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'I'm still learning to live a life without my beautiful sister Alana.'

In four years, I’ve come an extremely long way – both physically and mentally. But it hasn’t been easy.

Warning: This article deals with issues surrounding eating disorders and suicide and could be triggering from some readers. 

On July 22, 2011, I arrived home from work to learn that my beautiful sister Alana had taken her life at the age of 23, after suffering from the effects of anorexia nervosa for almost a decade.

I remember in minute detail the painstaking ride to the police station that evening and laying flowers at the train station in the pelting rain. This was the end of Alana’s life, and life as I knew it. It was the beginning of my new life without Alana, which was, put simply – hell.

Read more: What really killed Alana Goldsmith wasn’t on her death certificate.

Since this tragedy, I have struggled immensely with the fact that I no longer have a future with Alana.

Unlike my friends, I no longer have the privilege of gallivanting around the world with my sister, watching her walk down the aisle, witnessing her journey through motherhood and selfishly knowing that she will be there for me when the going gets tough.

After Alana’s death, I felt empty inside. Absent was a sense of control of my life, which even now is often dictated by unpredictable and overbearing feelings of grief. Previously joyous occasions, for example, birthdays and Christmas, are now days of profound sadness. I no longer look forward to them, rather I dread and just hope to survive them.

Alana Goldsmith.

Alana was receiving treatment at a specialist Eating Disorder Hospital on the day that she died. Given she was able to leave undetected twice that fateful day and her absence go unnoticed for hours, my family requested an inquest into her death.

The inquest lasted eight exhausting days and extended over six months. Listening to the evidence was like a slow torture but we were buoyed by the prospect of raising awareness of the serious shortcomings in resourcing and care for those with mental illnesses such as anorexia nervosa.

My parents and I wanted to ensure that Alana’s suicide and the outcome of the inquest became catalysts for change, so we went public with her story, in conjunction with The Butterfly Foundation, which works tirelessly to advocate for the plight of those with Eating Disorders.

In July 2014, four years after Alana’s passing, the findings were handed down. The Coroner described the matter as complex and harrowing, and I concur. (Editor’s note: The coroner said that more could have been done to check on the mental health of 23-year-old Alana Goldsmith on the day she died – but that the failures were not the ultimate cause of her death.)

The court process left me feeling exhausted and overwhelmed but it did provide some answers. Contrary to common belief, the process did not bring “closure”. I view closure as an overly simplistic concept that only compounds feelings of angst for the bereaved.

Milestones like this do not close anything. In fact the end of the inquest sent me into a downward spiral, my wounds of hurt, grief and loss were open and raw.

Judy and Alana Goldsmith, on holiday as a family when the girls were young.

Following the inquest, I was more confused than ever before about what lay ahead of me. All I knew was that I wanted to maximise my life and Alana’s as well. Seeking something new and transformative, I quit my comfortable, full-time job in media without any plans in the pipeline.

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I finally secured a new job, which requires me to live overseas for 11 months of the year. Having being fortunate enough to have studied and worked in four countries before the age of 25, and travelled extensively from Kazakhstan to Russia, from Lebanon to Syria and from Rwanda and Tanzania, this would normally be an opportunity I would immediately embrace with open arms. But I struggled. It was daunting to even begin to imagine leaving my family, friends and boyfriend, who had been pillars of support since Alana’s passing.

I was in two minds about this offer because I believed that I was not as strong and outgoing as I used to be and very much doubted my capacity to live an independent life.

Simone, Alana’s sister, in Jamaica.

It’s June 2015, four years since losing my role model and confidant, and I have been working in Jamaica for four months. I’m here producing an economic report on this Caribbean nation for a high-profile international magazine. I am elated to be living on the island, which makes up for its small size in vibrancy, colour and personality. Jamaicans are well-educated and eloquently spoken, and exude a confidence that reminds me of my high-achieving, vivacious sister before she became tormented by anorexia.

Alana once was a bubbly blonde who had already made a name for herself: dux in high school, winner of an Australian government export plan competition, fluent in Japanese and a graduate with an Asia Pacific Studies degree from a Japanese university. In a similar vein, Jamaica boasts enviable natural beauty and allure, and has earned a remarkable reputation in many arenas including music and sport. Alana would have liked it here.

Arriving in a country about which I knew very little and where I knew no one was frightening yet exhilarating. I threw myself into the deep end and have reaped enormous benefits. I no longer feel that life is taking me for a gruelling ride, but rather I feel empowered to take control of my life. This is not to say that being away from family and friends has been easy. It hasn’t. My often heart longs to be in familiar circles but as Bob Marley once said “You will never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.” These words ring true and I take each day as it comes.

My love for my sister is as strong as ever. I have days when I just want to scream at the injustice of Alana’s premature death but I know that in the long run, I will benefit greatly from undertaking this challenge.

Simone in Jamaica at a local school.

I am sharing my journey because I want to send a message to others who have endured traumatic loss and who battle every day with their grief.

While you don’t need to quit your job and relocate to Jamaica, I implore you to take a leap of faith and to challenge yourself in some way. You will crawl, fall, trip and crash but I assure you that ultimately you will find great comfort in the most unexpected places and be rewarded for your precious courage. I surrendered myself to Jamaica and found sand, sea and song but also solace and strength. While I may not be able to sprint like Usain Bolt, this adventure will definitely help me to stay on track and to keep running the race of life.

If this post brings up any issues for you, please contact The Butterfly Foundation on 1800 ED HOPE (1800 33 4673). If you need someone to talk to, please call Lifeline on 131 114. You can also visit the Lifeline website here and the Beyond Blue website here.

Want to read more about coping with grief?

Mia: There is no ‘closure’ when you’re grieving.

The unimaginable grief of a widower put into words. Heart wrenching words.

“I’m slowly experiencing true grief for the first time.”

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