Submitted by her mother, Julie Rocca
Gabrielle at age 1

An ‘old soul’

Gabrielle was my only child until she was 8 years old, so she was always around adults. She was very quiet but always so loving. She was like an old soul. She was a genuine caregiver by nature. I remember during the funeral of her stepsister Christina, when Gabrielle was just a little girl, she covered her own emotions to try to be the adult taking care of her father, watching over him in his grief. If she loved you, she was your true “ride or die.”

Gabrielle fought depression most of her life

I started seeing signs of depression when she was 14. When she was 17, she attempted suicide. She found a doctor who prescribed Xanax, an antidepressant. It helped — and it didn’t. When she was taking it, she complained she couldn’t feel anything; she was just numb — the most horrible feeling. She would be off it for periods of time, but Xanax was always her drug of choice.

Aiming for a career in health care

When she was in the hospital after her suicide attempt, she said, “Ma, I think I should be a nurse.” She had fallen behind in high school, but she went to classes during the day, at night and on Saturdays to catch up — and she graduated with her class. She trained and became a certified nursing assistant. Then she worked two jobs in nursing while she went to college. She did have a lot of stress and anxiety, but she seemed to thrive when she had a lot to do. She was on the dean’s list and in the honor society. She was studying to be a psychologist, just to help those that struggled with depression — those like her.

Gabrielle (center) waiting for a dune buggy ride with her younger sister, Isabella, and her mother, Julie

Gabrielle loved beach vacations

When she was young, every year we went to Saugatuck, a little vacation town on Lake Michigan. She just loved going there, even a couple years before she passed away.  I have a photo of us waiting to go on the dune buggy rides. She loved shopping in the little stores. That was a highlight of her summers.

Meeting the wrong guy

When she was 21, she met a guy she fell deeply in love with. I knew there was something off — mother’s instinct. He was a heroin addict. I confronted Gabrielle, and she said, “I’m going to help him get off it.” I told her that nobody could help unless he wanted to get off drugs, but she was bound and determined to help him get clean.

How our relationship changed

We fought over her boyfriend, a lot. I told her I didn’t agree with his lifestyle; I didn’t want him in my house. I regret that now. It is so important to provide support to someone with addiction. I think she felt so alone — they felt so alone. They felt like  the world was against them, and at that time, I was against them. I feel so bad now. I should have been more there for her and him.

I was so scared she would try heroin. She insisted she wouldn’t, but her depression had her in a downward spiral. Eventually, she gave in to the temptation. She wanted to see why he loved heroin more than her. He didn’t love heroin more; it just had control of his life. Soon, it controlled her life, too.

Forty-four days

She tried heroin for the first time on December 19, 2017. How do I know? She told me. She told me everything. She used for the first time on 12/19/17, and she passed away from fentanyl poisoning on 2/8/18. Forty-four days. That’s all it took.

The day she passed away, she sent me a text out of nowhere at 4 p.m., saying, “I love you.” I tried to call her at 5 p.m., and she didn’t answer. I just knew in my heart.

How Gabrielle would want to be remembered

She would want to be remembered for being one “badass” who never gave up or gave in. She loved who she loved. She lived and loved life.

If I could say one thing to Gabrielle, it would be

I would give my life to have you back. I love you, Gabrielle. Until we meet in heaven.