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6 years later, her presence is always with me

Today marks six years since the death of my gorgeous and talented daughter, Emily. The evil we all are aware of today—fentanyl—claimed her life at age 21. My heart is […]

Today marks six years since the death of my gorgeous and talented daughter, Emily. The evil we all are aware of today—fentanyl—claimed her life at age 21. My heart is always heavy on these anniversaries. I know they will come every year, and yet, somehow, I will make it through them. As I write this blog, I’m looking out my window, watching the rain come down while the sun peeks through the clouds on a beach of the Atlantic. I find myself in a situation I could never have imagined before tragedy struck, trying to create meaning and purpose out of a death that didn’t have to happen.

Ask any parent who has lost a child, and they’ll tell you it’s hard to know what to do with yourself on their birthdays, death dates, and every single holiday. On this sixth year, since a hole was blasted in my heart, I find myself far from home in South Carolina. I’m here to learn from different opioid response teams how to better treat this horrible addiction and save lives so that other families don’t have to know this pain. I can’t think of a better way to mark this day that changed my world forever.

I have found that when I try to keep my heart open, it feels as if my daughter is guiding me to exactly the right places and people to facilitate not only my efforts to put a dent in the fentanyl epidemic, but also to aid in my own healing. We had several scheduled meetings with opioid response teams in both the Charleston Police Department and the Medical University of South Carolina. But it was a spur-of-the-moment invitation that really made me feel as if her spirit was guiding me to exactly the right places and people.

WakeUp Carolina, an organization much like Emily’s Hope, was putting on a Narcan training for middle schoolers at a local library and teaching them about fentanyl. I had heard about this organization and was told by others that I needed to meet its leader, Nanci Steadman Shipman. Nanci lost her 19-year-old son Creighton to an opioid overdose in 2016, two years before I lost Emily.

Naci Steadman Shipman of WakeUp Carolina with Angela Kennecke of Emily's Hope
Nanci Steadman Shipman of WakeUp Carolina

Immediately after meeting Nanci, I knew I had found a kindred spirit. The similarities between her family’s story and mine were uncanny. In fact, so much so that it brought tears to my eyes. Creighton was a happy kid, an athlete, and an artist, just like Emily. Yet, addiction doesn’t care about any of that. When I shared with Nanci that this week marked a dreaded anniversary for me, there was a deep understanding between us. She told me that seven years was actually one of the worst she had experienced. She couldn’t explain why. I’ve heard other parents say that after seven years, it gets easier, for whatever reason. I can be hopeful that will be the case for me as well. I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason. I think a lot of life is random and chaotic. Yet, there are times like these where there is a knowing, an uncanny feeling of being guided to exactly where I am supposed to be when I’m supposed to be there.

The next day, I sat in a conference room at the Medical University of South Carolina and learned how they are implementing life-saving measures that we want to bring home. As I sat there, I looked at the wall and saw a small photo of a young woman with her hair up the way Emily often wore hers. It felt as if that were Emily looking over me, guiding me, and helping me find the right path to accomplish our mission. She is always in my heart, and her presence will never leave me. It doesn’t matter where I am or what I’m doing on May 16th. This day will never be easy, but I can get through it with purpose, and the love in my heart for my daughter that never dies.

Faith, Hope & Courage,


8 responses

  1. Kathy Kampa Avatar
    Kathy Kampa

    That last sentence was so powerful! The strength you are sharing going forward is phenomenal 💝

    1. Angela Kennecke Avatar
      Angela Kennecke

      Thank you!

  2. as always

    your heart writes beautiful things

    god bless you as you honor the six year mark

    the same time period has passed since the loss of my son in a tragic traffic accident

    you and Emily are doing so much good in the world

    1. Angela Kennecke Avatar
      Angela Kennecke

      I am so very sorry for the loss of your son! My heart is with you!

  3. Susan Jensen Avatar
    Susan Jensen

    Angela, Thinking of you and prayers for comfort on this day and every day. Thank you for your steadfast journey to continueing seeking information and education regarding drug use and passing that on to the public. May God bless you in all you do.

    1. Angela Kennecke Avatar
      Angela Kennecke

      Thank you so much, Sue!

  4. Pam Oberembt Avatar
    Pam Oberembt

    I cannot fathom how difficult this day is, but what a blessing you are making of Emily’s life with the courageous work you are doing. Your openness to both share your journey and to continue to fight fentanyl is inspiring. I respect your work a great deal. Peace to you.

    1. Angela Kennecke Avatar
      Angela Kennecke

      Thank you, Pam!

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