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The Remembrance Project: Stephanie Eranio03:20
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Six months before Stephanie Eranio overdosed on heroin, she said to one of her sisters, “I’ve gotta start taking care of myself -- I’m at risk for diabetes and high cholesterol.” It was a moment of genuine but misplaced worry.

As one of five children, Stephanie was determinedly energetic. Some of the energy was defensive; she had a childhood lisp, and a tendency to chunkiness. But some was sheer comic relief, like the time she poured 10 boxes of laundry detergent onto the basement floor so she and her friends could play in the snow.

At around 16, Stephanie stopped the sports and dancing she’d loved as a child, and began the long, mysterious decline that ended in a Brockton emergency room. “Quiet, withdrawn," remembers Kim, one of her sisters. "I don't know if she was in denial, but she definitely wasn't sharing what was going on with us until she was at her breaking point."

She was so closed-off, so ashamed, and at times, so untruthful, that the path to her deterioration is still not clear to her family: marijuana first, they think, then pain pills, and finally -- after making it through college with a degree in special education -- heroin.

Stephanie Eranio's nieces at her headstone. (Courtesy the Eranio family)
Stephanie Eranio's nieces at her headstone. (Courtesy the Eranio family)

In spite of her addiction, some life pleasures remained uncomplicated. For several years, Stephanie worked as a play therapist on an early intervention team. She loved getting down on the floor with toddlers, who loved her in return. And she adored the easy joys of her 18-month-old niece, remembers Kim: “So one night, I was putting Rowan to bed, and Steph was helping me. Steph looks at me after and she goes, 'Wow, her life is just so simple. Don't you wish life could be that simple?' "

Stephanie might have been surprised to see the many, many who waited in line after the funeral: grateful parents from early intervention, old friends from childhood, new friends from the tremulous world of recovery.

By the time she died, she had come to feel herself a burden. And she was -- but just to herself. Anyone else would have helped gladly, if only she had asked.


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