Because She Couldn’t Say ‘No’

It’s 2:30 in the morning. I shouldn’t be awake at all. Yet, here I am, writing.

Right now, I’m experiencing one of those rare instances where I feel angry. I don’t know exactly who I’m angry at, but I do know why. And, I’m not just slightly angry — I’m absolutely livid. I’m so sick of “counting my blessings” and being “thankful for the time” I did get with Emily. For once, I just want to say, “No!” to all of that and sit with the anger I feel towards the situation.

Of course, the irony here is that Emily and I are probably two of the least likely people to say “no.”

She Refused to Rock The Boat

Emily and I were very different people. But, at the time, we shared several personality traits… One of them being the inability to say “no.”

In the time I knew Emily, I watched her say “yes” so many times. I watched her say it to extra shifts at work. I watched her say it to friends who needed rides or other help. I watched her say it to Julian.

And, although I know she genuinely wanted to help people, I also know that there were many times when the “yes” came as more of an obligation.

Emily hated conflict. She tried to live her life in a way that would create as few ripples in the water as possible. So, in many cases, she’d convince herself that saying “no” would rock the boat too much, so she’d choose the “yes” as a path of least resistance… regardless of the personal cost.

The Anger That Comes With ‘Yes’

Even before we started dating, Emily often reached out to me to discuss the “yes” situations where she wanted to say “no” but didn’t. Looking back, I’m not sure why she chose me to confide in me about those moments, but if I had to guess, it’s because she knew that I struggled with saying “no” as well.

Anyway, I’d sometimes laugh at her messages as I empathized with her because of how angry she’d be about the situation and how mad she’d be at herself for saying yes. Of course, I’d always have to play devil’s advocate a bit and remind her that, ultimately, she has the option to say no if she feels so strongly about it.

I would also sometimes express my own frustration in her “yes” moments when I knew she would have preferred to say “no.” For me, the frustration came when she’d choose saying “yes” to someone else over her own needs or established plans we had together. I think that sometimes my feelings for her would impact the way I viewed the situation because, although she rarely stood up for herself, I was always more than willing to put my life on the line for her.

For example, there was more than one occasion where she’d say “yes” to something that would interfere with her getting grad school assignments done. She’d always say, “I’ll find a way to get them done,” but I’d also overly lecture her on the fact that her entire future career depended on grad school assignments.

Then there were all the times she’d say yes to her ex, both when they were dating and after they broke up. I couldn’t believe all the things she put up with from him, and it made me not just mad at her, but mad at him for taking advantage of her in every way imaginable.

And, although I sometimes felt bad for pointing out these things, I always did it with the best of intentions. I just wanted her to learn to put herself first… but ultimately she never did.

It’s All in the Past Now

I look back on these seemingly silly moments now and feel angry all over again. I’m angry that so many people took advantage of Emily. I’m angry that she never valued herself enough to put her foot down. But, at the same time, I’m angry at myself for all the times I lectured her or argued with her for saying “yes.”

It’s probably stupid to look back and think, “How could I have handled that differently? How could I have supported her more?” But, at the same time, I have to wonder how much of what was happening with her at the end was the result of her sacrificing herself for others too many times.

Emily couldn’t say no, and sometimes it really irritated me. But, ultimately, it only made me mad because I loved her and wanted what was best for her, even when she didn’t prioritize these same things for herself.


Because Her Grace Was Abounding

I think I’ve mentioned it before, but Emily and I signed up for Disciple Bible study back in the fall. I remember that first week, as we debated between going to Disciple class or another option, Emily looked at me and said, “I’ve heard that Disciple classes are pretty intense… Are you sure you’re okay with this?” I nodded, and in we went with no idea what we were getting ourselves into.

As someone who grew up in the Catholic church, I’ve always considered myself to be fairly well versed in scripture. After all, the Lectionary is set up so that you read the entire Bible every three years (assuming you go to Mass every Sunday). I’ll be honest, though, this class has really made me look at everything in a very different way. And, in many ways, it’s made me question a lot of the beliefs I’ve held onto about Christianity and, even more so, myself.

This week, we discussed the Epistle to the Romans. Although I definitely had many thoughts and questions about the book as a whole, I really went down a rabbit hole in my mind when someone in class brought up the topic of grace. It’s a subject that, honestly, I’ve always struggled with, largely because much of modern Christian teachings specifically condemn multiple aspects of my identity as undeserving of God’s grace. And yet, as I drove home tonight and fought back tears, I could hear Emily’s voice clear as day, telling me to stop being so mean to myself… just like she did nearly every single day from 2018 to 2022.

She Showed Me Grace

Emily was one of the most kindhearted, giving people I’ve ever met. In fact, I often think of her when people ask for a definition or example of terms like abounding grace or altruism. She shared her gifts, her presence, and her love with others without hesitation and, oftentimes, without any consideration as to how it might affect her.

It always surprised me when I’d do something that I considered inconsiderate or harsh, and she’d still be there, ready to forgive me and accept me still. And, as I often told her, I didn’t understand how she did it because I felt so undeserving.

The Puppy Debate

There was that ridiculous puppy, Nova, that she fostered for a few days then decided to adopt. She was not only living in an apartment that didn’t allow pets, but she was working two jobs and enrolled in grad school. I watched this puppy for her a couple times, and I spent several nights talking to her on the phone or texting her as she struggled to deal with the dog because it was so young, untrained, and quite the handful.

Finally, I told her, “Emily, just take the damn dog back to the humane society and tell them that you just don’t have the time or space to deal with a puppy right now. It’s not that big of a deal.” She asked if I’d take the dog back for her, and I said, “No. I’ll drive you there, I’ll stand by you the whole time, but I will not do it for you. You are the one who adopted the dog, so you need to be the one to take it back. You’re an adult, and sometimes that means you have to do hard things.”

I know I was harsh. I know I made her cry. And, honestly, I spent the entire rest of that day feeling guilty about it and worrying if she was going to stop being my friend because of it. But, the next day, she reached out and thanked me for what I said and told me she didn’t think any less of me because of it. She never once yelled at me, told me I was a bad friend, or treated my any differently after that. (Oh, and she did take the dog back, too.)

Jealousy Over The Ex

Emily and I started dating about two weeks after she broke up with her ex. We didn’t plan it, and I definitely didn’t see it coming, but I definitely found myself floating on air that entire first week after that night at Hooters.

