Remembering Emma, in honor of Breast Cancer Month


Good friends are hard to find. Great friends come along once in a lifetime if you are lucky.

I have had a group of friends since my college days and by some standards, we are an odd bunch of diverse women. Madalyn is a married mother and businesswoman, who as I write, is on a plane to re-locate with her company, for two years in England. Elvira is a single educational administrator, who resides in the same house in Brooklyn where she grew up, escaping periodically to Atlantic City or Rockaway Beach. Kathy is a homemaker, who gives both Betty Crocker and Martha Stewart a run for their money. Nancy is a re-married X-ray technician, who has battled the after effects of polio her whole life, managing never to seem handicapped to any of us. Bernadette is our token nun, who sings sweetly like an angel and roars with laughter like a drunken sailor. I am a 34 year veteran Pre-K teacher, with a love of theater and a desire to sing more than “The Wheels on the Bus.” And then there was Emma. Somehow she was everything we all wanted to be. Emma was always put together, with co-ordinated outfits and coiffed hair. Her house looked like something out of Home Beautiful magazine. She had been a beloved teacher, and in later years, devoted herself to family, friends and volunteer work. Emma was the most thoughtful person we ever knew, always giving the perfect gift. We teased that she must have owned stock in Hallmark, because if you sneezed on the phone, in two days you would receive a Get Well card. There wasn’t an occasion that slipped her mind. She didn’t just love you, she made sure she showed it in so many little ways. She was the tie that bound us- always making phone calls to get us all together.
As a group, we had been through a lot. Together we had weathered; children’s illnesses, divorce, change in careers, teenage angst, moving from “the neighborhood”, menopause, aging parents and even loss of parents, but nothing prepared us for the loss of Emma.
Emma was first diagnosed with Breast Cancer over 10 years ago and somehow all of us had managed to remain snugly in denial. We couldn’t even imagine the unthinkable, so we never dared to go there. Through the ensuing years, Emma suffered two mastectomies, endless rounds of chemotherapy, an unsuccessful reconstruction, and finally a third diagnosis that the cancer had returned yet again. Our little group, aptly known as “The Tea Girls” for our boring, yet comforting drink of choice, always tried our best to rally around Emma. We visited, sent cards, prayed and carried on as usual, meeting every Thursday night for tea, all the time knowing that if it were us, Emma would do so much more.
In May of this past year, Emma started to look poorly. Her face was drawn and her once beautiful hair was now nothing more than fuzz under a baseball cap. Despite our never- ending prayers, Emma looked weak and in pain and her vibrant smile was gone. Once again we rallied around her and did our best to talk about everything else beside the cancer. It was the first time that I feared we were in a losing battle and Emma might not win this time. Emma was in the hospital, and for what would be the last time, we all gathered to be around her- her husband, sister, mother, daughter and her well-loved “tea” friends. We finally spoke the truth and said our goodbyes, there was no more time for small talk or denials. We hugged her frail body, told her we loved her and expressed how blessed we were to know her. Sister Bernadette held our hands in a circle and we prayed for her one last time, knowing in our hearts that we were praying for ourselves and the deep sorrow we knew we would feel when she slipped away. My daughter Christine, her Godchild was also there. She was seven months pregnant and the new life inside of her made the moment even more poignant. Emma succumbed to cancer on June 5, 2007. The Tea Girls had a beautiful floral arrangement made in the shape of a teapot and everyone at the wake smiled when they saw it. Emma would have laughed as the huge, green teapot was added to the back of the floral car for all to see, leading her way to the cemetery.
The “Tea Girls” continue, with the heart of our group gone, and now there are six. We push ourselves to remain together, knowing Emma would want us to rally around each other, through not only this time of deep sadness, but the remaining journey, we call life. Baby Olivia Emma was born a few weeks after Emma’s passing and now has six women who love her very much.
There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about Emma. She taught me so much; to be brave in the face of uncertainty, to strive to be a better friend and most importantly to cherish every day as a gift.
This is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and I don’t necessarily think we need to be reminded of breast cancer, unfortunately we are reminded about it everyday when we lose a loved one. We need a month to remind us to cherish and appreciate all our friends while they are here- Emma would want that.
-Written by Janet Miserandino, ©2007