Losing Erin

Mar 21, 2011

My sister Erin died on Memorial Day, May 26, 2008. She was 33 years old. She died of congestive heart failure due to intoxication of medication. At the time of her death she was not abusing any type of medication, but the combination of some of her meds did cause her death. She always told me that she felt her story needed to be told. She felt she was having this experience so that others could learn from her mistakes. She taught me so much about endurance, love, compassion and never giving up.

Erin was an amazing person. She was always serving. At home growing up, Erin wouldn't talk a lot, but she was always there serving us. When I got off my mission in 1994, Erin was my roommate at Ricks College. We did everything together. She became my new companion and it was hard to be away from her.  When we moved to Utah we lived together for several more years. She was my best friend. She was always kind and loving to me. We had so many wonderful experiences together. Sometimes it is hard for me to drive around town now. I have memories of her everywhere. I see them before me and I feel this deep pain and ache for my sister.

Erin had health problems for most of her life, but she hardly ever complained. Most people would never know how much she suffered at times, including  me. She had severe allergies that kept her from eating, chronic kidney stones and chronic bronchitis, just to name a few symptoms. After Erin moved to Ogdento attend Weber State, I didn't see her as often. She was always so busy.  I really did not realize how sick she was until one time she called and asked me to be with her while she was waiting for a kidney stone to pass. I cried all night with her. I could do nothing but watch her suffer. I found out that night that she had suffered many times like that before, but on her own.

I think it was around that time, in 1999 that she might have started self medicating herself. She was a nursing student at Weber State and almost workedherself to death. Erin had a learning disability that made it hard for her to talk. She could think of things to say but couldn't always express those thoughts with words.Despite having the learning disability, she passed all of her classes. She endured a lot of harsh criticism from one of her teachers because of her disability. Her teacher even implied to some of the other students that Erin was "stupid." Erin fought hard against that teacher and brought more awareness to the school about learning disabilities. She endured that trial with amazing grace, but inside I really think it killed her. She started to change shortly after she graduated. She moved back to Orem to live with me and I could sense that something about her had changed.

After I got married in 2001, Erin moved to Salt Lake. She seemed so lost, but as always she worked hard and remained positive. She had roommates that were so mean to her. They would say mean things to her and steal her medication. She had throat surgery for some issues she had with hyperparathyroidism. They removed one parathyroid but her PTH was never normal. She had a painful recovery and needed pain meds, but one of her roommates broke into her room and stole the medication she needed.  Erin eventually moved in with our older sister and got a great job at a hospital working with newborns.

I started to notice some significant changes in Erin. She didn't seem very happy and complained a lot. It was getting harder and harder to please her or find something to make her happy. She got irritated easily and her health problems really started to increase. She started to tell me about different medicines she had tried and I remember being concerned, but honestly didn't give it much thought. She often complained about our sister, who was nothing but generous and kind. After watching her struggle through several more health problems and financial issues, I suggested that she move home. I regret that I ever gave her that advice.

After the encouragement of several family members, Erin did move home December 2004. She got a great job at a hospital in Denver, she was living rent free with my parents and seemed to have things under control that first year. But then some things slowly started to unfold. She got in trouble at work and was accused of stealing medication. I believed everything Erin told me, so when she started telling me people were accusing her of things that weren't true, I always believed her. She started saying things about my parents that just didn't seem right. I would often say to her "that doesn't sound like something mom or dad would say," but I would believe her. I couldn't figure out what was wrong with my parents and why they were treating Erin like a child. I did not realize that Erin was on medication. She kept saying she missed Utah so we planned for her to come out and stay at my house for a week. My mom warned me that she was different. I didn't know what to expect. I opened the door and was shocked at her appearance. She was not the same beautiful girl she had once been. Her speech was slurred, she had gained a lot of weight and she seemed like she could fall asleep at any minute. I felt nervous to have her around my 1 year old son, but didn't really know why. It just seemed so wrong. This was not the girl that I trusted and loved. That week was a challenge and an eye opener to me. I watched her sneak medication when she thought I wouldn't notice, I watched her fall asleep at weird times and heard her say a lot of really odd things. I finally started to clue in on the day she was supposed to go home. Before we left my house she told me she was afraid to go home because she had stolen money from our dad.  She locked herself in the closet and wouldn't come out. She had a phone with her and she tried to get the airline to change her flight.  She would not come out for anything and I finally
realized something really bad was happening. She did end up going home that day, but she was never the same person again.

