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.