Claire Lajoie was articulate.
She was creative — an artist and passionate figure skater.
She had a “wicked sense of humor,” which, combined with her impeccable timing, brought laughter to those around her, said her mother, Muriel Lajoie.
The native of Concord, New Hampshire, was smart and did well in school until around the age of 14. It was then that things started to change. Claire wrote in her journal that she felt different, like she wasn’t the same as everyone else.
“She had referred to it as a hole in her soul that she was trying to fill with drugs,” Lajoie told Boston.com.
As a teen, Claire progressed from marijuana to party drugs, like acid, to cocaine. Eventually she started snorting heroin, and on her 18th birthday, Claire used fentanyl, her mother said.
“When that happened, she was lost,” Lajoie recalled. “That was it. She was done.”
Claire’s birthdays were always a trigger for her, her mother said. When she was little, Claire used to want to throw parties for everyone else on their birthdays, but never her own.
This year, a day after she turned 22, Claire died of an overdose, her family says.
“I saw her the day before and she looked great,” Lajoie said. “With this disease you never know when it’s going to call you back.”
Lajoie and her family are sharing Claire’s story with the hope of breaking down the stigma around addiction. They are also calling for more post-treatment services for people once they have gotten out of structured rehab programs.
Before her death, Claire had been sober for seven and a half months and doing well at Granite House, a drug rehab extended care facility. She moved out of the program at the end of August when she received a job offer and had an opportunity for a safe place to live in Concord.
Granite House was moving its location to Derry, and she wanted to stay with her job, Lajoie said.
Her daughter went from being surrounded by her supportive community, with structure, to having to rely on herself.
Her daughter was compassionate and empathetic — always able to recognize when someone was suffering and wanting to help, she said. But even though her family was a few miles away, Claire was “loathe to ask for help,” her mother said.
She’d always been that way.
“She had this uncanny ability to know when you were suffering,” Lajoie said. “And even when she wasn’t talking with me, if she saw me and I looked a certain way, she’d know. She’d say, ‘OK, what’s wrong? Please talk to me.’… She’d rarely ask for help though. Even as a child, she would always insist that she do everything. ‘My do,’ she used to say. And you couldn’t help her, because she wanted to do it herself.”
For a while Claire seemed to be doing OK on her own. But she was asked to go out for drinks the week before her birthday, and she relapsed with alcohol.
“She recognized that, she called her sponsor, she went and picked up her 24-hour chip,” her mother said. “The community that knew about it rallied around her and were talking with her and supporting her and they thought she was going to be OK.”
But the following week, a day after her birthday, she died.
Lajoie said her daughter’s death has given her a “larger focus” on the systemic issues that need attention related to the opioid epidemic.
She said she wants to see more facilities that provide support, structure, and accountability to those who want to continue their recovery after leaving a more intensive program.
“This issue is much larger and has a stigma that no one wants to shine a light on because it appears that the addict was weak, or there was something deficient in the family, that the family did something wrong, that the kids were raised poorly,” Lajoie said. “Addiction is a disease of mental health. They, the addicts and alcoholics, are trying to mend themselves the only way they know how. And if we educate them and provide the services for them to succeed, they can then help others with the same issues.”
In the obituary for Claire, her family was transparent about the circumstances of her death and her struggle while celebrating her “soaring dreams and zest for life.”
“Our girl was magic,” they wrote. “She was a light. She was a queen.”
“In every photograph that she was in, you could see the light emanate from her,” Lajoie said of her daughter. “She was the focal point. She walked into a room and all heads turned to her just because of the energy she exuded. She was such a comfort to people — it didn’t matter if you knew her well or not, you wanted to be around her. She was magnetic.”
Hundreds of people turned out for Claire’s wake and service, Lajoie said.
Claire Lajoie and her friend, Jackson Rand, at a Gratitude Hike in September. —Muriel Lajoie On Sunday, Lajoie and her family will hike Mount Kearsarge in Warner along with those who knew and loved Claire in the recovery community. It is a “Gratitude Hike,” the likes of which Claire always participated in when she was at Granite House.
Everyone walks up to the top of the mountain and says what they’re grateful for at the top.
“It was always at 5:30 in the morning and Claire was always excited to go.,” Lajoie said. “And we were like, ‘Uh, it’s a Sunday at 5:30.’ But she went on all of them. She loved doing them. She had some great photos on her Facebook page of her at the top, beaming as usual.”
Lajoie said she and her family are grateful for the outpouring of support they have received since sharing Claire’s story.
She urged anyone struggling with addiction to never give up and to not be afraid to ask for help.
Echoing her daughter’s empathy and compassion, she also urged people to look out for clues that their friends, acquaintances, or loved ones are struggling.
“Check up on one another,” Lajoie said. “We are a community. We are only as strong as our weakest member. And if someone is challenged, they need to be helped and we should do that because it’s the right thing to do.”
Claire Lajoie was articulate.