Then, on Friday night, she started texting me. She’d agreed to hang out with her ex and some mutual connections that evening. However, when she went to pick him up (he doesn’t drive), he had an entire suitcase with him because he decided they needed a “romantic weekend together.” And, because Emily hates confrontation even more than I do (and that’s saying something), she didn’t say no.

She was texting me to try to figure out what to do, but my emotions were all over the place. I stopped replying to her texts because I knew I was going to say something I’d regret, but then she started blowing up my phone because she interpreted my sudden silence as anger. I tried my best to explain to her that I was feeling jealous, hurt, and confused, but I wasn’t doing it well.

At one point, I told her I felt stupid for thinking that she’d actually be into me, and I’d rather her be honest than pretend to be into me. Of course, she responded by telling me that she definitely wanted to date me, but she was afraid of confrontation (which I already knew) and she didn’t want to hurt Julian’s feelings or give him a reason to lash out at her.

The entire time, she kept telling me that my feelings about the situation were valid and the last thing she wanted to do was hurt me. Looking back, I definitely didn’t handle the situation in a mature way, but she was still willing to love me anyway. And, ultimately, she did start setting some harsher boundaries with the ex — it just took a lot of time and effort.

Her Grace Knew No Limits

Obviously, those are very specific examples of me and Emily. However, I watched her show grace to countless other people, too.

She had this friend that, honestly, said some really harsh things to Emily at times. I remember multiple conversations with Emily crying over the things this friend had said about how Emily was “getting fat” and how she “wasn’t a good friend” because she was trying to get the friend to make recovery oriented decisions. And yet, it didn’t matter what Emily had going on in her life, anytime that friend needed help, Emily would drop everything and go. We once even had to turn our date night into sharing a fast food burger and fries outside the emergency room because the friend called her when she was on her way to meet me and needed medical attention.

The same ex I mentioned before? We once picked him up at 11:00pm and took him to the ER as well because his blood sugar was all sorts of out of whack and he called Emily because he didn’t have anyone else. After everything he had done to her (I’m eventually going to talk more about that), she looked at me that night and said, “I know he is a huge jerk, but he needs help and we can help him. Doesn’t everyone deserve that?”

Trying to Find My Emily-Like Grace

As I told people in my Disciple class tonight, I really feel like my job at this point is continuing Emily’s legacy. She never said that, but I feel like she made the world a better place, and I still want that for everyone.

But, like I said tonight: How do you show others grace when you yourself don’t feel deserving? And, even more so, are we supposed to offer abounding grace if we’re truly leaning into our call to be Christ-like?

I am going to talk to Emily about these things this weekend. And, even if I don’t get an answer, I know she’ll at least be willing to listen because she’s always been willing to do anything for me.

Because I Got Her In Trouble

Back in January, a dear friend of mine suggested I sign up for a grief support group. She even helped me find one specifically for spouses, so I decided to take a chance and sign up.

It’s funny, because group therapy used to be such a huge part of my life just five years ago. Yet, since I left the DBT group Emily and I met in, I have mostly sustained myself through weekly individual therapy sessions without much else in the way of therapeutic intervention. But, then again, I suppose the sudden and very much unexpected death of the woman you planned to grow old with is one of those life-changing events that requires a bit more support.

Although the circumstances are very different, I guess you could say that life today feels eerily similar to the year from hell that led me to group therapy before. Of course, this time I’m in therapy because Emily is gone, whereas before, the therapy is what brought Emily into my life.

When Strangers Become Friends

At Emily’s funeral, I very candidly shared the story of how we met. I still smile every time I think about the moment I saw Emily walk into that room. Although I won’t go so far as to say it was love at first sight, I definitely felt a sort of emotional shift inside of me that day. And, even if she only did it because I seemed like the least intimidating or crazy person in the room, I definitely felt a mixture of excitement and nervousness when she sat down next to me that day.

Between August and April, that first encounter became commonplace, as nearly the exact same situation unfolded each and every week. I quickly learned that I could anticipate exactly what Emily was coming to therapy that day based on three key Emily components: her hair and makeup, the beverage in her hand, and her eyes. But, I didn’t care if happy Emily, depressed Emily, or sleep-deprived Emily sat down next to me — because I enjoyed Emily’s company regardless of her mood.

Of course, one of my favorite parts about having Emily in group was the comments she would make. Like her, I have a bad habit of responding to pretty much every situation with a terrible joke or overly sarcastic comment. Fortunately, we had both learned how to mumble those comments in a way that usually people didn’t listen. Unfortunately, because we both did this, we picked up on when the other person was doing it, which meant we heard each other’s comments all the time and laugh about them.

And, if you know me at all, you know that I do a terrible job of remaining still and quiet when I find something funny.

Emily and I got “in trouble” several times because of what became our little inside jokes. The therapist leading the group would glare in our direction, sigh heavily, and suddenly find a reason to call on one of us or ask if we were listening. It got to the point where sometimes we’d pick up on what the other was thinking or saying, and one time we even both started laughing during a mindfulness exercise because we’d just had a conversation previously about how much Emily hated that specific guided meditation.

Some weeks, the therapist would sit between us or near enough to us that we had to behave. Other weeks the therapist would catch us both hanging out in the parking lot an hour after group had ended, and she’d ask what we were talking about before she got in the car and drove away. She knew we’d become close.

Then, one week in late April of 2019, I said one thing, and it started a whole train reaction of events.

Emily and I were both also seeing the therapist who led the group for individual sessions. It’s sort of the protocol for dialectical behavior therapy, because the assumption is you’ll bring homework from the group to unpack during individual sessions, and the therapist can reinforce skills. We were also nearing the end of the final module in group, which meant I was nearing my second time through the entire program. If you do DBT “by the book,” most people either stop the group after two times through or, as recommended for people with BPD (which according to that therapist I had), you move into an advanced group.

At this point, I felt like I was doing well all things considered. I hadn’t been in the hospital for over a year, I was working at a church and a rehab facility, and I seemed to be on a good medication combo. So, during my individual session, I casually asked, “So what’s next once we finish this last module?”

The therapist gave me this confused look and asked what I meant, so I explained that this was my second time through everything, and I felt like I had a good grasp of the skills we’d covered and wasn’t sure that it made sense to do the same thing a third time. I then asked if she had any referrals for a place to go if I wanted to try an advanced group since she wasn’t offering one.

