by Erin Popolo, Community Student Advocate and AIR's 2022 Partner in Hope Honoree
As we come upon the two-year mark of the death of my daughter, I have learned so much… I have learned about myself, I have learned about the strength and kindness and resilience my daughter displayed daily, I have learned that death cannot end unconditional love.
Emily Michaela Murillo was born 8/3/2003. A beautiful baby girl with a head full of bouncing curls. She was curious and assertive and kind and empathetic. She had an innocence about her that was endearing. She had a love of the outdoors and nature and animals.
As Emily was growing up, she struggled. She had a hard time connecting with her peers, she was diagnosed with dyslexia among other learning disabilities, and perhaps the most challenging, was her bipolar diagnosis at the age of 9. After 3 years of therapeutic school, 7 different hospitalizations, a 9- month residential stay at age 11/12, Emily did end her life at the age of 17.
While Emily’s life was hard for her, she did have a good life. She had so many people who loved her: her family, extended family, teachers, therapists, neighborhood adults who encountered her on her daily walks. Summers at our lake house near Lake George, vacations, family dinners, game nights… She had a knack for connecting with adults. Kids, not so much. Emily endured a lot of relentless bullying growing up. Unfortunately, I could not out-love the damage they were doing to her.
I have learned that your words matter. Kindness matters. Every word you say to another person has an impact on them. You truly never know what someone is dealing with underneath the smile they put on for the world. Make your impact on others be a positive one. I often wonder if someone had been kind to Emily instead of unkind and intentionally making her feel bad about herself, if she would have made a different decision that night. Kindness is so important, and it costs nothing. It takes more effort to go out of your way to be unkind than to just not say anything at all. We should all be paying attention to the impact we have on those around us.
In the two years since Emily’s death, I have become connected with Attitudes In Reverse. In July of 2021 after writing an op-ed article regarding the horrific treatment we received during Emily’s high school graduation, I received a message from Tricia Baker, the co-founder of Attitudes In Reverse. We met and Trish shared her story of her son Kenny. We bonded on a level only bereaved moms can. Trish shared her mission regarding mental health and suicide prevention with me and what AIR does for students. I was very moved and wanted to help. So, I began volunteering to help Trish with events and school presentations. I found with every event and presentation came a tiny bit of healing to my shattered heart. Trish eventually gave me the opportunity to share Emmy’s story during some of the school presentations, and with each one, I felt my lost passion returning, my previously astray identity returning.
I am so grateful and honored to work with such an amazing organization and be a part of such an important and needed mission of speaking openly and honestly about bringing awareness to mental health and suicide prevention.
Looking back now, I can see how each different layer of Emily played a role in her life, and in her death. I can see how a global pandemic played a role in her death – how it isolated her, how learning virtually contributed to her frustrations and declining mental health, how it introduced her to cyber bullying. Cyber bullying continued through to her funeral. Kindness does make a difference and the unkind people in her life did negatively impact her and her life.
I cannot believe it has been two years since I have seen my beautiful daughter. Two years since I have heard her exuberant, infectious laugh. Two years since I have felt her incredibly warm, strong hugs. Two years since I have looked into her big, beautiful, kind brown eyes. I miss my Emmy every single second of every single day, more than words could ever accurately describe, but I am also grateful for everything she has taught me through her life and her death. It’s Been Two years….