher I had adored and really enjoyed her class so talking to her she thankfully calmed me down and began asking me how things were going. We had a nice conversation, which was slightly unexpected because I didn’t know how any teacher would react, but she was so incredibly kind. Ms. Pleat did see how overwhelmed I was and called Mr. Phillpotts to let him know I’d be working with her during that period. As for my last class of the day, I had an easy transition from already being in Ms. Pleats room to staying in her classroom the last hour of school. In English class that day, we were working on our papers about the Crucible. I hadn’t missed too much for English from the few days I was absent. Overall, my first day back to school was okay.
As the weeks go by, not many people know that I am still struggling to try to keep myself busy so that I don’t have to think about all that has happened to my family. But nobody ever said it was easy. Here and there during school, many people have asked me how I came back to school so soon after all that’s happened. There have been many times in school where I’ve been called down to the guidance counselor’s office, or where I’ve gone to get advil at the nurses where both women mentioned, “You should consider talking to someone. Perhaps your advisory teacher Beckett!!” I understand as the young adolescent I am that when a tragedy occurs in a family, families tend to notify the school and this leads to faculty members trying to be as helpful as they can and be a resource for the student. But in my case, I am not one who likes to open up to people and talk about my feelings. I never have been, and I never will be. I try to be as independent as I can be, so I politely say no to both the nurse and guidance counselor and explain to them that it isn’t in my interest to speak to Beckett. Nothing personal against Beckett, she is a wonderful woman, but I just don’t feel comfortable.
Personally, speaking about my issues isn’t a beneficial way to cope. I don’t want to remind myself about the dark times I have came across and how it affected my family. Just because I may not speak about my situation, doesn’t mean that I don’t grieve. I do grieve. I choose not to speak for a reason. Reminding myself of how unfortunate a period of my life was, will do me no good. Everyone copes differently. That being said, I don’t want to rely on telling someone else my personal issues at home. Throughout the experience of losing my sister, I found the best way for myself on how to express my feelings is in my writings. I would never hold my thoughts back like a bubble, I know how unhealthy it is and have seen people get hurt. Therefore, I couldn’t be more thankful that writing is the way that gives me relief, weight that is lifted off my shoulders. Even though I haven’t opened up as much, there are still so many people who have supported me and have been an uplifting spirit in my life during such a dark time for my family and myself. I am forever grateful.
For the longest time, like any other kid, my goal has been to try to persuade my parents to get us a dog. Ever since Courtney passed away this past December, life at home has been dark and twisty. Although it probably wasn’t the best time to ask my parents for such a big favor, I did it anyways, not only for myself, but to bring something new into our life that could affect us all in a positive manner. It was now April 9th, 2017. Exactly four months since my sister passed away. I’ve noticed my dad usually isn’t in a good mood for a few days before and after the 9th, but this month he was okay. The night before, the 8th, he had came into my room once I got back from a night out with my friends. He sat down on my bed and asked me to run an important errand with him the following morning. That morning my dad had finally told me that his plan for day was to get a tattoo that my sister had on her arm, but on his arm including her death date as well. I had been wanting a small tattoo for myself of my sister’s birth date but didn’t plan on getting one on this day. I had planned on getting one once I turned eighteen.
Later that afternoon we went to my dad’s friends house, who is tattoo artist. While my dad was discussing his ideas of where and what he wanted on his arm, I was sitting on a couch. I heard soft whimpering noises, which sounded like little puppies crying in the corner of the room. I asked my dad’s friend Greg where the noise was coming from and what is was. All of a sudden he pulled out two baby yorkie puppies out of the basket from the corner of the room and placed one of them on my lap, while handing the other puppy to my dad. I was squealing with happiness while the little brown yorkie pup was on my lap. I immediately took my phone out and began taking as many pictures of it as I could. I posted an obnoxious amount of photos and videos on my snapchat story. I was enjoying my time with the little pup, and I turned my head to the left and saw that my dad seemed so happy as well. I hadn’t seen his kind, genuine smile in so long, which was something that I missed terribly. Then I began asking Greg basic information on the puppies, mainly to see my dad’s reaction. I knew by the look of his face he didn’t want to put the puppy down. Nevertheless my dad then said to me “I have been wanting a dog for the longest time. Convince your mother to say yes and by all means we will get a dog.” Hearing those words come out of my dad’s mouth made me jump with happiness. I took a picture of my dad with the little puppy and sent it to my mom before Greg began preparing his equipment to start the tattoo process.
My dad had been sitting on a chair resting his arm on an armrest for almost two hours. I still had the puppy scrunched up on my lap, constantly texting my mom to try and persuade her by sending her pictures of the puppy, but in the end her response was no. Although my mom had said no to me, I knew that once my dad and I went home and he told her about the puppy, she would have no other option other than to say yes. Time flies by when playing with an adorable puppy and sooner than I expected, my dads tattoo was finished. My dad was in a very good mood that afternoon and he had said to me, “Camilla I know you wanted to wait until you’re eighteen to get a tattoo, but since we’re already here it’s fine with me if you wanted to get one today.” I was absolutely stunned hearing those words come out of my dad’s mouth, it was something I never expected to hear from him so soon. However, I already had an idea of what kind of tattoo I wanted and where I wanted it.
