Faithful Departed—Emilie Lemmons

(1968 - 2008)


Emilie Lemmons, a writer and mother of two (although as she would say “not necessarily in that order”), is someone few people outside of the Minneapolis/St. Paul area probably know. If you read her blog, Lemmondrops, however, you had a window into the daily struggle and heart-wrenching experience of a woman who shuddered at the possibility of dying too young from cancer with two young children in tow.

Before her diagnosis, Lemmons wrote for the Catholic-based paper The Catholic Spirit, of the Archdiocese of Minneapolis/St Paul. The Spirit, as it is known in Catholic media circles, is an exceptional Catholic newspaper that really values its journalistic integrity — it doesn’t just do fluff pieces on “nice Catholic stories.”

Lemmons was at the heart of that kind of truthfulness — bishops and church officials often questioned how she could ask such a tough question when she was supposed to be “on their side.”

Joe Towalski, her editor at the paper, remarked: “Emilie, of course, was on the church’s side. But she never felt she had to sacrifice good journalistic principles in telling the Good News, and she was a big reason The Catholic Spirit was named the top large-circulation diocesan newspaper in the country for its work in 2003, 2005 and 2006.”

One piece in particular focused on Catholic identity on college campuses. She told the story straight. Notre Dame is doing the “Vagina Monologues” and Boston College officials are clashing with an abortion rights group on campus. More traditional-minded Catholics were lamenting the loss of Catholic identity, while academicians argued that the colleges that were Catholic enclaves were not respected as complex centers of thought. And her piece included a human rights angle about how faculty members who did not espouse Catholic teaching were dismissed at some schools.

When she became pregnant with her second child, Lemmons, 40, was diagnosed with cancer, a soft-tissue sarcoma that eventually would spread and take her life. The mother of a 2 year old and a 9 month old baby turned her attention towards motherhood and dealing with cancer at a young age. She again told her readers the stark reality she was facing. The “about me” section of her blog puts it bluntly:

“I’m Emilie, a writer and mother to two young boys, married to my best friend and living in St. Paul, Minnesota. I was diagnosed with a soft-tissue sarcoma in August 2007, while pregnant with our youngest son. Cancer sucks. But we are trying to live life to the fullest in spite of it.”

She told of the frustrations dealing with a toddler who wouldn’t listen despite her raised tones. You could feel her seething anger the day her son’s stroller was stolen from right in front of her home, and then her hysteria trying to hunt down the thief when she thought they tried to resell it on Craigslist.

In the twilight of her life, Lemmons’ reflections showed that there was more to the story than a simple death from a dreaded disease. She knew there was another side to the picture, which she might not grasp intuitively but needed to explore in order to tell a more complete story — not just for her readers but for herself as well:

“I rage against the possibility that I might die and leave my children motherless, my husband a widower. Even though the medical odds are against me, and my rational mind knows I could die, it is hard for me to accept death as an outcome.

“What if I just let go of that? What if I trust that even if I die tomorrow or next month or next year, things will somehow work out? What if I allow myself to put the outcome in God’s hands and just live intensely in the present, absorbing and embracing life as it happens? It’s not indifference or admitting defeat; it’s seeing the bigger picture.”

She didn’t hold aside any details of her frustrations with hospitals and treatments; and — finally — she stated her gripping realization of an impending death culminating in home hospice care as the naked truth:

Friday, December 19, 2008
“So here it is: As of yesterday, I am officially in home hospice care. It is time for me to start preparing to die. It’s so surreal. We’re still trying to work through the many emotions that come from this news — sadness, fear, worry that I won’t get everything done in time. And yet, there’s also a sense that this final part of my journey might perhaps be one of the most amazing and spiritual times of my life.”

The very next post on Lemmondrops didn’t come from Emilie but from her husband Stephen on Christmas Eve.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Emilie passed away in her sleep last night. I was holding her hand as she faded away. I loved her and will miss her dearly, but I am happy to see her free of the pain and suffering…Emilie wanted me to share the following quote after she died.

“And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so?

I did.

And what did you want?

To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.”

— Raymond Carver