Friday, October 6

Becoming Our Best Selves

     There are moments that mark your life. Big or small moments that define whole chapters of your story, that change you irrevocably, and that can affect every choice you make as your life moves forward. Lately, as I think about details of my family's journey over the last few years and look for lessons that can help me carry on and grow stronger, I realized that I keep coming back to some of the people that were in it with me during those moments for the most inspiration.

    I'Ive been carried so often through the hardest times of my life by countless caring individuals, and the examples that they have set for me have served as a framework as I move through each day making careful decisions about my family's future. I want to talk today about one of those wonderful people and the impact she has made on my life, but first a little background...
    Since my late-husband Martin’s death in the Spring of last year, I've been blessed with the opportunity to share my story at many different conferences and platforms, and with many people who are hurting in their own way. I've gotten to hug and talk directly to people who have their own unique type of grief or loss or struggle. The biggest point that I've tried to pass on during these experiences is that not only are we not alone in our pain and heartache, but that those darkest parts of our lives can actually become our strongest parts. I've tried to express that trials can really open us up to becoming our best selves with more compassion, more empathy, and a unique and rare understanding of what is really important in life. Those deeply life-changing moments can actually be used as catalysts towards a version of ourselves that we never imagined existed. Because we have been lost in the dark, we know how sweet and beautiful and valuable the light truly is when it comes.

     Early on I learned to smile and hide my feelings from most people, especially the kids and Martin, because I learned that any sign of pain from me would cause him so much more hurt. During the transition from a wife and caregiver to becoming a single mother to my five little ones, I had the realization that I just couldn’t let myself really grieve and be consumed by my emotions all the time, because I needed to be a full-time mother and breadwinner now more than ever. I was only 25, but the kids were only 11 months through 6 years old. Not only were they needing/wanting extra love and attention to make up for lost time, but especially after the trauma we had faced and were facing as a together, they were fully dependent on me for comfort and stability as their only parent. Recognizing this was two-fold, because it served as a comfort in helping me to see that my life still had so much meaning and purpose when I felt like I wanted to die too, but it was also very scary and intimidating. I didn’t know how to do it all on my own, and I was pretty certain I’d be on my own for a very long time, if not forever. I felt like I was walking blindly into a completely unknown future with my children all holding onto me, and I had no idea where we were going, how exactly we were going to pay bills, how I was going to ensure their success and happiness in life, if our life would ever heal, if I would ever feel happiness again.
      I leaned on a few others when I really needed someone to just listen, but most of the time it took some digging for anyone to really get through to me. One person that has always been able to do that these last few years especially is my sister-in-law Robyn, Martin's brother's wife.

     From the beginning of my marriage to Martin, I felt extremely lucky to have new close-by and caring relatives that pulled me into the family and loved our children as their own. Robyn, in particular, would help babysit quite often and was always the first to be called on or to reach out if there was a need. When Martin was diagnosed and our life turned upside-down, we had to leave quickly to start treatment out of the country and she played such a big part in securing the children and keeping our house in order as well. It was such a blessing to know our little treasures were safe and secure, and it helped save so much money as well. When things became so dire and I really started to fall apart, she was always there to comfort me or to distract the children with an outing or a treat.
     During the month or so around his passing, she was a constant figure in the background, quietly performing so much service without being asked, always cleaning and folding laundry or running errands, etc. I would have forgotten to eat or drink for days at a time if she hadn't put a cup in my hand or a plate in my lap. Robyn, like me, really is more if an introvert and values her quiet and calm, so it meant even more knowing how much of her own time with her family and her work she so willingly puts to the side to be there for myself and others.

     She has been such a reliable and giving and loving friend through the hardest parts of my life, and she'll always be one of my greatest examples of what true service and love looks like. The world would be such a different place if more people were like her, and I've had the blessing to meet many that are. Feeling the effects of her giving heart, I realized there isn't really a way to repay her except to pay it forward, and to work harder at putting others needs and desires before mine in my family and friendships, in my community and in the work I do.

     I realized soon after Martin’s passing that the quickest and simplest way to distract myself from my pain and to be able to simply function was to lose myself in caring for my children and in serving others as much as possible. When I’m giving of myself or sacrificing even in small little ways, I forget my own issues for a time, I feel so much stronger, and my life seems to have so much more meaning.

     Robert Ingersoll said “We rise by lifting others.” and I really know that to be true. We never know the full impact that even little acts of kindness can have on others and the world around us, but we know they’re never wasted. I know that I am my best self when I’m putting others first, and I’m so grateful for all of the people who, like Robyn, have set the ultimate example to me (and many others I’m sure) of how to live the most fulfilling and beautiful kind of life.


  1. This is beautiful! :) I love the images too. <3

  2. I love the quote at the end there. Robyn sounds like an amazing person and we all need those in our lives at the best and worst of times. Wishing you happiness.

    Abigail Alice x

  3. Beautifully written Emily! You are a gem and are beautiful from the inside out. Your kindness beams from your eyes. It was such a privilege to meet you and connect with you this weekend. I appreciated your vulnerability to open up and share your story; you are a courageous woman! Congratulations on your new chapter of love and on your angel baby on the way. You deserve nothing but happiness and I wish you all of the best.

    xo - Jennifer from Enlighten

  4. I have no words. Robin is such a blessing for your family. I'm thankful you have her in your live.

  5. You are so right that helping others can make you rise up and you inspire me to do more for others to better myself & help them. A lovely, touching post.

    Holly from The Art of Being Holly xo

  6. That's so lovely! Having someone there through the rough times is so important. I wonder, did you ever have a shift of friends after you had your babies? My best friend of 12 years has suddenly disappeared from my life and I am devastated.

  7. So beautiful, thank you for sharing your heart!

  8. So beautiful, thank you for sharing your heart!

  9. Everyone needs a Robyn. I'm so fortunate to have a couple of Robyns of my own and strive to be one when my family and friends are hurting.

  10. Love this message, very beautiful. Thank you :)

  11. Thank you for sharing your courage and determination.

  12. Oh. My. Beautiful you! I have watched your hair styling videos for a long time because I have a whole lotta hair and it needs to not look like a giant mop. But I had no idea of your story! I have spent the better part of today lurking about your blog, soaking in all the things you have been so brave to share.

    I need to color my hair red so we can be twins... but my late husband was a redhead, and so are a few of my boys. My dear Jay passed away from cancer far too young, and like you, I was a young widow with 5 little children - but all boys. I remarried an old friend from high school (he's the one who introduced me to my first husband!), and we had three more children in the next two and a half years.

    We all have heartbreak and tears - and somehow joy in the middle of it all. My dear, you inspire me. This has not been an easy road, and it still isn't. But it is worth it. Thank you for sharing your beautiful heart - the world desperately needs the kind of love you hold so abundantly.

    Much love!

  13. It's great to have people in your life who can take care of you when you forget to take care of yourself. Caregivers need caregivers too <3

    Kaitlyn @ Oh, the Places We’ll Go!

  14. Omgoodness..beautiful!! Just reading this, I love her and you and am so amazed by your strength. Bless you and your littles!! Xoxoxo Apryl Hodge