Updated: Oct 14, 2021
Storyteller: Elise Schiller
We had been warned. I knew, at least intellectually, that there was a risk. There had been endless talk and worksheets in rehab about relapse. Your psychiatrist once told you while I was there that the average life of a heroin user is five years from the start of regular use. But I never really thought that you would die, or maybe I couldn’t think it. Everything else seemed possible—that you would remain sick, that you would never be able to have a relationship that actually sustained you, that you would lose the career you loved, that you would be sad for the rest of your life. But die? No. Does any parent accept a child’s death before the fact, and even then . . . ?
In January 2014, Elise Schiller’s youngest child, thirty-three-year-old Giana Natali, died of a heroin overdose. Elise’s book, Even if Your Heart Would Listen: Losing My Daughter to Heroin, will be published by SparkPress in August. The book is about Giana’s life, which was full of accomplishments, and her mental illness, addiction, and death. Using excerpts from the journals, planners, and letters Giana left behind, as well as evidence from her medical records, Elise dissects her daughter’s treatment for opioid use disorder (OUD) at the six residential and several outpatient programs where she tried to recover, taking a close look at the lack of continuity and solid medical foundations in the American substance-use treatment system even as she explores the deeply personal experience of her own loss.
Elise sits on the advisory board of the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS), and she has served on the Philadelphia Mayor’s Task Force to Combat the Opioid Epidemic. She is a frequent participant in meetings to update the public about the implementation of the Task Force recommendations, and speaks at related events.
Elise has been writing fiction and actively participating in writing groups since adolescence. After a thirty-year career in education and family services in Philadelphia, most recently as the Associate Executive Director of EducationWorks, she retired to write full time. Elise self-published a novel in 2016 which won several awards and is currently working on a fiction series set in Philadelphia; SparkPress will be publishing the first book in 2020.
When not writing, reading, or volunteering, she enjoys visiting museums and historical sites, often with one of her seven grandchildren or various nieces and nephews in tow.