Without projecting too strong of a negative attitude towards this therapist, I’ll just say I left the session in tears and unsure of what was coming next. The next week, the therapist essentially told me she was going to be unable to continue working with me after we finished the last group session and I would need to find someone else to see individually. Of course, my individual session just happened to be right before group, so Emily knew the moment she saw me that day I wasn’t okay.

When I told her everything later, she couldn’t believe it. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have told her everything, but I trusted her and needed a friend. But, I told her, knowing that she was going to do a second round of the group sessions and still see the therapist individually.

Well, long story short, Emily did a whole worksheet about a situation where “a friend got kicked out of a group we’re both in” and how she felt about it (angry and upset). Suddenly, Emily said the therapist told her she needed to move back in with her parents because she wasn’t recovered enough to live alone. And, like me, she was left to find a new therapist.

In other words, my decision to be assertive about my own mental health care also messed up Emily’s care.

I Guess I’m Not Getting Her In Trouble Now

Okay, yes, I realize that what happened isn’t exclusively my fault. I’ve shared the story with my current therapist and, spoiler alert, she was a bit appalled about many things the aforementioned group therapist did. But, it does make for an interesting story and does make the fact that we remained friends even after our time in group therapy ended a bit more understandable.

But, between that and the fact that most people didn’t know Emily wasn’t straight until she started dating me, I feel like I got Emily in trouble a lot in the time we knew each other. But, every time I pointed this out to Emily, she’d smack me and talk about how I also was incredibly helpful to her, especially in regards to her ED recovery.

Because of me, Emily got in trouble. So, at least I’m no longer being a bad influence on her?

Because She Gives Me Strength

Over the past four months, I’ve done a lot of things that, quite frankly, I can’t fully explain. Some of these things, like drinking an entire bottle of rum in a single day, were 100% a form of pain management. Others, like agreeing to be in a fashion show (more on that later), are definitely no-brainer decisions I’ve made on the premise that Emily would want me to do them.

Honestly, I can’t quite explain where the strength or knowledge that compels me to do these things comes from. However, I know that it’s been happening from the moment I walked out of Vanderbilt just over four months ago. And, although most people may think I’m crazy for saying this, I’m choosing to believe it’s some form of Emily with a side of the Holy Spirit leading me along.

Of course, if you don’t believe me, maybe you will once I finish this little story that’s been on my mind today.

Words Are My Thing

When we started the planning process for Emily’s funeral, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But, when her mom asked me if I’d like to speak, I just felt something inside of me saying, “Do it.” I guess it’s probably the fact that words are my thing, and I knew deep down Emily would want me to write something.

So, I did. In fact, this is what I wrote (and read):

“Every great love story starts with an adorable narrative of how the couple met. Sometimes they’re high school sweethearts or have a budding college romance. Other times they meet in places like work, through mutual friends, or at church. 

Of course, if you know Emily, then you know how much she “loved” fitting into the mold. So, it’s only fitting that we met in a way much like any other couple… we met in group therapy in 2018.

If you ask me, I say that our meeting was serendipitous. I was instantly drawn to her warmth, her smile, and her energy. I could just tell that there was something about Emily that made her extraordinary, and I wanted to learn what exactly that spark was all about. If you ask Emily, she’d say that she really only sat next to me because I was ‘less weird than everyone else in the room.’ 

Despite these less-than-conventional beginnings, Emily and I quickly bonded like any couple who is destined to be together. We often laughed at each other’s snarky comments during our therapy group’s weekly meetings and checked in with each other when we sensed something was “off” with the other person. Over time, our conversations moved out of the therapy room into the parking lot, then to text messages and phone calls, dinner rendezvous, and trips to McKay’s together. She accompanied my children and me on vacations, we celebrated a pandemic Thanksgiving together over Zoom, and we regularly indulged in our favorite guilty pleasure — Grey’s Anatomy — from the comfort of my couch.

For me, every moment we spent together was magical and meaningful and far beyond anything I’d ever experienced with another person in my entire life. Yet, somehow, it took us until April 2021 and a day-long adventure of couch shopping together to finally admit what was on our hearts: we were in love.

In some ways, I think the wait was a lesson in patience and learning to ‘trust the process.’ Of course, this lesson was just one of the many things Emily taught me during our time together.

Throughout our friendship and romantic relationship, Emily taught me so many things that I’m not sure I can even list them all. But, I’m going to try and share a few with everyone who is gathered here today.

Emily taught me what true joy and passion looked like. Every time Emily danced, played her oboe, sang, or played the piano, she did so wholeheartedly. You could see the joy these creative outlets brought her, and it made watching or listening to her that much more impactful. 

But she didn’t just express that joy through creative arts — it showed through in even the most mundane tasks. She found ways to sprinkle joy into activities like cooking, caring for pets, working on grad school assignments… pretty much anything you can imagine, Emily found a way to make it joyful and exciting (except cleaning, but we’ll just forget that).

Emily showed me what strength, courage, and determination can really do. In the time I knew her, I watched Emily push through eating disorder recovery. She’d set goals and challenges for herself, and crush them time and time again. She would reach out for support when she needed it, eat meals even when she admitted she didn’t want to or heard her eating disorder telling her to do the opposite. She faced fear foods, bought clothes for her changing body, and broke habits that had become commonplace — all for the sake of her own future. 

Because I watched her do all of this, I had the strength to face my own demons and work on myself as well. I made it through some exceptionally tough times, processed traumas that I’d buried away and shared with no one, and broke out of my own unhealthy habits — all because Emily taught me that I could.

Emily also taught me the true essence of living authentically. Day in and day out, she made the choice to show up and be real. She wasn’t afraid to share her struggles with others and speak candidly about her life. I know this transparency helped her connect with so many people, like her friends from eating disorder treatment, fellow transplant recipients, and even the hundreds of clients she served through her jobs in peer support and crisis stabilization. She was willing to be real with people, and I learned how to be my true self in her presence.

Emily showed me what gratitude looked like, too. Even before she learned about her organ donor, she constantly shared how thankful she was for the precious gift of life she received from another person’s selfless act. After she learned about Victor, she looked for ways to thank him and memorialize him in every step of her journey. She included him on her graduation cap and she fervently shared his story. We’d even discussed ways to show our gratitude to Victor in our life going forward, both through a memorial table at our wedding and by naming the child we hoped to have together after him.

