As told by her mother, Nancy Newton Blair
Her real name was Sydney but she changed it. She was a makeup artist, and she changed it professionally to Elodie about a year before she died. So she was going by Elodie, but I will probably call her Sydney because that was the name I gave her. And I tried very hard to be the great mom and go by what she wanted, but I always mess up. She will always be Sydney to me.
She was a creative genius. She was so smart, very book smart. She started reading early. When she was in first grade, she was reading on an eighth grade reading level. She read everything she could get her hands on. But she was so creative, too.
In high school, she learned about makeup and wanted to do that, so she watched tutorials and taught herself how to be like a professional makeup artist. She went to college and studied psychology but then, after her sophomore year, she came to us and she’s like, Mom and Dad, I really feel like I’m wasting my time. This is what I want to be. And we were like, that’s fine. There’s no point in spending two more years getting a degree if this is what you want to do. Go for it.
She was very empathetic, had tons and tons of friends, loved everyone, everyone loved her. Anybody she ever felt like they needed help, she was there. She was our youngest, and her senior year of high school we had this revolving door of girls that lived in our house. She was always there. And there was always somebody there, which didn’t bother us. I was glad that they were in our house. She was always, if there was an underdog, if there was somebody who was being picked on, Sydney was always the first one that was there to say, “This was my friend, leave them alone.” She was incredibly loving and caring and giving.
Her last relationship was with a man who was not good for her at all. He was very, very manipulative, very abusive, but he would call her and say that um, you know, “I need you. I’m so upset, I’m so depressed.” Or he would try and you know, he would cut himself to act like he was going to commit suicide. And she would be sucked right back in. And it just really brought her down.
FOUR TERRIBLE DAYS
She took [a toxin] on Feb. 19. They declared her brain dead on Feb. 20. And then they took her off of life support to harvest her organs on Feb. 23. So it’s like her I guess her official death date of death is Feb. 20th.
So instead of having one day, it’s like four terrible, terrible days. It’s the whole range of, well, this day, this is what happened. My husband and I lost our first son at birth. And, you know, it’s like, I had that one day, and that was horrible. And then 14 months before she died, my husband passed away from a heart attack. But they’re very finite moments. I only have to relive, you know, a few hours here, a few hours there. With her, it’s like I have to relive these four days. But if I had not chosen, if we had chosen not to donate her organs, they probably would have removed her from life support on the 20th. Because we did that, they kept her up on life support until they could find recipients.
She was 26.
Of 45,979 reported suicides in the U.S. in 2020:
• 5,528 were deaths by poisoning.
• 12,495 were by suffocation.
• 24,292 were by firearm.Source: National Vital Statistics System – Mortality Data (2020)
EARLY STRUGGLES WITH DEPRESSION
Sidney had suffered from depression. I always go back to this, when she was in the seventh grade and this girl on the bus had convinced her all the cool kids cut themselves. We had moved from Atlanta to a little town in North Carolina called Blowing Rocks, which is very small. The kids’ school was pre-K through eighth grade, and there were 400 kids. So very small. So she was in a brand new school and everybody has lived there most of their lives. It was just very different from where we had live before. And this girl on the bus convinced her to cut herself.
We didn’t know about it for a while. When we finally realized it, we got her into some therapy. Another big mistake that I made was there are not a lot of qualified therapists where we were, and we wound up having to go to another city. At that point I was like, you know, a child therapist is a child therapist, and we’ll get her the help she needs. Now I look back and realize, okay, that therapist was not qualified to treat her. She kept just saying we need to take more dinners together as a family at the table, which we did mostly anyway, but that was her answer to everything.
Sydney saw a therapist through high school. When she got to college, she on her own went to the University Health Department and found a therapist and stayed with that therapist until she died. I just feel like she was just one of those souls that, like you said, the empathy, just taking on the weight of the world with them. It was just too much for her. And maybe I knew that.
So many people say they didn’t see it coming, and I didn’t see it coming at this point in her life, but there were times in her life when I fully expected to get that call. And it’s very frustrating you know, because now I’m like, why didn’t I do more? Why didn’t I do more? But I really felt like at the time I did all that I could.
Sometimes it’s just like, if you’ve got a severe illness, sometimes no matter how much medicine you throw at it, it’s not going to ever cure you. You know, my husband had Stage 4 lung cancer when he died. No matter how much medicine they threw at it, he wasn’t going to live. I feel like sometimes with our children’s mental illnesses, it’s the same way. It was not any different than a physical illness. We do not as yet as a society recognize that mental illness is no different from physical illness.
