Brenda Emer is no long a cancer patient. She is healed. She is whole. She is at peace.
I have no idea if this is biblical or not, something I just read in a book or heard a Pastor mention once but I love the thought and choose to believe it's true. In heaven, you don't remember the sad times and the struggles. You get all the best memories and none of the bad. I take such comfort in that thought, that my dear friend is sitting somewhere right now, with all the beautiful souls I've lost recently (and not recently), laughing, singing and joking about the good times they've all shared and the shiny memories that stand out.
Brenda Emer...oh my friend, how I miss you. At your balloon release on Tuesday, which I'm sure you would have hated and preferred we donated the money we spent to someone who neede it but please suck it up and accept the love!, my heart physically hurt so badly I was convinced I was having a heart attack. You know those people that make your life better just by being on the same planet? The ones you take comfort in knowing see the same stars as you? That was Brenda. She was a breath of fresh air.
I've had the pleasure of knowing Brenda very well for the last 8 years. Her daughter, Allison, is one of my all time favorite dancers. She walked in to the studio on the first day we opened the doors and I knew my life would never be the same. Allison was a diamond in the rough. She needed polishing and I knew it was my task to start chipping away. We've been through a lot together...I remember so vividly the one time Brenda received a cancer diagnosis (one of 12 times, mind you) She broke the news to Allison at the dance studio because it's a safe space for us all. Oh Allison cried. Sat on the mats with me and cried. And we discussed how it wasn't the end of the world and we would get through.
Well look at us now, Allison. Getting through things together still!
Over the years, Allison has grown in to an amazing young woman. She's an incredibly hard worker, a talented dancer and acrobat, a kind soul, wise beyond her years with the maturity of a grown woman. She's seen more in her life than I can imagine. I get overwhelmed knowing the things she's dealt with and I've got 11 years on her in age. My sweet Al...my Pallie, the baby whisperer. The ONLY one who could get Trace to stop crying when he was so sick as a baby. She's so gentle and Trace could tell that. (He still loves his "A-yeee-son" :))
In so many ways, I view Allison as my other kid. I guess when you share someone's journey with them...you really do become family.
Brenda was one of the first people who taught me about family. My own family is fantastic, of course. But Brenda...man she taught me about what I call OHANA. That family that's not necessarily your relatives but they are your tribe, your clan, your village.
Brenda Emer faced cancer 12 times in 16 years. First diagnosed when Allison was 2 with breast cancer, it never really went away or in to remission. She told me once that she lived with cancer the way her son lives with diabetes. It was all about maintenance and was more like a chronic illness. (Can you EVEN imagine? I think my chronic allergies are bad...dang it Brenda. Always with the constant reality checks!)
She spent her days driving school bus, working in the school cafeteria, being John and Allison's biggest fans. She loved to cavort around town with her wolfpack of friends, wonderful ladies I have come to know and care for over the last 8 years. She was always up for a good time, loved weddings and parties. Brenda was a champion for all types of cancer and cancer research. She reached out to hundreds of patients over the years, encouraging them, supporting them, helping them in any way she could. Brenda was a speaker all over the state of Pennsylvania at various functions and organizations, spreading her message of hope and perseverance. For years, she had Dave and I both on her Relay for Life Team. We sold more candy bars, hoagies and candles then I care to count. But you know what? With Brenda at the helm and doing 90% of the work...I swear to God we raised close to $50,000 over the 5 or 6 years we did it.
Funny story...one time we were selling these candy bars. Brenda gave me a second box to sell. I told her I hadn't finished my first box. She told me I needed to step up my game, in sarcam, of course. I looked her square in the eye and told her not everyone was a bald cancer patient with a sob story that could make someone buy sh*t on a stick!
To this day, her belly laughing at me saying that and the sheepish, mischievous grin on her face are one of my fondest memories. She knew it! She knew no one could say no to her. Because Brenda...she made you feel and oh how we need that!
Brenda was also a mediocre tap dancer. (Is it okay if I admit that now? She's not here to hit me so it's probably safe...eight years of adult tap lessons Brenda should have made it possible for you to do a stinking Buffalo!!! :)) Brenda was a fireball. She was everything good in this world in the face of so much crap.
Brenda taught me so much over the last 8 years. She taught me to laugh at life. She taught me to pick myself up by my boot straps and keep going. Brenda was my living reality check, not that she'd ever want to be viewed that way, but it's true. No matter how crappy things were for me, she always had it worse but acted 1000 times better.
In a video made about her journey, she said she wasn't sure why God kept giving her cancer. She stated she knew there was a reason but she wasn't sure, even though she'd asked many times. (She was a wonderful woman of faith)
I think I figured it out.
Brenda, your journey in life was so bumpy and hard because you were meant to be a light. You are a light.
You shine so brightly in so many ways. The obvious ways, of course...cancer research, patient advocacy, family love and community support. But there's so much more...your light shone beyond what you could even comprehend. You never saw how much good you did and you didn't care, you just kept plugging along. You asked why and I confidently can say it's because you were strong enough, brave enough, to have your journey. Your journey, twisty, turny, rocky and full of adventure is so meaningful, so filled with lessons. That's your reason, Brenda. To change the world.
Everyone's experience with Brenda is different.
When I was pregnant with Rory, I was very sick. I was so scared I was losing the baby. I was on my way to the hospital and I called Brenda out of sheer panic. My husband was packing a bag for me, my mom was getting the car and I was standing in the corner of the kitchen, panicking. I called Brenda. My brain went right to someone who knew, someone who'd been there, someone who'd know the fear. She calmed me down so quickly and didn't think I was crazy. She called and texted many times over my hospital stay, just to check on me. (I'm just one of many people she's done this for!)
That'st just Brenda's way. She was there for you. I tried hard over the last 8 years to be there for her and I think in small ways, I was. I hope I was. I hope she felt my love and respect. Actually, I'm choosing to believe she did.
Brenda Emer was a one in a million person. She had two mottos in life: Always Think Positive and 5 Hugs a Day. Isn't that pretty much the key to true happiness? If you force yourself to think positive, even in the face of say...CANCER, it makes this life so much easier to deal with. Hugging 5 people a day is good for your soul. There's something soothing about physically connecting with another person. It's solidarity, it's friendship, it's invigorating. I challenge you all to abide by Brenda's mottos!
As the days turn in to weeks, months and eventually, years since Brenda Emer has sat at the studio and laughed at stories about Trace, let me cry on her shoulder over all of life's struggles, watched her daughter tumble down the mats, scooped corn on to plates at the elementary school cafeteria, called the radio station to try and win a trivia contest while driving a bus, had a chemo treatment or reminded me that she loves me no matter what...it won't be easy. It will not be easy to move on without such a big part of my life. I miss my friend. I really, genuinely miss my friend and that will never go away. But. It will get easier to laugh and smile when I think of her, easier to embrace her life mottos, easier to put love in action and do something good in this world.
Because, honestly, at the end of the day...that's all Brenda was trying to do. Something good. And oh baby, she did.
I love you, Bren. I'm so glad I got to call you my friend and part of my ohana. My life is forever better because of you. Hug my Grammie for me...and Kaari's gram too. Oh I can just hear you three laughing at Trace stories...Tell Mrs. Lewis how much I miss her and make sure to teach Frehiwot a buffalo. :) I promise you years ago I wouldn't let Allison fall through the cracks and I will never let up on that. Until we meet again in heaven, my sweet friend...<3 i="">3>