Emily taught me so much more about compassion than I ever knew was possible. No matter what people did or said to her, she still found a way to care about them and help them as much as she could. She would give anyone the shirt off her back or drive them halfway across the country if it would help them in some way. She never asked for anything in return, and she was never resentful or mean — she simply paid it forward to anyone who crossed her path.

Most of all, Emily showed me what true unconditional love looked and felt like. From our first kiss until just a few hours before she passed, Emily constantly let me know how much she cared about me with her words, and more importantly, her actions. It didn’t matter how tired she was or what I had or hadn’t done for her — she loved me completely, without hesitation. I had never experienced the type of love that Emily showed me, and I will carry every compliment, every hug, and every moment we spent together in my heart for the rest of my time on Earth.

As many of you know, I had just proposed to Emily a little less than a month ago. Although we had just started planning our wedding, I was looking forward to writing my vows and making countless promises to her as we started our lives together as a married couple. 

Unfortunately, most of those promises I would have made are now null and void since they required her to also be here on Earth with me. I’ll admit, I’m a little salty she went first, because that’s exactly what I told her not to do. But, I have decided that one of the ways I can keep Emily’s spirit alive is by making some slightly different promises to her today with all of you here as my witness.

So, Emily, even though the life we dreamed of together is going to look a bit different from here on out:

  • I promise you I will find ways to spread joy to others through music and my various spiritual gifts. I may even find a way to spread joy throughout all 50 states since I know you wanted us to visit them all together.
  • I promise I will continue to pay it forward to others by sharing my own recovery journey and helping those who are struggling. If I can, I will even find a way to make that treatment center we dreamed of opening together a reality.
  • I promise I will share Victor’s story and yours in any way I can. I will honor you both by being an organ donor myself and encouraging others to share the gift of life.
  • Finally, I promise you I will continue to live my life authentically and learn to love myself the way you loved me, unconditionally and without hesitation.

I know that, if you’re here today, Emily touched your life just like she touched mine. I also know that even though Emily has left this Earth, her story isn’t over because we all carry pieces of Emily with us in our memories and in our hearts. As long as we’re all willing to cling to those pieces of Emily that we each carry, find joy in simple moments, and live our lives wholeheartedly, Emily will always be here with us.

She Gave Me Strength

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine brought up the funeral. She talked about how she just remembered me making it through my entire speech, and then I just sat down and completely collapsed.

And she wasn’t wrong, I fell into the chair and just started sobbing. It’s like I was somehow protected from the weight of my emotions as I read, and then it all hit me at once as soon as I was done. And, given everything that’s happened to me since, I firmly believe that Emily was there with me that day, giving me the strength to pull through.

Looking back, I don’t even fully remember reading the speech. But I know I made it through.

It’s funny, because when Emily was alive, she was a major source of strength and determination for me, too.

For example, Emily was one of the first people I told about the divorce and many of the details behind it. As I spent several months in the trenches of negotiations and talks with lawyers, Emily was there. When I felt like giving up, she reminded me what I deserve. When I panicked about the future, Emily told me she knew I’d make it through. And when I was really bad, she sat and drank with me until I felt ready to take on the world again.

And it was exactly the same after the divorce was finalized and I decided to do some intense trauma work with my therapist. It was the same when I applied for jobs or took on a new freelance client. It was the same when other friends would completely knock me down. And, funny enough, it was the same when I agreed to ride a water slide that seemed absolutely terrifying. No matter what I faced, Emily gave me the strength to go for it and stand tall. She was my security blanket and the medal to give me courage all wrapped up in a cute, fun-size package. She was the one who helped me through everything.

She’s Still Giving Me Strength

I know that I should be getting over my loss and moving on with life, but I’ll be honest, it’s hard. I told someone the other day that these past 4 months have been harder than anything else I’ve faced in my life, and I meant it. Harder than the semester I got sent to alternative school, harder than the college semester I almost didn’t finish, harder than miscarriage, divorce, and everything else that’s ever happened to me.

Each morning I wake up and spend a solid five minutes convincing myself to get up. Then I have to fight the urge to vomit and cry as I start moving around. There’s usually at least one point where I cry, and I’m still sleeping on the couch.

But, somehow, I get dressed and get the kids ready for school. I get my work done, I prepare dinner, I get the kids ready for bed. I’m holding steady with my freelance work, I’m somehow keeping my head above water with the household chores. And, most importantly, I’m still alive, even though I’ve been incredibly close to trying to change that.

At the end of almost every day, as I lay on the couch curled up in one of Emily’s favorite blankets, I ask myself how I made it through another day. And, nearly every day, there’s only one explanation that comes to mind: her.

I don’t know why I’m still here, but I know that every breath I take is because of Emily. From the first day I met her, she gave me strength. And, I feel so lucky that she’s still giving me strength right now, because today hasn’t been a great day. I just hope that, someday when the time is right, she won’t have to give me strength anymore and can just give my a hug instead.

Because She Loved Gift Giving

One of the hardest parts of grief is the unexpected ways it creeps into everyday events. Yesterday was of those days where everything brought on the tears, and I actually ended up just getting up and leaving less than halfway through church service so I could go cry in my car.

Today seemed better, and I was so thankful. I woke up and hit the ground running. By lunch time, I’d gotten 80% of my work tasks for the day finished, I had laundry running, and I used my lunch break to clean out the fridge. I wrapped up my work day and got on Facebook, then I saw a post and remembered I’d never finished the checkout process for something on Emily’s brother’s wedding registry, so I did that.

When I pushed button to finish the transaction, one of those waves hit me… And I spent the next 30 minutes wiping away the tears.

As I cried, I started asking myself why something that normally would bring me and Emily such joy was making me cry, especially when I’d been so stable all day. Of course, here I am hours later, still wondering why buying a registry gift tugged at my heartstrings so much. And, honestly, I don’t have an answer. But, I do know that Emily would be happy about the gift because she always loved getting the people she loved things that brought them joy.

Emily Lived For Holiday Shopping

Okay, let me rephrase that heading — Emily loved to shop all the time. However, she really enjoyed the opportunity to shop for other people.

