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Updated: Sep 16, 2021

It has been 365 days since what I selfishly want to call the worst day of my life. However, in all honesty, I would never actually call it that.

To some that might sound strange, but I can’t in good faith call it “the worst day of my life” because while my world was falling apart I knew deep down for the first time, in a long time, you weren’t in pain anymore. You had finally found peace.

Years ago, you said something similar to me when I asked you about your mom. You said you were sad but happy she was in a better place. You said every day after was hard, and not a single one passed where you didn’t think of her.

At that time how was I supposed to fathom that soon I’d be feeling that same weight?

I find it so hard to believe that it has been a year since we walked this earth together. The reality that there isn’t a single calendar day that hasn’t carried the weight of you not being here makes my heart hurt. I still see you everywhere, everywhere but here with me.

I see you in golden hour, as the sun turns that special kind of gold that just illuminates the world in warmth. It embraces me, not nearly as tightly as you did, but it makes me feel a little closer to you.

There’s a fountain on my campus named after you now - the one we took pictures at during family weekend freshman year right outside the school of Communication. I walk past it every day, a reminder that you are here with me watching me live the life you dreamed of. You always told me I would find myself in college, and like most things you were right, I wish you were here to see it in person.

I think about that letter you wrote me every single day. I have it copied and pasted in the notes section of my phone, and every so often when I need a little Scott Ralls wisdom I bust it out. I have not been able to read it without crying yet, even though it feels like I have each paragraph memorized by now.

“My first...Emma Kaye,” those were two things you’d always called me. You never seemed to just say Emma, it was always Emma Kaye. My first and middle name, the same middle name as your mother. I wear it like a crown now - a connection to one of the most important people to you. If I think hard enough I can still hear you saying it.

The first time I googled Emma Kaye Ralls was in eighth grade. I was in health class learning about my digital footprint. The first thing that I found about myself was MawMaws obituary. I thought it was so weird that the first thing people would see about me on the internet was my grandmother’s obituary in Benton, Illinois. Later I would come to find out it was because everything else about me online had only been published under Emma Ralls - but as an eighth-grader that is not something you think about at the moment. Now if you google Emma Kaye Ralls, the first three entries are as follows: Donna Kaye Smith’s Obituary, Charles “Dick” Richard Smith’s Obituary, and then your obituary.

Did you know I spent your birthday this year writing obituaries? Oh, the irony that in a class that was supposed to be a distraction from the loss of you I spent writing about the loss of others. You would have laughed, said “Can’t make this shit up” and told me it was good practice because you never know where life would take you. I gave it a go writing you an obituary after class had finished - it didn’t go well but it made me feel a little better.

So much has happened since you’ve been gone. I was elected vice president of my sorority. I was a Group Leader at camp, which you would have gotten a kick out of because my girls were lovable chaos that simultaneously made me burst out laughing and want to pull my hair out. These, alongside many other things, were events you should have been around to see - and it’s not fair that you weren’t.

It’s hard not to cry when I think about it. Honestly, it’s still really hard to say it. I prefer gone, passed, no longer with us. Some professors would yell at me you know, say proper journalism is all about using intentional and direct language - no beating around the bush with euphemism. Spell it out plain and simple so the audience knows what you are talking about.

But it’s hard to say you’re dead.

Even now, typing it on my laptop I stare at that screen and ponder how that could be real. How could you simply not be here? Even in your absence, you are spreading so much light, inspiring so many to be their best selves, and having such an impact on the world.

I saw it at camp, in the faces of the children having their first real summer in years. Laughing and playing and doing everything you dreamed of for them. I saw it in the staff members’ faces as they encouraged kids to be the best they can be, and found that in themselves too. I saw it in Johnny, Lauren, and Adam - carrying the torches you lit in them with pride as they pushed past their grief in utilized all you taught them to be the best head staff members imaginable.

I see it in Sydney and Bailey. As they too navigate the murky waters of life missing you. I hear you in their laughter, I see you in their dedication to push forward and their unwillingness to back down. Your impact, love, and lessons are still so prevalent in their hearts, and I know they miss you as much as I do. They get their strength from you and’d be so proud.

I see so much of it in Mom. I don’t know how she does it, but her heart is still as big as ever. Her kindness and compassion know no bounds dad, I can’t even begin to describe it. I know there are hard days but she seldom shows it, instead she is a rock, anchor, and guiding light for all those around her. Her bravery and strength are unmeasurable, and if I could be a sliver of a woman she is one day I will know I have succeeded in life. She reminds us every day how much you love us and how proud you’d be. I know you are bursting at the seems with it for her as well.

I’m doing what you asked, in your letter and your last real conversation with me. I hope you can see that. I hope you know that I’m trying, I really am and that I won’t ever stop. I know you loved me, I know you do love me, I know you will never stop loving me.

I miss you and think of you every day. I love you so much it hurts.

It’s been 365 days Dad, I have a lifetime left to go. I know it won’t ever be gone, but it’s getting easier. I’m growing through it dad, I promise.

*This was supposed to be posted on September 3rd, but I didn't have it in me to click publish at the time. Better late then never I believe, and I hope reading these words help you as much as they help me when I wrote them.

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