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After My Sister's Death, I'm the Type of Girl Who Doesn't Cry in Movies

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Editor's Note

This article contains spoilers for the movie “Five Feet Apart”

My friend Allie and I were sitting in the movie theater watching “Five Feet Apart”; a young adult romantic and cliché movie about two people in the hospital who fall in love, but just so happen to have cystic fibrosis (CF). We were both waiting for the climax to come because we knew that someone would die. The idea is that two people with CF cannot be less than six feet apart from each other because bacteria spreads fast. This means they cannot kiss, have sex or even touch each other.

I originally thought that a tragic event would happen to one of the characters in love, but instead a minor character named Poe dies. Poe had CF and was best friends with the two other patients with CF, Stella and Will. In the movie, a nurse gets an emergency call from Poe’s room and rushes over, only to find him on the white tile hospital floor with no pulse. A bunch of doctors try to do CPR, but it’s too late. Poe, Stella’s best friend, is gone. As soon as the nurse pronounced Poe dead, all the teenage girls sitting in front and back of me started sobbing and whispering to their friends. My friend Allie was looking at me because I was not crying.

In 2016, my sister passed away. I do not know the exact cause of her death, but I do know that she was a fighter; she was stronger and braver than me by a landslide.

I have seen someone die, someone whom I loved very much. So how could I cry for Poe?

* * *

For a majority of her life, my sister Kristen could not walk, talk or eat because of her disease.

Kristen and I both have MELAS syndrome (mitochondrial myopathy, encephalopathy, lactic acidosis, stroke-like episodes). So does our mother, because it is inherited from her. According to my mother and a bunch of doctors, mitochondrial disease causes patients to have other medical problems. For example, my sister had type one diabetes, liver failure, heart problems, autism, ADHD and so many more medical diagnoses. I spent my whole spring break of junior year sitting in the ICU waiting room or sitting in her room. I did not realize how much I loved her and how much I needed her until she was gone.

* * *

Poe died in pain. He knew his condition was getting worse, but he never mentioned it.

While Allie watched the movie, engrossed, I got bored. I knew what was coming. I’d seen it a dozen times. The producers keep changing the disease, but other than that the protagonist always falls in love and always, ultimately, dies. Or one of them makes a huge sacrifice. I keep hoping for a new and different story.

My sister did not die on the hospital floor like Poe did in the movie. She died in peace, and I believe going to a better place. I knew that she was in mental, physical and emotional pain in the hospital even though she could not talk. She had been to too many doctor’s appointments and gone through too many overnight hospitals stays.

Kristen never had a chance to fall in love.

* * *

I do not know much about the medical definition of mitochondria. According to Google, “Mitochondrial disease, or mitochondrial disorder, refers to a group of disorders that affect the mitochondria, which are tiny compartments that are present in almost every cell of the body. The mitochondria’s main function is to produce energy.”

Beyond that, I don’t ask. I don’t really want to know.

* * *

In the movie, “Five Feet Apart,” the main character, Stella, explains that her sister passed away on a skydiving trip. Will is in his hospital room watching her YouTube video, admiring her beauty since he cannot be in the same room as her. He finds out that Stella had a sister named Abby, but after a while Abby stopped appearing in YouTube videos. Stella did not tell Will about her sister, Abby, probably because she did not want him to feel pity for her.

* * *

On a side note, I have type one diabetes and mitochondrial disease, but I am one of the lucky ones. I struggle in college with conserving energy. I get frequent headaches that feel like small migraines if I use up too much energy in a day. I look like a “normal” teenager on the outside, but on the outside, I am struggling with my health. I take over 15 medications three time a day mixed in these water bottles full of milk to withdraw the terrible taste.

I have my medications before breakfast, lunch and dinner and I give insulin through a pump when I eat. I am fortunate to be healthy and able to go to college. There are so many people living with mitochondrial disease who cannot even get out of bed in the morning. The disease is terrible and takes innocent lives.

I am now the type of person who never cries in movies.

* * *

After the movie ended, I caught up with Allie outside of the theatre. While she was getting an Uber on her phone, we made small talk about the movie and she said that she expected that someone would die in the movie. I contemplated telling her about my sister and what I have been through, and finally built the courage to tell her. She knew my sister passed away, but she did not know anything else. I turned to her and said, “The reason why I did not cry when Poe died is because I have seen someone I love pass away. Since I have experienced something so tragic in real life, I don’t find a reason to cry anymore. I know that movie is fictional.” She nodded and said, “I am sorry for your loss. I understand why you didn’t cry.”

After that short conversation I changed the subject.

* * *

I never told Allie, but I absolutely hate when people say, “I am sorry” to me after I tell them my sister passed away. People should not pity me. They should think of me as a stronger and brave sister, person and human. I never thought of myself as brave or strong, even after my sister passed away and since I have mitochondrial MELAS and type one diabetes.

This is one of the reasons I did not tell my friend, Allie, about my sister at first. I did not want friends because of pity or sadness. I want true friends, who care and listen to you. Since my sister passed away in 2016, I have hidden my emotions from my friends more often. They don’t know what I have been through and they will never understand. In some situations, I find it easier and better to not mention my sister like Stella did.

Even though “Five Feet Apart” is about two cystic fibrosis patients falling in love; I can still relate to the movie in several ways. Death is a powerful word and even more powerful when you watch it with your own eyes happening to someone you love.

Getty image via aerogondo

Originally published: August 24, 2020
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