Every Christmas that I knew her, she’d sit down and carefully plan out what to get each person on her list. She especially loved shopping for her nieces, but really everyone got special treatment. Sometimes I’d watch her hunt for weeks, trying to find the perfect gift, and every time, she’d get so happy when she came across an item that made her think of someone on her list.

Birthdays were done in a similar fashion. Whether it was her youngest niece or her dad, Emily made sure to find the perfect gift and the perfect card for each and every person when their birthday rolled around.

I don’t know that I’d ever seen someone who put so much thought and effort into gift giving. I also don’t know that I’ve ever seen someone so happy to watch someone open the gifts she got for them, but Emily always was.

Of course, the fact that I not only have all of the gifts she ever gave me, but that I absolutely cherish them (and did even before she died) should tell you everything you need to know about her gift giving skills.

I have two different t-shirts she got me for two separate Christmases. One of them says, “You can talk to me about mental health… And cats.” The other one is a music joke and says, “These are difficult times,” then has two complicated time signatures on it. I also have the Grey’s Anatomy book and cactus shirt she got me for my birthday a couple years ago, which I’ll never forget.

Any Excuse Was A Good Excuse To Buy A Gift

Of course, holidays only come around so many times each year. But that didn’t stop Emily from finding other excuses to buy random gifts for the people she loved.

I’m pretty sure that every time that woman went into Five Below or Target, she came home with something for everyone in the house. And every time we’d clean up her apartment or clean out her car, she’d find a “just because gift” she’d picked up for someone from a store because “it made me think of them as soon as I saw it.”

I told her time and time again that she was spoiling the kids and I by buying random gifts. Every single time, she’d just smile and say, “I love all of you and you deserve to be spoiled.” And, given that most of the items came from $5 or less sections of stores, I guess I can’t argue with her too much.

However, I think what I really learned from watching her buy things for people is this: Emily always had other people on her mind, and she enjoyed expressing her love for them in any way that she possibly could. She bought items because they made her think of the person she got them for, and giving the item to the person was a way for her to let them know that they’re always on her mind… Even when she’s in the middle of Five Below.

I Would Love To Harness Her Gift-Giving Spirit

I’ll be honest, gift giving has never been a skill that I possess. I am terrible at remembering birthdays, and even worse at taking the time to go shopping for someone and pick out the perfect gift. But, after seeing the joy that doing it brought Emily and knowing how much I cherish the gifts she gave to me, I’d really like to see if I can get better at the whole gift giving thing this year.

It may be the best thing I’ve ever done. Or, it may completely flop. But, either way, it’s another thing I can do to try to keep Emily’s spirit alive. And that’s something I really, truly want to do with my entire soul.

I loved everything about Emily. And Emily loved giving gifts. So here goes nothing as I try to find pieces of myself in the things that mattered to the woman I loved.

Because She Sucked At Cleaning

Although I’ve never been a “neat freak,” I appreciate it when my house is mostly clean and organized. I am embarrassed to admit this, but my house is not clean right now. At all. Sure, it’s liveable, and yes, I can find everything, but it’s messy, making my eye twitch as I look at it all.

If you knew Emily, then you know cleaning was not her strong suit. At all. So, you’d think that her death would have made it easier for me to maintain a clean household… but it hasn’t.

I could probably justify the mess to some degree by sharing the fact that I work around 60 hours each week between my full-time job and freelance gigs. I could also blame some of it on the fact that I am still using my living room as a makeshift bedroom because I am still avoiding the bedroom because it’s just filled with her clothes, makeup, and memories. But, the reality is that I’ve simply lacked any and all motivation to do what I need to do, and, in a weird sort of way, having a messy house almost gives the illusion that Emily is still here.

Emily’s Cleaning Buddy

I remember the first time I saw Emily’s car. Boy, was it a sight. From the outside, it appeared to be filled to the brim with everything you can imagine, from clothing to textbooks to trash. At the time, I assumed it was something temporary, like she had just moved or had gone somewhere for a week and hadn’t gotten around to cleaning out her car. But, the more I got to know Emily, I learned a simple truth: Emily just didn’t clean things.

As our friendship evolved, I became Emily’s cleaning buddy. Anytime she’d get a notice from her apartment about inspections, anytime she planned to drive to Knoxville for a weekend, or anytime her parents planned to be in Nashville, I’d get panicked texts or phone calls. And, nearly every single time, I’d go help her clean up her apartment or clean out her car as best as I could.

I’ll admit, it was never easy or fun. I’d usually find things growing in her fridge or in coffee mugs throughout the apartment. I frequently found items that had obviously been sitting in the same place on the floor for months, with no effort to pick them up. I’d uncover things in her car that she forgot she even owned, or see that she had three opened containers of the same thing (like cookie butter) in different rooms because she couldn’t find the original one.

Sometimes I’d leave after spending several hours throwing out trash and deep cleaning and wonder, “Why am I doing this?” Other times I’d have to stand outside for a minute between running bags of trash to the dumpster just so Emily didn’t hear or see me throw up. Each time, though, it mostly broke my heart a bit to see how she lived because, deep down, I knew it wasn’t really her fault.

It Wasn’t Always Her Fault

I think a lot of people would see someone like Emily, take one look at her car or her apartment and think, “Man, that girl is lazy.” But, as is the case with many people who live in disorganized homes, there’s more to the story than meets the eye.

I knew fairly early on in our friendship that Emily lived with several mental health conditions. She most openly talked about her battle with anorexia, but for a large amount of the years I knew her, that was far from the most problematic symptoms she experienced. Instead, I really think her obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) paired with her depression were the real culprits when it came to her issues with cleaning.

Every time I helped Emily clean, I couldn’t help but look at her with curious fascination. It was a great way to see exactly how her mind worked and watch the battles she dealt with constantly play out.

One time, I cleaned out two entire rooms and hauled all of the trash to the dumpster in the time it took her to simply clear off her desk. She literally could not move on from this stack of papers because, in her mind, she had to sort them and place them in file folders immediately if she wanted to clean them up. She couldn’t simply put them all in a drawer or leave them neatly stacked on top of the desk. It was like she could only follow a certain path, and trying to do otherwise made her panic.

