what i want you to know about my sister

mysisterIt’s hard to know where to begin when talking about my sister, her life and her death, my relationship with her.

She somehow managed to be both one of the most complicated and one of the most simple people I’ve ever known. She got caught up in a lot of problems early in life, some were circumstances that were put upon her, some were situations brought on by her own choice. At the same time, she genuinely cared for her family and the people around her, she asked for her nephews and niece every time my brother and I spoke with her and she’d give you the shirt off her back.

I didn’t speak to her much in the years leading up to¬† her passing- she and I were very close at one time and the path she chose took her far from me. When my dad married her mom, she was two years old and I was twelve. I remember going with her to gymnastics and screaming the lyrics of some song to each other in the parking lot- “I saiiiidddddd I LOVE YOU babbbyyyyyy!!” over and over and laughing our heads off. When I left for college, we’d talk on the phone for hours about boys and clothes and friends.

As she got older, tensions between she and my parents grew. She’d begun running away from home for days at a time and we suspected she was using drugs. By the time she was in high school she was in and out of teen programs. At one point, my husband and I considered becoming her guardians at the advice of a social worker but that didn’t work out (and in retrospect I’m not sure it was what she needed anyway). She’d stay with us for several days at a time because I didn’t want her at home fighting with our parents, and I didn’t want her on the streets, or worse, taking refuge with strangers.

Things finally came to a head when I found out I was pregnant with my first child- I couldn’t put anyone before my baby anymore. I couldn’t do the sleepless nights or tear-filled days of worry anymore, or the constant conflict I was in with the rest of my family for what they perceived as rescuing her. Other than at rare family gatherings, I didn’t talk to my sister for the last 5 years.

A week before she died she called me. She’d just come back from a rehab program in Tucson and sounded really good- she had a clear head, she was listening as much as she was talking and she was asking if I’d be willing to work on our relationship. I was so glad she called, and I told her that we had a long journey to getting back to where we were, but yes, I also wanted to work on our relationship. We concluded that we’d talk again soon, told each other “I love you” before hanging up.

This past Friday I was at the office when my brother called and told me they’d called 911 when she was still sleeping and unresponsive mid-day that day. She’d been taken to the hospital where she was on a respirator and still unconscious, that they were being told that she was not well. I wrapped some things up and went across town to meet them. When I arrived it was obvious to me that she was not going to recover. My stepmom argued over Ziba’s bed with doctors about doing some procedure and having her air vaced to another hospital where it would be performed. My dad was somber and tearful, my brother and I tried to make sense of it all and have hope.

On Saturday at the second hospital, the room was eerily silent except for the sound of the respirator, her body was still but for her chest rising and falling. My parents had already been there since the wee hours, and I told them to go home and get some rest, that I would stay. For the next 6 hours, specialists came and went telling me one variation or another of “she has a 5% chance of survival”. Our worst nightmare was actually happening, my sister was not going to live. I was not going to get to scold her about making changes and living her life right this time. She was experiencing multi-organ failure. Her heart had stopped, her lungs had each collapsed, each side of her brain had suffered a major stroke and now her liver and kidneys were ceasing to function. Her body lived only because it was hooked up to drugs and machines. On Sunday, October 2, we had to make the heartbreaking decision to “withdraw care” and she was pronounced dead.

A lot of people have been asking about my sister and what happened to her. Honestly, I’ve been embarrassed to say that my 23 year old sister died from taking drugs- its self inflicted, its beneath her, but she also had a tragically difficult life and she was trying to kill the pain, not herself. I want you to know that I love her and although it makes my heart ache, I will think of her every single day and miss her more than anyone or anything. I want you to know that I’m not angry, that I know she had her own choices to make, her own path to follow. I want you to know that she died from using drugs. We don’t know exactly what she had in her system, but she did tell my family she’d used bath salts. I want you to know what bath salts are, and I want you to talk to your children and friends. Bath salts aren’t really bath salts at all, they are the name for a chemical, man made product designed and sold solely for consumers to get high. They are legal because they say “not for human consumption” on the label, and they are available at gas stations and mini-marts. “Bath salts” are now illegal in 5 states, but not here in our home state of Arizona.

I want you to know that right now I can’t make sense of it, that our little family will never be the same. I want you to know she was unique and special and can never be replaced.


  1. Jen,
    Thank you for sharing this story. Your strength to do so is hard to imagine. Words cannot express how sorry I am that you had to tell it. I admire your courage and love for your sister. I’ve read a lot about what bath salts can do and frankly, I’m here and willing if you want make them illegal here–I’ll help. Love, hugs and prayers for great memories of your darling sister. Susie

    1. Thanks Susie, yes, I would love to talk more about what there is to be done. I don’t know how to go about it but I would love to see it illegal here in AZ.

  2. Jennifer, you and B.J. Are very special and we love you very much. I am so sorry for the loss of Ziba but feel comfort knowing she had a wonderful family that will always keep special memories of her alive.

    1. Thanks so much <3

  3. Jenn, this is a beautifully written cautionary tale AND a lovely way of honoring Ziba’s memory. I hope it was also cathartic for you; we should all be fortunate enough to have someone love us as deeply and passionately as you do her.

  4. I hope you feel the BIG hug I want to give you right now. You are a dynamic young woman with a powerful message. Thanks for sharing. Love ya

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