To say the next 2 years were terrible is putting it mildly. Our family lived in constant fear that Erin would die. She became sneaky, dishonest, sloppy, angry and defensive. She lied, stole, ruined my parents property and figured out how to get medication on the internet. I couldn't tell you what she took now, but she took a lot of it. She had meds delivered to a Fed Ex store so my parents wouldn't know. She did a lot of things that I don't even know about.  Things my parents have never told us because it was just too hard and painful to explain. My siblings that lived in Colorado close to Erin had to ban her from seeing their children. They didn't trust her. She got 2 DUI's, lost her license, totaled her car and couldn't keep a job. At one point my brother and sister confronted her and asked if she was suicidal. They wanted her to know they were aware of her struggles and they were there to help her.  We didn't realize even then how much lower she would have to go.

Erin eventually ended up going to a place called Santa Fe house. My parents were ready to let her live on the streets and this was the alternative. It was a drug rehabilitation center. At this point in her life she really was trying to get better, but it turned out to be a disaster. They treated her terribly and she eventually left the program and moved back in with my parents. While she was in rehab, my second child was born. It was so hard not to have Erin there. I wanted her there, but felt grateful she couldn't come. It had started to become easier to ignore Erin. I wouldn't answer her calls because it was just so hard to talk to her. I didn't want to hear all the garbage and I just didn't have the energy to deal with the constant issues. I still did not even realize until after Erin died how terrible things really were. My parents endured some awful things during that 4 years. If only I could turn back time, I would have believed my parents and given them more support.

One good thing about rehab for Erin was that she finally decided she was going to make important changes in her life. She worked regularly with her Bishop and he suggested she go to the LDS churches 12 step program. She tried with all her heart to overcome her addictions. I learned that a lot of times with addictions, you can pick up other issues along the way. Erin continued to have severe health problems and developed severe anxiety. She had so many fears, but she tried to overcome them. She would go to the library and check out self help books. She would often make a small change, but then a health issue or sometimes a mental issue due to meds would cause a huge setback.  I could see she was making some progress and felt hopeful, only to watch her fall again. It was so painful and upsetting to watch.  When she came to visit me I had to hide all medication and give her strict rules. She did seem to be a little better when she would come to Utah to visit. She felt at home here and she loved being with my kids. She was working so hard to come back. She wanted to start over and be that amazing, hard working, talented and beautiful girl again. Each time she would fall, she would come back a little stronger. I have never seen anyone work as hard as Erin did to get better and to come back to who she really was.

I remember in January of 2008 Erin called to tell me that she had lost 10 pounds. She had been working out and eating better. She told me this was her year. She felt impressed that things were going to change and she was so anxious to get going. I felt so excited for her. I was so proud of her and finally starting to feel that it was possible for her to change.
Just as she started to get on that good path and establish good habits, she had another setback. She was walking outside after a snow storm and slipped on the ice. It caused her a lot of pain and she couldn't do much. She also got strep throat and bronchitus around the same time. I remember feeling so frustrated for her and asking Heavenly Father to just give her a break. She had been trying so hard! Why did these things always happen to her?

She continued to work hard for the next several months to come back. She always had setbacks, but she was making progress. Erin and my mom decided to come to Utah in May to attend a family wedding. I felt very nervous for Erin to come. I didn't know what to expect. But it was a wonderful visit. It was so nice to be with her. And I felt impressed not to make rules for her. There were also a couple of things that she did while she was staying at my house that bugged me. I almost said something to her, but felt prompted not to say anything at all. I am so grateful I didn't. When she was leaving, I remember thinking that our time together was just too short. I told her I wished she could have stayed longer. It was hard to see her go.