Another time, I ended up going over and cleaning her kitchen while she was still at work. We were dating at this point, and she had been living with me for months. However, we had decided to stay the night at her apartment one night when we didn’t have kids because it was closer to the city. I realized that next morning that we not only didn’t have anything to eat at her place, but the kitchen hadn’t been touched for at least two months. Emily attempted to clean in there, only to decide within a few minutes that she was going to die from some sort of contamination and that she’d be better off to simply never go into the apartment again than try to clean it. So, I waited until Friday when I didn’t have much to do at work and I spent several hours over there throwing everything in the fridge away and wiping down as much as I could.

I remember when she showed up after work that day, because she was panicking that I was going to break up with her over the fridge. She kept saying, “Why do you love me? I’m disgusting and broken! You deserve so much better!” But, as I told her, she wasn’t any of those things. She simply had a mental health condition that made tasks like cleaning very complicated. And, because I’m me, I also threw in a joke and then shared with her in great detail how gross the liquified hot dogs in her fridge were. We laughed, hugged, and moved on.

That’s one thing that I wish I’d gotten across to her before she died — even her flaws weren’t fatal. In fact, they usually weren’t even her fault at all. And I was more than happy to deal with a woman who would never clean out the fridge because I appreciated all the other parts of that same woman. Also, I knew that with time, she’d work through some of these issues. She’d already started doing some therapy specifically focused on OCD, and although it had only been a few months, I’d already seen some improvement and change.

Pieces of Her Messes Everywhere

Each time I’ve cleaned part of the apartment since Emily died, I’ve ended up finding things that made me cry. I moved some things around in the living room a couple weeks after she passed and spilled her purse over, only to find where she’d kept our admission tickets for the Shedd and something from our trip to St. Louis. When I cleaned out her car before taking it to her parents, I found a postcard I’d sent her back in 2020 sitting right in the center console, almost like she kept it there to look at. When I cleaned up the kids’ room, I found some things she’d left in there when she used it to do a therapy session one afternoon a few weeks before she died.

It doesn’t matter how long it’s been or where I go in this house, I uncover her everywhere.

I know that I eventually want to maintain a clean home again because I know it is one thing that does help my mental health. But boy, is it hard to keep the house spotless when you often struggle to even get out of bed and spend 10+ hours per day working. But, every time I get mad at myself or start to judge myself for everything I see around the house, I remember the things Emily said and felt when I would help her clean and remember my responses. So, because of Emily, I’m trying to give myself some grace. It will eventually all be clean, but until then I know she’s not judging me whatsoever because it would be just as bad if she were still here.

Because We Had Our Own Language

As I drove to pick the kids up from school on Thursday afternoon, I experienced something new: a moment of laughter mixed with grief. I shared the experience over TikTok, but essentially a fire truck started it all.

As I laughed over the memory, I felt this dissonance within my heart. I love Emily and I know she’d like to see me smiling and laughing over the memories we shared. Yet, as I think about the silly ways in which Emily and I talked to each other over the years, I can’t help but also feel my heart breaking all over again.

We Called Them “Wee Woos”

If you watched the TikTok, then you already know this. But, basically, Emily and I started calling emergency vehicles “wee woos” at some point, and the name stuck.

However, we eventually took it a step further and gave each “flavor” of vehicle an adjective to distinguish it. So, fire trucks were “spicy wee woos.” As you can guess, ambulances were “medical wee woos.” And, I think police cars were “criminal wee woos.” (We talked about that one the least often.)

I don’t know if I just haven’t paid attention to my thoughts as much lately or if Thursday was simply the first time I’ve consciously thought about those terms since Emily died. Regardless, I laughed as soon as the phrase popped into my head. I even looked over to the passenger seat while laughing, and for a moment I imagined her laughing there beside me. It didn’t last long, but it was nice while it did.

Babe Language

Wee woos weren’t the only silly words for things we had going on. Sometimes, it almost felt like Emily and I had our own little language. In certain instances, it was to keep the kids from figuring out what we were saying. But, most of the time, it was just things that started with a single silly moment that became an ongoing thing we shared.

For example, we started calling each other “babe” fairly soon after we started dating. When the kids said it was too confusing for us to both be “babe,” I started calling Emily “pint-size babe” and she started calling me “musical babe.” It was cute.

To go along with that, we had statements that probably sounded completely ridiculous to anyone else, but we knew what they meant.

  • “Babe is love?” meant the person who said it needed reassurance. The other person would usually respond with, “I love my babe!” and the person who asked the question would say, “Yay! Babe is love!”
  • “Skinny desires” was a term Emily used when her eating disorder thoughts were being extra loud.
  • “Spicy thoughts” were code for trauma flashbacks or thoughts related to a past trauma, which we both had many of.
  • “Babe is want?” was usually Emily’s way of asking if I wanted to have sex.
  • “Does babe need medicine?” or “Can I have some medicine?” was usually a sneaky way to discuss edibles. (We learned early on that saying “gummies” did not work.)
  • “Gentle cuddles” was a term Emily used when she wanted me to hold her or cuddle up with her, but not in a sexual way. Usually it meant she was sad or having a hard day and just needed me to wrap my arms around her.
  • “Toaster bath thoughts” was our way of letting the other know that we were not doing well mental health wise.
  • “Grippy sock jail” was code for the psych hospital.
  • “Babe is WAP” can probably be inferred if you know the Cardi B song. Usually one of us said it to the other when they put on an especially attractive outfit.
  • “I be a blob” meant the person who said it wanted to curl up and relax. This usually involved a blanket and, in Emily’s case, meant she was going to scroll TikTok.
  • “Bad babe!” usually meant one of us did something we weren’t supposed to, but it was usually said in a playful way.
  • “Mommy juice” was alcohol.
  • “I pop babe!” meant Emily was about to pop some sort of pimple on me. (I could write a whole post just about this.)

Song Lyrics Became Sentences

I’ve discussed how much Emily and I loved music in multiple posts at this point. However, this meant that we both would randomly burst into song. I think Emily was one of the first people in my life who matched my love of turning what people say into song lyrics, and it makes my heart happy.

Some favorites in the house included:

  • I Knew You Were Trouble by Taylor Swift (usually in reference to the cat Trouble)
  • Booty by J Lo and Iggy Azalea (if you saw Emily’s butt, you understand)
  • Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol because of Grey’s Anatomy
  • Good As Hell by Lizzo (usually when we’d ask how the other was doing)
  • I Kissed A Girl by Katy Perry for obvious reasons
  • Tempo by Lizzo (often me dancing in the kitchen)

I Miss Our Special Communication

I’ll admit, there are so many things that are hard about life right now. But really, it’s little things like our ridiculous made up language that make this especially painful. You just can’t replace that level of connection with someone, and sometimes it takes longer to explain the word or phrase than it’s worth. It’s like that language we shared is just… gone.

