This week is hitting me hard. Saturday will mark one month since I lost Emily, which seems impossible to believe. It feels like it happened yesterday because I no longer have any concept of time. I often feel like I’m just going through the motions, doing the bare minimum each day to call it another day in my life.
This morning, I walked into the church to help tear down from the night before (our church works with a local ministry that helps homeless mothers and children). I have worked with the other woman who was there to tear down many times before, but not since Emily’s death. So, naturally, she offered her condolences and asked what had happened since Emily was perfectly healthy the last time we all worked together.
As I tried to explain what we know (which isn’t much), the same phrase kept coming to mind over and over again: one moment can change your life.
So Many Moments With Emily Changed My Life
When I spoke at Emily’s Celebration of Life, I talked a lot about everything Emily taught me. Those life lessons absolutely improved my life, and I will always be grateful for them. However, there were also many seemingly small moments with Emily that changed my life as well.
For example, the night Emily went with me to the To Write Love on Her Arms concert (featuring Lizzo) was absolutely life-changing. That night I learned so much about Emily, including the fact that she played oboe and did color guard for one year. I also learned a lot of cool stuff about Lizzo that I didn’t know before because she sat down in the middle of her set and just shared her story with the audience. I left that concert feeling inspired and excited.
I also felt like my life changed every time I helped Emily clean her apartment (which, spoiler alert, happened quite a bit). I saw firsthand how Emily’s mental health conditions impacted her executive functioning. I also feel like it gave me a fresh perspective on what helping people can look like and how sometimes small gestures like hauling out 10 bags of trash can mean the world to someone.
One night, Emily invited me to be her “stand-in family member” for a Renfrew Family Night. For the activity that night, we had to write these letters to each other. I unintentionally made Emily cry with the things I said about her, like how proud I was of her for working towards recovery, and she shared a lot about just how helpful I had been in her recovery. It was incredible to hear that what I saw as just being there for someone I love was actually more impactful than I realized.
Of course, our first kiss definitely changed my life in many ways. Although I already knew I liked girls, Emily was the first girl I ever kissed. It was also the first time I’d experienced those “fireworks” everyone talks about when they kiss people. I can’t even begin to explain how it just felt so right, and she said the exact same thing. After that, our lives together moved fairly quickly, but only because we both felt like it was meant to be.
Shopping for clothes with Emily changed my life too. I have never had a great relationship with my body, and Emily was fully aware of the extent of my issues. However, she went above and beyond to find stores with clothing made for me, but also encourage me to try things on. She’d always compliment me, comfort me if I got upset about how I looked, and affirm me when I selected clothing that made me happy, even if it came from the men’s department. As she’d tell me, “I love babe in everything. You are pretty and handsome and so attractive.”
And, of course, I can’t list life-changing moments with Emily and not mention our first time (and really every time) at Lipstick Lounge. It’s one of the few highly public places I’ve found where I don’t feel like I don’t belong. I felt so comfortable there, both as an individual person and as someone in a same-sex relationship. I loved seeing other people like us, people very different from us, and everything in between, all enjoying a night out. People were always so friendly there, and nobody ever said anything negative about either of us. Such a fantastic experience.
Those Final Moments Changed Me, Too
A lot of the moments with Emily that changed me were simple, yet happy times. However, those last 36 hours with her also changed my life… just not in a great way.
When we arrived at the emergency room at St. Thomas on October 17, I initially felt validated but frustrated at the same time. They ruled out serious heart issues within the first 30 minutes of us entering the hospital, but then we proceeded to wait over 5 hours in the waiting area. I was stressed about freelance deadlines, so I spent a fair amount of that time working and talking to Emily.
This wasn’t the first time I’d done this with her, and she seemed relatively unphased, minus her own annoyance that she felt like nobody ever takes her seriously. I know all too well the struggles of someone with chronic health issues trying to get doctors to take them seriously, and I just tried to reassure her that we were getting help and that I would make sure they listen to her.
As they prepared to transfer her to Vanderbilt, my fears began to build. I insisted on riding in the ambulance because I didn’t want to be away from her in case something happened. Once we arrived at Vanderbilt, we got some information that made me concerned. I tend to overthink situations, and the majority of my medical knowledge comes from Grey’s Anatomy, so hearing everything the doctors shared really worried me.
The whole time, Emily remained (mostly) calm. She kept telling me she was sorry that she stressed me out so much, and I would tell her she wasn’t stressing me out. She told me multiple times that all of this was “normal” and “to be expected.” I couldn’t believe how she could just be okay with things, and I tried to adopt her outlook as we prepared to go to sleep Tuesday night.
As everything went downhill in those last few hours, I felt so powerless. I was there, in the room, watching everything happen. And yet, I couldn’t do much besides touch her head, stand by the bed, and hold a puke bucket when she needed it. My partner was crashing right before my eyes, and yet I could do nothing to save her. As someone who likes having control over situations and prides herself on helping others, it was my absolute worst nightmare.
If nothing else, those final hours changed my perspective on life, and made me appreciate just how fragile it is.
I already knew that we’re never promised tomorrow. However, I don’t think I would have ever dreamed that the woman I planned to spend my entire life with would go from talking about bridesmaid dresses to gone in just a few short hours. It makes you question everything and really contemplate each and every conversation you have with anyone, because who knows when it will be your last.
Honestly, I don’t even remember what the last thing I said to Emily was. I know that I told her after the second time she crashed that her parents were on their way. I also remember her telling me she didn’t feel right, and I told her I knew and was so sorry she felt bad. But I wish… goodness I wish I’d told her over and over again in those last few hours how much I love her. I wish I’d told her that I was there and done more to comfort her. I wish I’d told her to hold on, I wish I’d asked her more about what was going on. I wish I’d said some sort of wedding vows to her, even if they had just been for her.
Because of Emily, my life changed in so many ways. I just hope that I somehow impacted hers and made her feel loved.