I was shopping with my sister's at Old Navy when we found out Erin had passed away. She had been very sick for 4 days with another case of bronchitus. I had called to talk to her but my mom said she was too sick. My parents were both with her when she died. She was walking down the hall with my mom and fell down on her knees and then fell flat on her face. She never caught herself so we believe that she died before she hit the ground. It was a tender mercy to us to have her die quickly. My mom dialed 911 while my dad tried to turn her over, but he could never move her. The paramedics tried to revive her for over an hour, but they could never even get any oxygen inside her body. My parents called us and the first thought I had was she is finally free of that sick body. Her body was like a prison to her. It all seemed to make sense to me at that moment. Erin had tried for so many years to do it on her own. She suffered through pain and sickness, disappointments, huge setbacks and trials. I know all of us go through those things, we all have trials, we all have hard things happen. It just seemed to me that Erin never, ever got a break. And after all those years of struggle, she took things into her own hands and started to medicate herself. My sister became a drug addict and she died because of the effects of medication.

When Erin died, I had to absorb myself in everything that was hers. And I had to see her. We went to the funeral home and I had to hold her hands and stroke her face. I smelled her hair and looked at her beautiful face. As weird as it sounds, I discovered that even though she had been embalmed, her earlobes were still soft. I would stroke them over and over. I had to put on her make-up for the day of the funeral. I had to help pick out her temple dress. I had to speak at the funeral. I had to go through her room and decide what to do with her things. I had to design and pick out her gravestone. And I had so much guilt. Why didn't I save her? Why didn't I take her away from the struggles she had? Why did she struggle with addiction when she was so strong? Why was I ever unkind to her? Why didn't I do more for her? Why didn't I listen to the promptings I had to serve her more? What was going to happen to her? What was she accountable for? So many questions still flood my mind. Sometimes I shut them out because they are so painful.

I miss Erin deeply. It feels like I lost her years ago, not just on the day she died. As her world became absorbed with medication and other influences, I lost her.  I have read every journal, gone through every picture and every item in her room to try and find her again. I wake up thinking about her and not a day goes by that I don't want her with me. I miss her laugh, her dancing, her cooking and her hugs.  She taught me so many wonderful things. Despite her addiction, she had a deep love and testimony of Jesus Christ that never waivered. Erin wanted others to know, so when they ask what happened to her, I tell them. I want to share her story so that maybe it will help someone else. It is painful to live without her but in her lifetime she taught me so much. I know I will continue to learn from her for the rest of my life.





John on 03/22/2011
I lost a very dear friend to addiction. She died when she was 26 yrs old. I asked many of the same questions you did and still do. I served as a 12 step missionary for the LDS Church and met many other people who had a substance addiction. I know first hand how difficult it is to deal with an addict's drug seeking, drug induced behavior. Even though they can behave so terribly, they still need to be loved. They are struggling with an almost impossible burden to overcome. I am inspired by the love you showed your sister. I am inspired by the love and care your parents gave to your sister. I hope that your family can find peace with her passing. I am positive that your sister loved you and wanted to change. With addiction, a person's love for others and desire to change, most of the time, are not enough to save themselves. Addiction is a terrible disease, no less worse than any other chronic, life threatening disease. Thank you for telling your story.

Miggy on 03/22/2011
Wow. Thank you for posting this story. As I grew up in your and Erin's ward (hi!) I remember Erin just as you described her in the earlier paragraphs. Kind, tender-hearted, quiet. I had no idea she suffered so much. I do remember hearing about her last years and all I remember thinking was Erin??? It made no sense. Well it does now...as much as these things can make sense. You're a great big sister and I'm sure Erin knew and knows that. Thanks again for writing and sharing such a beautiful and heart wrenching story.