Because of Emily, I had someone who I connected with on a level that we could communicate in so many silly ways and still get each other. And, much like our inside jokes, I miss those little conversations of lingo and lyrics more than ever.

Because We Went To The Movies

The emotions have been all over the place this weekend. One minute I’m participating fully in the present moment, completely engaged and feeling content with life. Then, out of nowhere, the heartache and longing hit me out of nowhere and I feel my eyes fill with tears. Or, without any obvious trigger, my mind begins to race, my stomach churns, and my chest feels like a car is resting on top of it. Then everything settles for a moment… only for the madness to start all over again.

I was fully riding that roller coaster last night as the kids and I drove home from dinner with some friends. At one point, I was singing along to the music with the kids, and then I saw Burger Republic out the window, and I fell apart.

An Unforgettable Movie Night

If you weren’t aware of this already, Emily and I share a love of all things psychology related. We always went to that section in McKay’s, we frequently pulled our DSMs during discussions over what mental health condition we thought a TV show character had, and the majority of the memes, links, and videos we shared with each other were somehow mental health related.

Anyway, given that information, it should be no surprise that I wanted to go see Words on Bathroom Walls when it came out in August of 2020. It also shouldn’t surprise you that I asked Emily to go with me and she said yes without hesitation.

For your reference, the film is about a high schooler who is diagnosed with schizophrenia and has a hard time talking about it and coping. There’s also a love interest and other sappy things. So, the perfect movie for girls who enjoy tearing apart films that get mental health conditions like this wrong.

Back to the story…

We planned to start the night with dinner at Red Robin, but they had over an hour wait. So, we ran down the road to Burger Republic. We ordered, enjoyed our food, and talked. Unfortunately, we left pretty much immediately after we saw a mouse run through the restaurant, which meant we still had time to kill before the movie and we both didn’t get to finish our boozy shakes.

I can’t remember which one of us thought of it, but we decided to go to the liquor store and get some nips that we could sneak into the movie theater and add to our fountain drinks. We wandered around the liquor store for a bit, then bought what we came in for and headed to the movie.

The movie ended up being much better than I expected, and the company was obviously even better. I think her chillness with our rebellious move of taking the booze into the theater caught me off guard since she usually seemed to panic over anything that might get her in trouble, but it also made me see what a badass she really was, which made me fall for her even more. I felt like I was in high school or actually getting an authentic college experience (music majors who are working to pay for school don’t have time to be a “college kid”). It was so much fun. Emily was so much fun.

Movie For One

Since Emily died, I’ve seen a couple movies advertised that I wouldn’t have minded seeing. But every time I contemplated going to the theater alone, all I could think about was that magical movie night. Although I know I could sneak alcohol in (I’ve gotten good at that lately), I don’t know if I could make it through an entire movie by myself without wishing for my Emily.

Thanks to Emily, I have so many incredible stories like this one. And because of her, I relearned what it’s like to have fun, laugh, and enjoy life.

Yet, without her, I can’t seem to find the joy in life. I can laugh for a moment, smile through a two-hour ballet, or have fun with my friends for an evening. But eventually, it all comes back — the heartbreak, the overwhelming sadness, the anxiety and despair. It all engulfs me until I can’t feel anything else. Maybe soon I’ll learn how to breathe without her. But for now, I’m going to try my best to turn the tears into stories of the happy memories that came before.

Because We Loved ‘Grey’s Anatomy’

I can recall many things about my relationship with Emily, but there are some details that seem like a blur. For example, I know that one of the first things Emily and I bonded over was our love of Grey’s Anatomy… but I can’t remember the exact conversation that helped us discover our mutual love for the show.

I’m sure it either came up in DBT group or during one of our parking lot conversations back in the day, and I guess it doesn’t really matter when and where it happened. The point is, we both loved Grey’s, and it became a cornerstone in our relationship.

Grey’s Anatomy And Us

Throughout our friendship, Emily and I talked about Grey’s Anatomy a lot. At first, we texted each other after we watched each episode, and sometimes we’d even text during them if we both happened to catch it live. We’d complain about the stupid things characters like Owen Hunt would do, gush over the sexy doctors we liked, and make predictions about what was going to happen next. It was incredible.

As we moved into 2020, there were lots of weeks where Emily would come over for dinner and we’d watch Grey’s once I got the kids to bed. Sometimes this got us into trouble because Meredith would stomp out of her bedroom and tell us we needed to watch TV more quietly, and sometimes it just turned into us turning episodes into drinking games. But it was always fun.

When Emily ended up in the hospital for a few days in the fall of 2020, I brought my laptop and we watched old episodes of Grey’s to pass the time. We used Siri to pick a random number to determine the season, then another random number to determine the episode. Then we’d try to see who could recall what was going on before we watched it, which often resulted in us both remembering a few plot points and completely forgetting others.

As I have mentioned in a few other posts, we made a Grey’s reference the first time we kissed. We also joked about being a mix of some of our favorite Grey’s ships, primarily Calzona (which didn’t end well) and MerDer (which is low-key accurate since Emily died in the hospital and probably did need a head CT towards the end). Emily even once bought me a pair of scrubs so we could do a Grey’s roleplay, although we never really got around to it.

We often talked in “Grey’s code,” which meant we used a lot of references in our conversations. We’d shout about not being able to find our other shoe, we’d ask to be sedated, or we’d explain how we were mentally by saying, “I’m (insert character) when (insert plot).” I loved it, because she was one of the few people I knew who loved that show as much as me.

A Grey’s Style Ending

The week after Emily died, I made the comment to someone that I felt like Shonda Rhimes came and wrote the plot for my love story with Emily. It was almost too good to be true… And then she died, just like many of the Grey’s Anatomy characters we loved.

And really, those last few hours played out like a scene from Grey’s. She crashed out of nowhere. The doctors were stumped and running all kinds of tests. I refused to leave her side even though I was completely terrified. Then someone had to escort me out as they took extreme measures to save her life and I completely fell apart. It’s almost too much like the drama of the show to be real life… And yet it is.

