A few weeks ago I was talking about planning my baby sister’s baby shower…
Last week I attended her Memorial Service.
Warning … this post is all heart… low on great writing.
Emily was the best baby sister. She was 13 years younger than me. When she arrived I had a twin brother and another younger brother so as you can imagine … I was pretty excited. She loved the beach and hanging out on the boat with everyone. Sure, as a teenager I was annoyed that I had to babysit for her. I was DEFINITELY jealous that she was the one who got new cute cowboy boots with fringe and all of the treats she wanted. But, I was her big sister and I freakin loved it.
I went away to College when she was going to Kindergarten, so, our relationship was different, but, special. We never shared clothes or school friends… but, we shared tons of fun times with our parents and later on … my family. We were both annoyed by our brothers. I mean … they are boys.
Once I graduated College and started working, I loved visiting her at her school. I bought all kinds of dumb junk for her and her roommates. From hair-dye to extra hi-lighters…
I was a big TV personality .. haha…in a tiny TV town ( Buffalo ) so, I did feel so fancy spoiling her with anything the local Walmart could offer. I took her roommates to Applebee’s … we laughed in their dorm rooms. It was some of the best times we had. I was proud of her. She was proud of me. It was awesome.
Emily was always surrounded by friends ,so, a few years later I was really excited to hear that she had a new ‘best’ friend. She had found the love of her life, a guy named James. James (or Jamie) loved Emily and Emily LOVED James, They were a great match and the wedding planning went as smooth as it could be… ever plan a wedding? HA
However, this is when things started feeling different. What I didn’t know then is that she was sad. She was so happy and bubbly every time I saw her, but, there was a tiny bit of me that was wondering what was really going on. There was something missing behind those eyes that looked like mine. She made the same jokes as me,but, they were a bit off.
Bottom line, my amazing baby sister was depressed and at some point she started using drugs to try and manage her pain. I have never been embarrassed to say that I have family members dealing with mental illness. I am heartbroken I could not do more to help her. Did I text her enough? Did I call her enough? The answers have to be no – no – NO. When I saw her it was amazing. But, I have my own little crew to manage and a job and a life in a town where she did not live. The distance was there. The love was there too… was it not enough?
When she recently announced her pregnancy I was scared but hopeful. There were not a ton of people who thought I could be a great Mom when I shared that I was having a baby all those years ago. To the outside I was ‘obsessed’ with work. There was one person who believed in me. Emily knew I was going to be a great Mom and she was always happy to see my kids. I was ready to believe in her.
Even though I was worried about her, I knew she had all the practice she needed. She was Zach’s Step Mom for almost a decade. Emily, Zach and James had all kinds of cool adventures along the way. Zach tolerated Emily’s insane love of the holidays. Halloween, St Patrick’s Day included… yes Christmas and the rest were special too.
I was excited to see what this new little person could add to the family. She was posting pictures with her signature phrase #getbusyliving. I was hoping this baby would really make a huge difference in her world. I was hoping this baby would save her.
The thing is … we will never get to meet that tiny soul. We lost Emily a few weeks ago and I have been flooded with every emotion you can imagine. I am still in shock.
It’s also a confusing time. My house is still filled with laughter… and smelly kids. My kids miss Aunt Emily but they live here in the Philly area with friends and fun all around them. James is living in a house that has to be so quiet. Emily was loud as hell. Emily was messy. Emily was so much like me. A piece of me is gone and that is weird and horrible all at once. It’s just unbelievable really.
Some words from her husband…
Long post but I have something to say. Many of you knew of Emily‘s struggles with addiction, anxiety and depression. Some didn’t. For awhile she suffered in silence because she was ashamed and embarrassed. When she started speaking up about her issues, I saw a tremendous positive change in her life. For some reason, mental illness and addiction continue to have a horrible stigma in this country. I can tell you with absolute certainty addiction IS A DISEASE. I have been to hours of therapy with my wife, seen brain scans, and lived with an addict for 10 years. She didn’t CHOOSE to be this way, but she fought and struggled every day.Yet for some reason we treat these issues like they are different than other diseases. A lot of people have reached out to me and asked what they could do for me. I have thought about it, and what you all could really do for me and Emily is help END THE STIGMA. If you are suffering from similar issues, please tell someone. You don’t have to go to some 90 day in patient tomorrow, but call a trusted friend or family member. Go to a meeting or go to therapy. Hell – call me if you don’t have anyone else. Several people already have. Take the first step.If you know someone who is struggling, don’t be embarrassed or ashamed of them. Trust me – they are already ashamed. Support them. Encourage them to get help. Get them to talk about their issues. You never know, you may save someone’s life.
Encourage them to get help… that’s the part that got me when I read it. It’s time for all of us to speak up when we see something that is a ‘bit off’.
When I saw Emily when she was using drugs I was definitely nervous. I was worried that if I said something she would be furious. My Mom knew way too much and shared some of the story some of the time. Emily was always on my mind back then, and not in a good way. I was always terrified I would lose her. Emily was everyone’s favorite sister, favorite friend and yet no one was stepping up to help her.
Because I would talk about her with my friends, many people knew what was going on. Again, I never hid that I was worried. A co-worker who lost his sister actually encouraged me to speak up. So, after a family funeral a few years ago I did actually say to her, ” please give me the biggest hug in case I never get to hug you again” It made her VERY MAD. She could not believe people ‘knew’ she was using. Weeks later she entered a rehab facility. We were all so relieved.
She worked hard for months in a special place far from home and then called me when she was done. She seemed really happy that she put in the work to start feeling better. That’s the other thing about mental illness. Your brain is sick. So, many times it’s impossible to get better because your brain is a war with your heart. Emily had so much heart. She was desperate to be a Mom. I am so sad that I will never be an Aunt to her kiddos… I could go on and on but what you need to know is that Emily was someone you all would have loved. She deserved that love because she was so damn good at being awesome.
So, what’s next?
Like James said, it’s time to end the stigma related to mental illness and addiction. But, I also want you to do more. Hug your kids really hard. Stop complaining about homeschooling and the rest… Emily would love to be able to complain about that stuff. James would love to be able to bitch about his wife leaving her towel on the bathroom floor. For just one day be really authentically thankful.
Just one damn day…
There’s more – I am headed back to work tomorrow. I will be there with a smile on face and a sassiness in my step. Behind the smiles and fun I will be thinking of my precious sister.
Emily would want me to be happy. But, candidly, I feel guilty that happiness comes so easy for me. Sure, I have low days… we all do. But, when I am not feeling my happiest I am able to go for a walk or call a friend and BOOM I’m better. Emily and millions of people like her will never be lucky enough to have happiness come that easily. That’s so hard for me to explain to my kids.
Finally, I have been surrounded with love and friends in the days and weeks since I got the awful phone call. I want to thank everyone who listened, loved and hugged and poured me a glass of wine these past few weeks. I just wish I would have laughed hugged and listened to Emily a little bit more … I would give anything for another moment with her.