November 3, 2022

Today marks the eleventh anniversary of the worst day of my life. One moment, one call, one series of events that stole the life Elena was born to live, devastated every dream we had for her and broke our hearts. It set our entire family on an unchosen, unwanted path, one we never in a million years could have imagined as we stood clutching each other under the fluorescent lights of Riley Hospital, faces streaked with tears, hands trembling in anxiety and fear. I will always be moved to honor November 3rd, to remember the before, to acknowledge the trauma that Chad, Elena and I lived through, to recognize our amazing support network of friends and family that caught us when our bottom fell out.

Chances are, if you’re reading this, you know this. You know that every year, I post a reflection of this day. There are ten posts that describe the anguish, the trauma, but also (eventually) the redemption. And I think that best describes this journey. It sums up all I could ever say about this day, about our lives and about what we face moving forward.

I have struggled with what to write about today, because in a lot of ways, I feel like I’ve said it all. I have bared my pain. I have grieved with a raw vulnerability. I have shared our triumphs, our gratitude, our joys. All of it has its own place on this journey. This balance of forever grief, but still allowing myself to be present, grateful and live this life with every ounce of joy I can squeeze from it, is a daily and forever battle. That will never change. But this hard-fought battle has resulted in so much redemption. I can’t help but feel proud of what we have built out of the ashes of our most unimaginable devastation, what we have been able to overcome. That is the benchmark of progress for this year, standing in awe, proud of the transformation of our lives, of who we are as people, of the resiliency of our amazing little family.

While this is a day to remember and reflect, for us, it has never been about the past, about the what happened. It’s about moving forward and doing our best to navigate this world for Elena. Despite the pain of it, the challenges, we soldier on, for her, for us, for our family. The best part of the story never lies in the tragedy, it’s always about the redemption, the transformation.

  1. Linda Manna says:

    Your beautiful thoughts touch my heart. I wish I was as gifted in expressing my feelings. In 1996, my sweet, handsome 16 year old was in a car accident. He had severe brain trauma and didn’t survive. I, too, celebrate so many dates of years gone by. Your family is amazing and you inspire so many other parents who now face a different kind of “normalcy”, after a tragedy.

  2. As always, you touch us with your words and your Faith! God gives us the Faith but it is up to us to use it and let it shine through us, as you, Chad, and especially Elena, do everyday! Love and hugs!

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This is Elena. Our Light. You can see all the goodness and joy that shines from those deep blue eyes. She loves sneezes, yawns, industrial toilet flushes, automatic paper towel dispensers and The Star Spangled Banner. Music is her everything, specifically Moana, Frozen (really all Disney), Queen & Taylor Swift. Nothing makes her squeal quite like swimming, fast boat rides and her two brothers in trouble. In addition to her megawatt smile, Elena reminds us to cherish the smallest of victories, to live in the present, and to daily dwell in a posture of gratitude for every breath and every blessing.  

More About Our Story

I’m Emmalee, an ordinary gal born and raised in the Heartland. Wife to Chad, and Mom to Elena, Calvin & Turner, I spend most my days ridin’ dirty (literally so much trash) in my minivan carting kids to and fro. When I’m not being a Momager, I excel at self-care, cooking gourmet meals my kids won’t eat and deep-diving all the feelings. Most days, my attitude is gratitude, just taking life one step at a time.

Emmalee & Elena

Meet The Gals