I made the decision that I would be getting my sister’s birth date in roman numerals on my ribcage. I know what you’re all thinking! How the hell are this girl’s parents letting her get a tattoo at such a young age, when she could still pass as a middle schooler. I ask myself the same question everyday. I laid on a table like the ones that would be seen at a doctor’s office for less than twenty minutes for my tattoo to be complete. Generally speaking for myself, I did not experience any terrible pain in the process of getting my tattoo, thankfully. Many say that the ribcage is the most painful spot to get a tattoo. Obviously on my part I chose to get my for my first and last tattoo in the most painful spot. For the most part, I just had to keep breathing through the process of having the sharp needle poking on my skin. If I hadn’t, I would’ve cried like a baby.
In conclusion to my tattoo experience, I was very pleased with the outcome. This was something I knew that I would never ever regret. This was something truly forever meaningful to me in my life, and that’s what mattered to me most.
After losing a loved one, every month is hard. Except I knew this month- May 2017 was gonna be the hardest. It had been five months since my sister has been gone. We had many events planned ahead for this month. First was my dad’s birthday on May 1st, following my older brother Billy’s birthday on May 11th. Then on May 14th we attended a mass at the church where my sisters funeral was at. I hadn’t told anyone, not even my best friends, that we were having it. Only because I didn’t want to draw any attention towards myself or my family. My family and Courtney’s mom’s side of the family all attended the mass to remember her as her birthday was approaching. Days before my sister’s birthday I was mentally preparing myself for all the tears I would see. I had come such a long way trying to keep how I feel on the low, except my dad hadn’t been doing too well this month at all. And seeing him upset breaks my heart. Handling all of this is hard and sometimes I get scared because I think that I might crack under pressure. But I remind myself to stay strong, because Courtney wouldn’t want anyone to be upset during her birthday.
On May 16th, we celebrated and remembered my loving sister Courtney. It was a beautiful day, such a beautiful day. I began my morning by going on a long run around the Charles River to clear my mind for the long day I would have. Afterwards, my dad and I went out for a nice breakfast and coffee- our favorite things. I love that my dad and I share a love for coffee, despite my mom hating the fact that I drink coffee because I’m so teeny tiny. Times like these where I get to have a nice moment with my dad makes me appreciate all that he’s done for me and admire how incredibly strong he is and the progress he’s made these past five months after losing a daughter. My dad and I have a very close bond and I would do ANYTHING to take his pain and guilt away. From what I’ve seen my parents go through and experiencing the loss of my sister as well, the loss of a child is a nightmare to any parent out there. So the thought of putting yourself in any parents shoes out there that have lost their kids, almost seems unimaginable.
As the day went on, around 1:30pm I met up with my sister’s best friend Charlene. For the evening ahead, Charlene and I had planned that for my sister’s birthday- my family along with Courtneys moms family would go to her favorite spot growing up which was Thomas Park, in Dorchester. Making our way to Party City, balloons that we had boughten were theses light pink, heart shaped helium balloons. As we are waiting for our order of fifty balloons, a party city worker comes up to me and Charlene saying “We ran out of heart balloons. So far you have a total of thirty heart balloons. Would you like us to inflate the silver star helium balloons?” at that moment I had freaked out a bit because I looked down at my ring remembering how I thought of my sister as a bright shining star outside of my house. In that moment I thought to myself “what a coincidence…”. Afterwards Charlene and I had left party city with a total of thirty heart balloons and twenty silver star balloons. The next stop was to a local bakery to get cupcakes for the birthday memorial, because my sister loved cupcakes. When 6pm came, there my dads side of the family and Courtney’s moms side of the family gathered together at Thomas Park. Charlene and I began passing out balloons and once everyone had a balloon, we wrote a quick birthday message to my sister. Once everyone had their messages written, we all gathered in a circle and at the count of three, we let go of the balloons in the sky. It was a beautiful and unforgettable sight.
To come to an end, my Junior year of high school has been one hell of a ride. Despite all the events that have occurred in the last few months of my life, I have learned so much about myself. I’ve lost a lot and gave a lot, but in the end it has made me the person I am today. No one ever said it would be so hard. Like any other human being, I do come across having bad days here and there, but I have the best support system of family and friends right behind me. In the end, I am okay. I am able to think of the good times I had with my sister, which is a beautiful thing. This obstacle has made me stronger and so much more mature as a person. I would not be the person I am today without my family, friends, and others that have helped me through the loss of my sister. I have never felt so loved. To be right where I am. I am okay.