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“She really was, still to me, a brilliant shining entity,” he says. “The first time she took me to visit the Carriage House, she walked in and everyone lit up—she clearly was someone who understood them and had complete compassion for them.” The Carriage House Arts Center is an organization that provides art instruction to people with disabilities. Trinkala, herself an artist, was at home in this environment. “She took me to a nursing home,” recalls Berkun. “She could just bring the life out in the elderly. She would ask the women silly questions like, ‘How’s your boyfriend?’ They got such a kick out of her. She’d ask the men to dance and they would. She loved them and they felt it. She was also so good with disabled kids. Kids SHORTLY BEFORE SHE DIED, NADIA who weren’t known to be verbal respond- Trinkala was coming to terms with her ed to her, sometimes even verbally. Kids limitations. Even before she completed with sensory issues would calm down her schooling in New York City, she had around her. She vibrated on a different toyed with the idea of a foundation called level than the rest of the world. If there was the Human Citizen Project. The motivatanyone I’ve ever known who wasn’t living ing idea was to focus on the connection shared among human beings, not the on this plane completely, it was her.” Only a few years before her death, things that divided them. She asked peoNadia Trinkala seemed driven by a pur- ple, “What does it mean to be a human citpose that she was only just beginning to izen?” She received positive feedback and realize. She knew all too well the impact of thought of creating a facility complete living with a disability, and she knew the with energy rooms where people with senpain from the wounds a child bears when sory issues could control the stimulation they feel as though they are different from they received, along with other therapeutheir peers. She was an artist, as well as a tic practices. But as her ideas grew larger, healer, and was drawn to helping those in she became more aware of the difficulties need. While she had spent years working she would have. “I just thought, well it’s something that in centers dedicated to people with disabilities, she desired the accreditation you live with,” says Dianne Trinkala. “I required to bring her love of art to those in never thought it was a big thing, but apparently as she got older, it got in her need in an even more dedicated setting. In 2009, she enrolled in the Creative way more. She said, ‘Mom, how can I start Arts Therapy program at the New School a foundation? I can’t go into a meeting in New York City. “She was excited, but and understand what they’re saying. I’m really nervous, about going to New York going to have to take someone into a City to get this certificate,” says Felix. meeting with me so they can tell me what “Going back to an educational setting was happens afterwards.’ ” hard for her. When I moved her down to Brooklyn, I stayed a whole week to help her acclimate. I remember walking her to her first day of school. I knew how much of a struggle it was, but she mustered all of her strength to go through with it. She felt it was important; on a certain level [she] did it not just for herself.” Friends were proud of her for taking on the challenge, but they were also worried. Alana Matulis and her husband, Jesse, pleaded with her to consider other options. “We felt like the energy in New York City was destroying her,” Alana says. “She withered down there. We saw her dying—she aged 10 years in two.” “She wanted to fix everything—literally, no kidding,” says Berkun. “She was determined. New York City was an energy drain for her. She was surrounded by so much negativity and anger, and she always saw people’s needs, but didn’t Dianne Trinkala know how to shelter herself.” “The New School was good—she
learned a lot,” says Dianne Trinkala. “But I think it took a toll on her health. It was stressful; she didn’t think she would be writing any papers in this program but there were four of them. [Her father] Mike read the psychology book along with her and he saw for the first time how hard it was for her to understand these things. She could do it, but it took time for her to process it. She’d say, ‘I think I’m going to take a nap,’ and she’d go lay down for 10 minutes and then get back to it. It was exhausting for her to do things like this.” With much effort, Nadia finished the rigorous program at the end of 2010. Her graduation ceremony was scheduled for May 2011, but she died before she got to see the certificate that she had worked so hard for.
Instead, she found the Brown School in Schenectady. The school had launched the MindUP program, an educational initiative created by the Hawn Foundation. Created by actress Goldie Hawn, the foundation focuses on counteracting stress, depression, and violence among youth. According to the website, “MindUP is anchored in current research in cognitive neuroscience, evidence-based classroom pedagogy, best-practices mindful education, precepts of social and emotional learning (SEL), and guiding principles of positive psychology.” “Nadia went to the open house at the Brown School in the fall of 2010,” says her mother. “Later when I e-mailed the head of the school, Patti Vitale, I told her Nadia had been there. When we spoke, she said, ‘That was your daughter? I remember what she wore. She was here first, she came at the very beginning and stayed to the very end. I was so impressed by the questions she asked, and the only thing I could think of was that I wished parents asked those types of questions.’ ” After that open house, Nadia excitedly told everyone about her discoveries. She felt that she had found a school that helped children cope with difficulties in their early years, something that she had desperately needed and couldn’t find. “I told her that of all of her ideas, working with the Hawn Foundation was doable,” says Berkun. “I would have liked for her to have met Goldie Hawn to express her visions. [Hawn] was somebody who could have made them happen.” EVEN THOUGH THERE SEEMED TO BE more on the horizon for Nadia Trinkala, she was exhausted. In addition to her disability or possibly because of it, she had suffered for years from bouts of anxiety and depression. “She hated the medication because she felt like it killed her creativity,” says Dianne. “She said that she
couldn’t think on it. It was amazing how it just numbed her. She said, ‘Mom, I can’t cry. I take the medication but I can’t function, what good is it?’” Sharing her time between New York City and Cohoes, and struggling with a deep and overwhelming depression, Nadia made the decision to move back to Cohoes for good. “In the two weeks before she died, she would wake up in the morning and she would say, ‘Mom, I’m shaking. I’m shaking so much inside.’ I asked her why but she didn’t know. She couldn’t stop the shaking.” Jen Berkun found a psychiatric nurse practitioner who agreed to see her at 9 PM that Tuesday. Dianne Trinkala picked her daughter up for the appointment, which lasted three hours. “She had Nadia come in for one hour, then Nadia called me in and said, ‘Mom, I’m never going to understand this, it’s too much for me to absorb,’” Dianne says. The practitioner told them that Nadia needed to be on medication for the rest of her life. She gave them two prescriptions for anxiety and depression. “I don’t think at that time that Nadia got the full impact,” her mother says. “The doctor said that she could either send Nadia to the psychiatric ward now or that she could go home with me. I thought, ‘Oh that’s fine, she’s coming home.’ Nadia seemed fine because she was smart and clever and could almost fool anybody, and she did for all those years.” They left, and it became apparent that Nadia was still absorbing what the practitioner had told her. “We went to the car and she was upbeat,” says Dianne. “She said, ‘Now what did the doctor say?’ I told her some of the things, she told me her plan of action, and she was really upbeat.” The next day Nadia had an appointment with her regular psychologist. Her father took her to that appointment, and afterward they stopped to fill the prescriptions that she had gotten the night before. The label on one bottle read, ‘anti-psychotic.’ She responded very badly to those words. She told her father that she didn’t want to take them. Together they drove to Cohoes to get her car. “She told her dad to leave the medication in his car because she would head over to our house in a little while,” says Dianne. “When he got home, the phone rang. It was her. She said that she wanted to stay at her place with her kitties that night.” It was Wednesday night. On Thursday morning, her father called her to see if she was coming over. “She was really upset, she was crying,” her mother remembers. “Mike doesn’t panic, but he did. He handed me the phone. I said to her, ‘Nadia you have to go on the medication.’ She calmed down and said she would probably come over in the afternoon.” It was 11:30 AM. When Dianne got off the phone, her husband decided that he would drive to Nadia’s apartment to bring
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