I recently had someone ask me why I sign off my blogs with the words, “Faith, Hope & Courage.” Those are Emily’s words and there is a beautiful story behind them. Emily was the first-born grandchild on my side of the family. My mother doted on her and made sure to have one-on-one time with her. However, Emily was extremely lucky because she had more than one “grandmotherly” figure in her life. She also had Veronika, a German neighbor lady who treated her just like a grandchild and her great aunt, Rita. I shared a bond with my dad’s sister and she didn’t have any grandchildren of her own, so she basically adopted mine. My children all loved Aunt Rita! 

Rita & Emily following one of Emily’s gymnastic meets

Rita would come to visit with freshly baked treats and little gifts for my kids. She would help out this busy, single mom by making a casserole or two to leave in the freezer. She came to orchestrate kids’ Halloween parties and to make their holidays extra special. She and my girls would have “spa parties,” painting each others’ nails. Rita tells a story about the first time she stayed to take care of Emily, while I had to travel for work. She loaded Emily up on the bike trailer, just as I would every morning, and peddled over to the park. Emily was about 2-years-old. Everything was going just great, until a plane flew overhead. Emily burst into tears and pointed at the sky saying, “Mommy! Mommy!”

Over the years, my children became very close to Aunt Rita. She often came to care for the kids when I had to travel and we spent many holidays together. But in 2014, Rita was diagnosed with stomach cancer. While all of my children were upset at the news, it hit Emily the hardest, perhaps because she was the most sensitive. I explained the treatments Rita would undergo, from chemotherapy to possibly surgery. Emily cared deeply about others and she wanted to make something for her great aunt to let her know she was thinking about her.  At the time, Emily worked in a store where people picked out pieces of pottery to paint. 

Shortly after Rita’s diagnosis, my girls and I were painting pottery and Emily decided to paint a plate for Rita. She picked out this square  plate and she carefully chose colors she thought would match Rita’s kitchen. She used a paper doily to create the pattern on the border. Then Emily asked me what I thought she should write on the front of the plate. 

I said, “What do you think would help Aunt Rita get through this the most?” 

“Well, the most important thing is ‘faith,’ you have to have faith!” Emily replied with conviction. 

“That’s true,” I agreed. 

“And ‘hope;’ you can’t give up hope that you’re going to get better! Also it’s really hard to go through those treatments, so you have to have ‘courage.’” 

“You’re right!” I said. “Faith, Hope and Courage” are all important.” 

Emily wrote those three worlds on the front of the plate and on the back she wrote a personal message to Rita: “Thank you for being an amazing person & an amazing Aunt—I love you, Emily 2014  

After three rounds of chemo, in May of 2015, Rita underwent stomach surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. She had three more rounds of chemo following the surgery. While she still battles some stomach issues because of the treatments — five years following her diagnosis — Rita remains extremely active and an important part of our family.  

But my Emily is gone. I never could have imagined back in 2014, when she wrote those three words on the plate, that I would look to them to help get me through her death. But when I’m tempted to throw in the towel, I reflect upon that conversation I had with her in the pottery painting store. Emily knew what was important and she knew the intrinsic values that could help someone survive the worst that life dishes out, from cancer to sickness and even death.  

The death of my child rocked my “faith” to the core. But I know in my heart that Emily would want me to keep the faith. My “hope” is now in the form of a charitable organization we call Emily’s Hope! I truly hope together we can end the opioid epidemic, so that no other family has to lose their child, sibling, mother, father, aunt, uncle, niece or nephew. Through it all people keep telling me that I’m brave. I guess that’s “courage.”  

Wishing you

Faith, Hope & Courage,