“Don’t Cry Because It’s Over. Smile Because It Happened.”

This obituary was first published as “Beth Am packed for memorial for beloved Palo Alto teen” in JWeekly.

Emily Benatar z”l

Hundreds of people packed the sanctuary of Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills on May 19 to honor the memory and celebrate the all-too-short life of Emily Benatar. It was hard for mourners to believe that the vivacious 19-year-old from Palo Alto was gone, having died of meningococcal disease, a form of bacterial meningitis, on May 9.

Benatar, a freshman at Washington University in St. Louis, reportedly had been vaccinated against meningococcal disease, which causes inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord.

“Adolescents are vaccinated at age 11 and then get a booster before going off to college or the military,” Dr. Cara Barone, a pediatrician at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, said in an interview. “This is generally adequate, but the vaccine is not 100 percent protective, so some breakthrough disease does occur — and when it does, it usually takes a horrific course, causing death or terrible complications.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, meningococcal bacteria are spread through the exchange of respiratory and throat secretions, usually from living in close quarters. Approximately 1,200 people contract the disease every year in the United States, and 10 to15 percent of them die, even when they are treated with antibiotics, the CDC notes. No other cases had been reported at Washington U., according to the San Jose Mercury News.

Benatar died at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis with her family by her side three weeks after falling ill. Following a private funeral attended by family, her parents, Lisa and Darrell, and sisters Isabel, 16, and Maya, 13, observed shiva in the family’s Palo Alto home.

Photo displays put together by friends and bouquets of flowers sent by supporters filled parts of the living room and dining room. On a table in one seating area, some of Benatar’s sketchbooks were laid out alongside a variety of crafts projects she had made. Her mother wore a necklace of sea glass made for her by her late daughter.

“She was a very appreciative person,” Lisa Benatar said. “She was an amazing role model for Isabel and Maya. She set the tone.”

Click here to read more. Watch the “Emily Memories” video shown at the memorial service:

© 2012 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.


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