What’s funny is she always joked that she’d die like Denny and someone would have to cut her LVAD wires. But instead, she just crashed like half the patients do during surgery at Grey-Sloan, and we still don’t know what happened.

A Grey’s Moment for My Trip

I’m writing this from a bed and breakfast in western Illinois as I’m on this sort of impromptu, mostly fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants road trip in the Midwest.

I planned to hit Iowa and Wisconsin this week, but with no specifics in mind. However, as I looked up route options with Google Maps, I realized something: I’m going to be less than 3 hours from Rochester, MN, which is where Mayo Clinic is based.

As soon as I discovered that, I instantly thought about the season of Grey’s where Christina Yang goes to Mayo Clinic. I thought about Emily and how much she loved anything medical related. And I thought about the fact that Minnesota is yet another state I need to check off.

As you have probably guessed, I’m changing my route a bit so I can hit Rochester and at least drive by Mayo. It might sound crazy to everyone, but I just can’t help but feel like I made the connection because she wanted me to. And if you know me even a little bit, then you know how hard I tried to make Emily feel loved and do anything she asked.

Emily and I bonded because of Grey’s Anatomy. So, it only seems fitting that I work in a Grey’s related stop into this trip.

Because A Bomb Went Off

Like many other people around Middle Tennessee, the kids and I woke up to no power this morning. Due to the unusually cold temperatures, electricity usage was exceeding what TVA could provide, so they mandated rolling blackouts. Unfortunately, our local power company wasn’t prepared to turn the generators back on, so we were without power for at least an hour (could be longer but we weren’t awake yet).

As we waited for the power to come back on, Meredith said, “This is almost like Christmas a couple years ago when the bomb broke the internet!” I laughed, and then I sat in my thoughts, replaying that entire Christmas day and the days after. It was an interesting Christmas, and funnily enough, it involved Emily in an unexpected way.

Such a Strange Christmas

I remember Christmas 2020 very well. The kids woke me up early that morning, excited over all the gifts under the tree. We opened presents, then started cinnamon rolls in the oven. We would only have the morning together, since their dad would be over to pick them up by lunchtime and they’d be spending the next week with them. Needless to say, I was trying to make the most of it.

Right before 8:00am, Emily texted me pictures of her parents’ yard. Knoxville got quite a bit of snow, and I was jealous of the beautiful view. I wished her a merry white Christmas, but she didn’t respond and I assumed she was busy with family.

But then, around 30 minutes later, she says, “Are y’all okay?” When I ask her if I missed something, she says, “Uh, yeah,” and includes a link to the news about the Nashville bombing. When I asked her if she was aware of the distance between Nashville and Murfreesboro, she told me to shut up because she has an anxiety disorder and panicked.

Within a few hours of that text exchange, I had no cell service, no home internet, and no one else in the house. It was a very lonely Christmas Day.

The next morning, Emily sent me a message on Facebook (so I could read it when I found public WiFi) letting me know she’d be back home from Knoxville later that day and I could crash at her place if I at least wanted the internet and someone to talk to since she had Comcast internet and used Verizon for cell service. She also mentioned that she was a little scared to be home alone since they still hadn’t located the bomber and they suspected someone who lived near her apartment complex. So I said yes.

After she mentioned her heat wasn’t working well, we decided to just split a hotel room if we could find one with working WiFi. This worked well because we’d have company, internet, and Emily would be close to her weekend job. It took some calling around on Emily’s part (I didn’t have a way to make phone calls), but we found a hotel and I used Panera’s WiFi to book a room.

It ended up being a pretty fun weekend, despite the cold weather and the lack of cell service. We talked for hours about everything and nothing, I worked on freelance writing while Emily went to her weekend job as a home health aid, and we are at Five Guys at one point. The hotel was cute, and Emily definitely mentioned we should stay there again sometime. For me, her company was what really made it an exceptional weekend.

Yet Another Moment of Missed Indications

Throughout the weekend, each of us took turns making jokes about the two of us dating or somehow being involved with each other. At Five Guys, I held the door open for her, and offered to pay for us both. She laughed and mentioned how I was a better gentleman than her boyfriend, and I told her to dump him for me. At the hotel, we cracked a joke about the sleeping situation. There were just little moments of playfulness, and it made me laugh.

It all seemed pretty on brand for us, and it definitely wasn’t the first time we’d made jokes like that. When she tagged along on the fall break trip to Gatlinburg with me and the kids that October, we had some similar banter. When I was starting the divorce process, she joked about us getting a place together and I said that might make us look like a couple, but we both laughed. So many little moments like that, going all the way back to 2019… yet neither of us picked up on the others underlying feelings.

Looking back, I wish I’d made my move much sooner. I knew for certain how I felt about her the night I drove home from that Lizzo concert, but I worried she wouldn’t reciprocate those feelings. And she told me several times that she stuffed down her feelings about me because she felt unsure about her sexuality.

Which, I guess at most it would have given us another year or so, but given how quickly things moved, that extra year would have gotten her the wedding of her dreams and let her avoid the dumpster that was the ex right before me. But I guess that’s yet another regret I get to add to my list of things I wish I’d done a better job of with her.

Picking Up The Rubble

This Christmas is going to resemble the Christmas from two years ago in many ways. The kids will leave sometime after the morning to be with their dad for a week. I’m going to leave my apartment and go stay in a hotel (well, a bed and breakfast for a few nights, then a couple different hotels). I’ll probably do some freelance work on someone else’s WiFi.

But, this time, instead of waiting for someone else to pick up the rubble and restore AT&T internet and cell service, I’m going to be dealing with my own shards to pick up: my broken heart.

I’m not going to lie, I’m somewhat using the next week to run away. I know it will only provide relief from some of the pain. I’ll get to take a break from living in a house full of her stuff and memories I made with her. I can leave behind a town where all I see are moments we shared together. I can ignore the people who try to talk to me but don’t understand, or I can even ignore everyone who knows me as Emily’s other half.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing that can make me the way I was before I watched the love of my life die, and that’s a hard pill to swallow.

Just like the bomb went off and destroyed a whole section of downtown Nashville, a wrecking ball called death obliterated the beautiful life I’d built with the most incredible woman I’ve ever met. And that isn’t something that can be repaired.

Because of Emily, I had someone to be with in the aftermath of an explosion. But because she’s gone, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to put myself back together again.