Just Like Stars

Volume I of "Good Riddance, Sister: Coping with the loss of a sister... as she goes off to college." This volume features sophomore Jess Daninhirsch and her sister Natalie.

June 18, 2004 – Natalie and Jess twinning and having fun before bed.

My sister and I fought a lot when we were little. Whether it was about our My Little Ponies or who was sleeping on which side of the bed at hotels, I often ended up in tears. We never seemed to get along, until we got older. Natalie and I are three years, one month, and one day apart. She was in third grade when I started kindergarten, so I had three years to be in the same building as her. She really paved the way for my school life. She left a good impression on all of her teachers, and when it was my turn to have them, they already knew how great of a student I would be if I was anything like her.


October 10, 2007 – Jess’s 4th birthday. Here she is “performing” on that marvelous pink guitar with Natalie.

Natalie has always been a performer. She used to have our stuffed animals play characters in her homemade plays. I never wanted to be in them because I used to be incredibly shy. With her help over the years, that certainly changed. I love performing. I love making my voice heard. She paved that path for me. In first grade, at the Q&U wedding (if you went to Peebles, you know what I’m talking about), I was chosen to be the bride. I turned it down because of my shyness! Now, I would have loved to be the star. My first step towards beating my stagefright was coincidentally also in first grade, during the musical, It’s a Jungle Out There! I got a lead supporting role, and it made me realize that I actually might enjoy this.


March 17, 2019 – Jess and Natalie with their parents after a production of Good News. Natalie played Professor Kenyon.

I’m so glad I had at least one year of high school with Natalie, even though we weren’t in the same building. She helped me with homework, she advised me about which teachers were the best, and we had our final musical together, Good News. The last time we were in a musical together was 2015, Seussical, at our old summer camp. Good News was a fantastic experience for both of us. Nat’s not a very emotional person, but we actually cried together and hugged at the end. I’m so glad Natalie was there for my first year of high school. But now, the training wheels are off. I know she’ll always be there, though, even if she physically isn’t right there.


January 20, 2018 – Jess’s induction into BBYO (and one of the few picture where Jess looks taller than Natalie).

In eighth grade, my sister joined BBYO, an international Jewish teen organization. When she entered the eleventh grade and I entered eighth, she said, “Jess, you are joining BBYO. Trust me. It will be the best experience of your life.” I blindly went with it. And boy, am I glad I did. BBYO has been the most amazing part of my life thus far. I have met so many amazing Jewish people throughout Pittsburgh and across the globe. I am following in Natalie’s BBYO footsteps, almost to the T. This is my first year of BBYO that she won’t be at every convention with me. Conventions were one of my favorite ways to spend time with my sister. BBYO really brought us closer together.


June 7, 2019 – Natalie’s graduation.

Natalie is a theater major at Northwestern University, class of 2023. She left for college on Sunday, September 15th. I had to go to a BBYO convention on Friday, on the 13th, so that was when I had to say my goodbyes. I was in a bit of a hurry, so we hugged quickly and I left. And that was the last time I saw her in person. That Saturday night, we did an activity called “Separates,” where the boys and the girls split up, and the girls essentially have a cry circle. This time, we talked about who our BBG role models are (BBG stands for B’nai Brith Girls). I, of course, talked about Natalie. And that’s when it suddenly hit me. I won’t see her again until the end of November. Sure, we’ve been apart from each other for long periods of time before, like when she went to Israel for three weeks or when I went to camp for two weeks, but not like this. Not during the school year. The house is a lot quieter now, without her singing constantly. I never thought I’d miss that. It obviously has not been that long yet, so it just seems like she’s out staying at a friend’s house. But I wonder what it’s going to feel like when I desperately need her help and can’t just get it from FaceTiming her. When people ask me if I’m going to miss her, I used to shrug. “Maybe. We’ll see,” I’d say. But now, my answer is a firm “Yes.” I guess absence makes the heart grow fonder. Natalie is a shining star. And just like stars, I may not always be able to see her, but she will always be there.