We actually found a folder of poetry she’d written that really kind of showed how she felt about herself and how she felt about her depression.
‘I WAS SEVERLY DEPRESSED’
A lot more became kind of clear to me after she died. Within in 14 months, I lost my husband, my father and my daughter. I was severely depressed. So many parents who are in the support groups, they want to be with their child; they want to die and be with their child. But I don’t want to. I want to live. I have this thing inside of me that says I want to live. My daughter didn’t have that thing inside.
She had signs that she was spiraling into a deep depression again at that point, other than her apartment, that she had not shown to me. Normally, her friends were really good about messaging me and saying, “Hey, Sydney’s in trouble.” They had not said anything to me. I think they all kind of blamed this guy and thought, “Okay, if we can get her away from the guy, she’ll be okay.”
The day she died was just kind of like this perfect storm. She had let her bills go because she was giving money to this guy, which I found out later going through her stuff. Her car had been repossessed just that day. I think it was just this perfect storm of things and it was like today’s the day. She had [the toxin] which I didn’t even know was a thing. She had it, so she was prepared. She had planned for it. Or just wanted to have it for that moment. It was just like she knew she didn’t want to be in this world that long, and that was just the day that was bad enough.
There was no note that I know of that was found. I asked her friends if she had left a note and they knew there were things on her computer that were a couple of years old, saying goodbye and how much she loved me and her dad and her brother’s, but nothing recent. I’ve wondered about that because Sidney was the kind of person who wanted to always let things out. But like that moment, when she did it that time, it was just, I just want to be gone. I just want to be out of here. I’m just ready.
We had had a fight that day about the car when she called me and said, “My car’s gone.” And I said, “What happened?” I had to cosign for the car for her after her dad died, and I told her, if you ever can’t make your payments, you let me know. I will make them. You will have to pay me back, but I will make them because I don’t want your car to be repossessed. So when she told me the car was gone, we didn’t have a huge fight. I just said “Oh, Sydney, I begged you to tell me.” The last words that she spoke to me were “Fucking chemo” and she hung up.
I texted her back. I said, “I know you don’t want to talk to me right now. But I want you to know that I love you. And she texted me and she said “I’ve got it all” – and I’ve still got the text. But she was like, you know, “Since they had died, you’re on one income. How could you have afforded to pay for that?” And I said, “I just paid a $1,200 pet bill for your cat.” And she got very upset about that. “Mom,” she said, “that’s it, you won’t have to take care of me anymore. Watch me die, Mom, bury me. Don’t play anything religious at my funeral.” And you know, I have to live with that.
When I talked to her friends, I said, you know, we had a big fight that day. And they said, “We know she loved you so much. She loves you so much.” But I still have to live with those were the last words that my child said to me. And I didn’t do anything about it. Because I didn’t believe her. I thought she was being dramatic because her car got repossessed.
She did work with the homeless community, which I had known that she had done. But after she died, I realized how many friends she had made through just helping out acquaintances, and they became lifelong friends, and how many people she had helped out in other ways, you know, financially, giving them food when they were having a hard time and didn’t have enough to eat. Sidney always wanted to feed everybody. That was her big thing. She wanted to bake for everybody.
That was another thing that let me know how depressed she had been. For Christmas, She had wanted this stand mixer. It wasn’t a KitchenAid, but kind of like that model. And I had gotten it for her for Christmas, and she was so excited. She was like “I’m going home and I’m going to start baking.” It was still in the box when I went to pack up her apartment and that told me a lot – that for those two months that she had been much more depressed than I realized.
She was a daddy’s girl. She was the youngest of five and the only girl and she was such a daddy’s girl. And I know his death hit her hard. She had not seen him for a little over a year because of COVID and his lung cancer, and we would think about it, but she worked with the public so much. We talked about if you end up getting COVID and dying, she’ll never forgive herself. But she was very upset that she had not gotten to say goodbye to him really. And then my father died six months and two days after that. And she was very close to my parents. So it was just, she had dealt with a lot of death too in those, you know in that year before she died.
But I also believe there is a hugely genetic component. My grandfather committed suicide when he was roughly her age, left behind my dad at five and my uncle one day before his second birthday, and my father’s first cousin committed suicide, and a month before Sydney died the cousin’s son committed suicide in that same age. My father’s cousin was a little bit older. He was in his 40s.
