My Alcoholic Sister Knew She Was Going To Die

Photo by Mélanie Berliet
Photo by Mélanie Berliet

It’s not the first time I’ve rummaged through my older sister’s stuff. But alone in Céline’s childhood bedroom on the day after her death, at 30, from cirrhosis, for the first time I don’t run the risk of getting caught.

I trace the underwire of a powder blue silk bra. Wonder whether she purchased it with a specific guy in mind. Touch the sleeve of a heather grey cardigan to my face. Eskimo kiss it. Recall how, for a time, we both favored clothing in this comforting color. It wasn’t often our wardrobe tastes were so aligned. I consider an ill-advised faux snakeskin clutch. Each item—even the junky stuff—is hard to part with. All of her belongings mean something to me. Don’t they?

“Don’t be an idiot,” I hear my sister say.

I put everything away.

But just as I push the top dresser drawer shut, I catch the corner of a black-and-white composition notebook peeking out from beneath a stack of rumpled short-sleeved t-shirts. I grab it feverishly, as if the answers to every unanswered question must lie within.

Sitting cross-legged on her twin bed, I prepare to dig in. Only the first few pages are filled, revealing a journal entry scripted in my sister’s enviable hand, written from the psychiatric ward of the Manhattan hospital where she spent many nights towards the end.

This, I know I will keep.


I’m not one to keep journals, not for lack of thoughts or the ability to convey them coherently, but rather because there is something of a daunting permanence that inherently, to my own mind at least, accompanies that which transpires when ink hits paper and the mind is exposed and rendered vulnerable in this way. I do not enjoy revisiting my mindsets once they’ve past—don’t enjoy what can be pain, either a relived pain or pain in having to realize that there was once a moment so precious that it was worth recording but can never be lived again.

I pause to digest this last statement. So beautiful, and yet, so troubling.

This all sounds rather heavy when in fact many times I simply deem my musings and experiences utterly dull and unworthy of noting. All this just to write, in excessively loquacious fashion, that I am not by habit a writer—of my own experiences and the goings on of my own mind, at any rate.

Here today I find myself having just been admitted to the psychiatric ward at St. Vincent’s hospital in lower Manhattan. The story that has led me to this place is not easily narrated succinctly, nor do I wish to indulge in a tedious rehashing of it at this time. If you’re reading this, one of three circumstances must be true:

  1. You are in fact me
  2. You are a terrible snoop

I laugh, because this is directed at me. Céline knew me too damn well.

  1. I have died and this trifle of ramblings has surfaced in the cleaning out of my belongings.

Her prescience too chilling, I begin to weep.

None of these cases inspires me to present a recent, cohesive history about myself for fairly self-evident reasons.

I mention that I may be dead if these words are being read. It is something I ponder lately—my own longevity. I may in fact be on my way out, an idea I have not borne out of some morbid fascination with melodrama, but rather is a fear shared by numerous members of the medical community.

So here I find myself in the psych ward, on the fifth floor, which I’m continuously assured is for the “least crazy” or “most stable” of us, though I’m entirely unconvinced the patients on floors one through four don’t hear the same chorus. Anyway, I landed myself here “voluntarily,” though strongly recommended by the physicians I saw over the course of the past six days, which I spent hospitalized across the street for delightful ailments such as vomiting blood, etc.—details neither necessary nor interesting. Bottom line: They didn’t want to let me loose on the street because they deemed me to be thoroughly depressed, and, perhaps of more immediate potential liability to them, suicidal.

I probably am depressed—this I concede fully. However, I maintain that I am not now, and never have been, a suicidal person—if only because I’m much too terrified of dying (dying, not death—an important distinction in my way of thinking).

Céline once told me that she didn’t fear the concept of death one bit. Her acceptance of mortality impressed me. I hope she sensed that.

I’ve just filled three pages in a composition notebook, which is an exorbitant amount of babbling for a first time journaler. It’s 9:22pm, so I’m going to go call my mom from one of the two payphones in the hallway before it gets too late. Since I don’t have any minutes left on my phone card from rehab a few weeks ago, I’ll have to call collect. Mom was supposed to deliver clothes and candy for me today, and even though she can piss me off like no one else and the wrong glance from her can send me immediately into a state of intense anxiety, resentment, and frustration, I was nevertheless excited that she was planning to come by—and not just because of the goods she would be delivering. On the up side of disappointment, I can request a few more important items for her to bring if she’s coming tomorrow instead. It turns out you’re allowed many more varied personal items in the psych ward than in rehab. Wow, there’s a sentence I never thought I’d say. I can’t believe this is my life.

I can see my sister’s expression as she experiences this minor epiphany: sad, then bemused before giving way to appreciation for the ridiculous. Life! Who asked for it?


Well, off to bed now. I’m actually feeling properly sleepy, and not just direly fatigued as over the past few months. This would be more satisfying if I could claim it to be indicative of some natural healing process within my body, but I must instead attribute the welcome prospect of impending slumber to a tiny little pill. Apparently they’ve found one that won’t (or shouldn’t) do any additional damage to my already fucked up liver. I can only hope I’m not facing eight hours of horrifying nightmares. Wow, I sound cynical and bitter this evening. I think I’m a relatively pleasant person in reality, so I’ll cease today’s ramblings before I get on my own nerves.

I repeat this last phrase. It’s funny, in my sister’s trademark self-deprecating style. I’ll recycle it. But whose words will I poach moving forward?

In the grand tradition of the most illustrious Jerry Springer, a “final thought”: “She said she usually cried at least once each day not because she was sad, but because the world was so beautiful and life was so short.”

As I close the composition notebook, I’m still crying. But I am happy—proud to be the sister of such an articulate young woman who was wise beyond her years. Along with the journal, I take a bottle of Xanax from a large brown paper bag containing her leftover meds. I never have trouble sleeping, but I figure the pills might come in handy some day. Funny how easy it is to take something like sleep for granted. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

Photo by Mélanie Berliet
Photo by Mélanie Berliet

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