Jerrie on 03/30/2011
Thank you for your story. My sister passed away 5 months ago. She also was a nurse & the last year of her life, she was changing. A New boyfriend who wanted her to try drugs to relieve her constant pain. She had suffered from severe asthma since she was 4. She too collapsed on my moms kitchen floor and they never could revive her. Her autopsy showed no drugs & she died from bronchial asthma. she was only 38. Everything reminds us of her. I know we will be together again, but it's so hard to live on this earth without her. When I read about her soft earlobes, I too felt compelled to rub my sisters ears because they were so soft. Thank you for sharing your story. Our family is on a mission to make sure people know how serious asthma can be. We fund raise for the American Lung Association now in her memory. No one can take away a sister bond.

Terry on 04/05/2011
We have dealt with drug addiction for years with different family members. It is a horrible illness. There are times that I can't imagine they will ever get better... Be grateful that your beautiful sister is in the hands of the Master Healer. He and He alone has the power to help heal her and He will! Best wishes to you and your family. I truly feel your pain.

Stacy Palmer on 08/01/2011
I felt such a strong pull to read this blog post. I'll be 33 next month. In January 2009 I was admitted to the hospital and was there nearly a month for parathyroid problems and had a parathyroidectomy, needed a walker for a while suffering short term osteoporosis all while recovering from having surgery on my foot. I had many more illnesses that year, got pregnant with my 4th child, dealing with mental illness issues for the past 10 years, had my 4th child and seriously felt like I needed a break, only to be told that my oldest child had terminal brain cancer. At times I think that I had a problem with medications, while other times I feel I just needed something for all the physical and emotional pain that I was enduring. My heart goes out to your family. I feel so much for your sister... I feel that maybe I'm not so alone in things that are happening in life. I felt I needed to respond to this post. Although I'm struggling with faith right now... you are in my thoughts.

Jillian Efishoff on 12/12/2011
Thank you for sharing your story. I lost my brother last month to what will probably be declared an over dose. He was my best friend and only sibling. I can't imagine going through life without my life long buddy, but now I'm forced to. The pain is immense.

Cole Donaldson on 01/01/2012
It is comforting and wonderful to read the love spilling out onto the page,a very real picture of the suffering and the residual damage addiction causes to so many people around an addict. I myself am,I like to say, a recovered addict, since God has after 13 years of battling addiction, and depression caused by it self loathing to the point of considering suicide, lifted the desire to want ot self medicate. I still have ot watch myself constantly, not to cross-addict and feel my feelings that surround me when I feel the urge to take a tranquiliser,sleeping pill even though those were not what I was hooked on- they do offer a osrt of escape from terribly difficult feelings that are sometimes seemingly impossible to process, and dela with life on life's terms. I am a single mother to 2 beautiful daughters and fell pregnant at the height of my drug use- which I was tricked into trying by, who is now my ex husband, and th efather of my girls. H etold me that this stuff would take away my headache! yeah right! on a good day I thank God for my addiction as it brought me to my knees, and made me realize I needed God, who I previously didnt believe I needed. I had my life fully under control! So, in His goodness he sent me a brick to smash my windscreen at mach one speed to give me a wake up call! Life has not been kind and its one huge struggle currently but I DO BELIEVE that the best is yet ahead. With my drug of choice, there is evidently a 2% lifetime recovery rate, and I plan to be staying in that catagory and finishing strong in this life. You are all so correct about addiction-it is a demon that roars into your very depths of your soul and holds you prisoner, without a way out to be seen. its entrapment and utter destruction and its not wanted by the person trapped. A craving, I can only liken it for non addicts, to feeling so starving hungry and having no food to eat. It alters who you are and how you behave in that state. Its all you can think of and your mind begins to accelerate into fast, wildly, flinging thoughts all around getting the stuff to make the 'hunger to away".Its pure, unadulterated and undiluted hell! I like Winston Churchill quote "if you are going through hell, keep going". My heart goes out to all of you who have suffered such devestating loss in your life through this despicable, evil tool, used to prey on those with emotional issues and tricked into believing it will "heal' the hurts. God bless you one and all. Lets all keep hanging onto Jesus, He is the ultimate overcomer.. in my case.. clinging to Him for dear life, one day at a time to be here to raise my girls well and see all of us lead good, healthy and fulfilling lives.

Cole Donaldson on 01/01/2012
what a beautiful lady Erin was!

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