GETTING THE NEWS
The hospital called me at 9:40 p.m. on Feb. 19. I saw that the number so I popped up because I thought who was calling me at this hour? And you know, because I’m an old person, it can only be trouble after nine o’clock. And it said Mission Hill Hospital. And that was the hospital where she was like two weeks before that. And they told me “We have Sidney here in the hospital. She’s been brought in after having an overdose.” And they were there they said when she came in. Anyway, they had gotten a pulse back and they had gotten her heartbeat. You know, they’ve done CPR and gotten a pulse back. And I thought, okay, she had an overdose, but they got her back. They’ll pump her stomach. They’ll give her whatever, okay. We’re okay, we’re out of the woods. It’ll be okay.
And I said “Well, should I get in the car and come up there now?” – it’s like six-and-a-half, seven hours away – “or should I just wait for you to call me back?” And she was like, “No, just wait, the doctor will call you.” And after two hours, he had not called me back, so I called them. I called the emergency room and I got a nurse that had been helping her. They’d been working with her. And she said, “No, ma’am, you do not need to get in the car and come up now. Just wait till in the morning. We’ve got her on life support.” And I said, “You’ve got her on life support?” And she said, “Yes, ma’am. The doctor will call you.” And he did call me back in about half an hour and he said that she had taken [the toxin]. And I didn’t know anything about it. He said that they had given her something to stop the process. Okay, so that’s good. But he kept saying, “Ma’am, I don’t think you understand me. I don’t think you understand.” And he finally just said “Your daughter is brain dead.” And I said, “How?” And he said that – he told me a little bit about how [the toxin] works, that it prevents the oxygen from getting to the vital organs and that in a matter of 10 minutes from ingestion, you basically have no brain activity. He said, “We stopped the process, but we can’t reverse the process of this. We are going to do a brain function test in the morning.”
And I was like, “Okay, okay, so it’s possible. It’s still possible.”
And he goes, “Ma’am, I have never seen or heard about anybody coming back from this. You know, we’ve done some brief tests here in the emergency room, and she has no brain activity.” And I was like, “Yeah, but you hear about people that have been in a coma for six years, six years, 30 years, and they still come back from this.” And he tells me she doesn’t have any brainstem function. She has no involuntary responses.
They did call me call us on the way there the next day and say that they had done the testing and they were going to repeat the testing in a little bit, but they said she did not have any brain activity.
She was essentially gone already.
‘I JUST WANTED TO SIT THERE WITH HER’
I sat there with her for the four days, I didn’t leave, I didn’t change clothes, I didn’t take a shower. I just stayed there with her because I’m like, if I leave, that’s however many hours that I’ve lost, that I won’t get to spend with her. And this is the last time I’m going to get to be with my child. And I don’t want to, I don’t want to miss a thing. I want to be here for every heartbeat to listen to every heartbeat to watch every breath.
I didn’t even really sleep because I just wanted to sit there with her and play music and play songs that we used to sing or that she and her dad used to sing, talk to her or tell her stories or things that I used to tell her when she was a child. And they told me that like she doesn’t have involuntary responses, like a lot of people do that are on life support. Her brainstem activity is gone. She, you know, she doesn’t have those.
When they found recipients for all of her organs, they asked me how much time I wanted before they took her down, how much time. I mean, they would tell me and then how much time did I want before they took her down, to say goodbye. And at first I had said two hours and my mom was there and she was like honey, that’s a lot of time. That’s a lot of time for you to have to sit there and think about that. And I said, Okay, how about a half an hour. And my mom and the lady that was there with the organ donation people she was kind of the same. She’s like, I think that’s a good amount of time.
Well, when it came time they came in, they grabbed her hospital bed then started rolling her out and I was like, “Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait!” I mean, I was hysterical. I said “I have to say goodbye! I have to say goodbye.!” And I went over and I grabbed her hand. And I swear she squeezed my hand. I know I felt it. And I looked down and I even saw it. And I turned around to my mom and I said, “Mom, she squeezed my hand!” And at that time, she was like, “Yeah, honey. Yeah, yeah.” And later, I asked her about it. And she said, “I don’t even remember you saying that.” But she was distraught too. And it was chaotic. And she may not have even heard me. She may have just been like, yeah, yeah.
But I know, she squeezed my hand. I know it. I know she did.
One thought on “Elodie – Sydney’s Story”
May you find some comfort with the loss of your daughter thank you for sharing your story.