(Co-written by Madison Turner and Jessica Bryant)
Between these two young women—from two backgrounds with two amazing bonds—a similar story arose. Jessica Bryant and Madison Turner share their testimonies of friendship, loss, sisterhood, and healing.
There are people in your life you think you will know forever – those types of friends that are more like family. I met my best friend Holly in 3rd grade when her family moved into my neighborhood. From then on, we were attached at the hip.
We were two halves of one whole, together for every family vacation, 6th grade heartbreak, the highs and the lows of growing up. Holly was the first sister I ever had. At 9 years old we made a pact that we were going to take on the world together, at 17 we learned what that really meant.
A few days after her 17th birthday Holly was diagnosed with a rare form of Leukemia. She began treatment; and through every needle prick and every round of chemo I learned what it truly meant to be a sister.
Holly’s high spirits never wavered. When she found out she would be losing her hair, we dyed it bright blue. She shopped for shirts that said “does this shirt make my head look bald?” She somehow found so much humor and joy in such a horrible situation. Holly’s outlook on life and her treatment was unbelievably humbling.
For months, I would visit Holly in the hospital. We tried to keep life as normal as possible – pretending the needles, tubes, and ports weren’t there. During my visits we gossiped like 17 year olds. We talked about plans we had for when she would be out of the hospital, we dreamed of the adventures we would go on, and we debated our college decisions.
In the beginning of July, Holly contracted bacterial meningitis and was moved to the intensive care unit of Children’s Hospital of the Kings Daughters. She was then placed into a medically induced coma. For 3 weeks, Holly fought long and hard. On July 27, 2011, Holly lost her battle.
Shelley Goldsmith was my best friend throughout high school. We had been inseparable. She was like a sister to me. She was the biggest role model in my life. She was beautiful, intelligent, noble, and the most generous person I had ever met. She received a full academic scholarship to UVA. She also modeled in New York when she was in high school for huge labels like Calvin Klein. She was the most brilliant person I’ve ever come across. Everyone who met her fell in love with her.
When we decided to go to different colleges, we planned out a schedule to visit each other and stay in touch. In high school we had planned to move to New York together after college. Then real-life set in. The first football game of my freshman year will be a day that I will never forget.
We were playing at Alabama and I watched the game with some friends in our dorm. Halfway through the game I received what became the worst phone call of my life. It was my mom telling me Shelley had died unexpectedly. Shelley passed away the night when she was at a dance club and consumed the drug “Molly.”
She was in Washington D.C. with a bunch of her friends from UVA, and they all took the drug before going into the club. She collapsed while dancing and was rushed to the hospital, where she never woke up. She was on life support and by the time her parents arrived, the doctors said she wasn’t going to ever wake up.
Shelley had experienced a heat stroke while in the club, which caused her organs to fail. The drug she had taken caused her to have a more violent reaction than any of the people she was with.
Shelley was not a drug abuser—she thought the drug was safe because all of her friends had taken it without any issues – but drugs affect people in different ways. Her body was not strong enough to handle that type of substance.
After Shelley’s death I have tried to educate people about her story. Her parents have devoted the rest of their lives to educating people about the dangers of drugs through their loss. They have been guests on the “TODAY Show”, “The Doctors”, and many other major television shows to talk about drugs. Shelley’s story has also appeared in 17 Magazine. Her parent’s have truly honored her legacy by helping prevent other people from consuming this and other harmful drugs.
Because of this, my first semester of college at Virginia Tech was the most difficult time of my life. I was so afraid that I would never be as close with anyone as I was with her.
Holly was a better person than I was in every way possible. She was a humble, incredible, beautiful soul and her passing was a total robbery to the world. I struggled with her death every day. I couldn’t understand why I got to walk out of that hospital and she was the one who never got to come back home.
After Holly, I’ve struggled with the idea that everything happens for a reason; I just could not see how this was ever supposed to be the plan for her. It wasn’t until recently that I’ve started having a little more trust in fate.
When I first met Shelley, I was star-struck by her. She carried herself with such elegance and grace, and she instantly intimidated me. But, when she sat down and actually talked to me, she immediately became my best friend. She was supportive of everything I did, and encouraged me to be the best student and person I could possibly be.
I strived to be just like her; she was my biggest role model throughout high school. Shelley accepted me for who I was and encouraged me to chase after my dreams, no matter how extravagant those dreams were.
In the spring of my freshman year of college I decided to participate in formal recruitment, and I found my home at Tri Delta. I never imaged an organization would give me so much, so fast, or make me so happy.
After sharing the story of Holly at my pledge class’s fireside meeting, I was floored by the amount of girls I had just met who not only wanted to be there for support, but truly wanted to know what Holly was like and who she was as a person.
They wanted to hear about Holly just as much as I wanted to share her memory with them. When I lost Holly, I never thought I would ever find a friendship so candid, honest, and genuine. But I have. When I think of what Tri Delta has given me, I see so many incredible women, so individually perfect in their own ways, who have each changed my life in ways that I could never repay them. It is hard to think we were ever strangers.
I decided to go through recruitment second semester and everything changed. I joined Tri Delta and felt at home in the house from the beginning. I shared Shelley’s story with my pledge class at our first fireside meeting and the sympathy and compassion I received from them was unreal.
They don’t know how much that meant to me. I’ve become so close with these women and I see characteristics of Shelley in all of them. It has been over a year since her passing, and being a sister of Tri Delta has made the grieving process as easy as it could be.
My big, Shelby, especially helped me recover. Shelby talked with me about Shelley the first night I even met her. We talked till 4 a.m. about Shelley and life in general, and I felt as comfortable with Shelby as I used to feel with Shelley. That night I knew I found my big and a best friend. Shelby is my person.
I’m not quite sure how to sum up my experience. I’ll tell you I’ve learned friendship and sisterhood are two different things and it took experiencing a grave loss, along with this absolutely incredible sisterhood to understand that. Tri Delta has helped me heal.
I will never share the same exact friendship that I had with Holly with anyone else. Holly has such a special place in my heart, and I know I will carry that for the rest of my life.
Holly taught me what it meant to be a sister. She was the first sister I ever had, but now I am lucky enough to say I have 150 new sisters.
It was really hard for a while, but now I can share Shelley’s story because of my sisters in Tri Delta. These women have helped me heal and I am forever grateful I have had the opportunity to even meet them. They inspire me everyday and I am forever in debt to Tri Delta for bringing me close to the greatest group of women I’ve ever known.
I don’t know where I would be without them. They push me to be the best student and person I can possibly be. These women are my best friends, bridesmaids, and truly the best individuals I’ve ever known.
I never thought I could have a friendship as strong as the one I shared with Shelley, but I have made so many more friendships being in this sisterhood. I may have lost a sister but I have gained so many new ones.
These stories show that a group of young women, who are seemingly strangers, can make a greater impact on each other’s lives than expected. Although the friendships that were lost can never be replaced, the bonds formed after losing them is something equally as valuable. Many people take this opportunity at “sisterhood” for granted, but for Jessica and Madison, it was the healing force that they needed to get them through.