This can be one of the true stressors of childhood. A few days before your birthday and all eyes are on you. Everyone is tuned in to your needs and your wishes. It’s something that only comes once a year and the pressure of getting it all right starts to press down on your delicate shoulders. Determined you stand upright defying that invisible force as you declare what meal will be eaten regardless of anyone else’s preferences. An itinerary of who will participate and what activities will happen forms first in your mind then starts to take shape with each discussion between you and your mom. Months of subtly dropping hints in stores and eying inventory from catalogs start to penetrate the minds of your parents and you dare to hope…
My daughter, Emilie, loved birthdays. Every birthday, not just hers. It was not important if it was Madeline’s, Samantha’s, Mom and Dad’s or even Jesus’s birthday. Emilie realized and understood that birthday’s were a special time to celebrate each other—together. Her joy in honoring the lives of those closest to her was infectious. The effort she put into planning a fun and exciting birthday for her family members far surpassed the time and energy she put into her own. The thrill she genuinely expressed for others had the power to even make a 30th birthday party as enjoyable as a 6 year olds.
May 12th will mark the 5th year that Emilie will not be able to help us plan a party. Another year of not fretting what to request for dinner, who to invite or what presents to hope for. Five years later it is a punishing task to figure out how to best celebrate her life and what she means for our family. As her parents we are supposed to know her best and to be perfectly honest—we don’t anymore. We can’t anticipate what food she would like, what friends she would have and what presents she would want. Her twelve-year-old self would be a Ship of Theseus from the six-year-old we did know. Five years later she would still be Emilie, but almost every aspect of her from her likes, dislikes, friends, passions and even the cells in her body would be slowly replaced one by one with new ones.
So how do we celebrate the birth of someone whose life changed ours so powerfully? Someone that in six years of living continues to impact and inspire us five years later.
I do have an idea, if I may be so bold as to make a birthday wish on Emilie’s behalf? I do know that she always did and continues to love her family and supports what is important to them. Over the last five years our family has advocated for children’s safety and well being by starting two non-profit organizations.
On the day Emilie died there was a birthday party invitation on our fridge. It was for Josephine “Joey” Gay. Those two friends died together in the same classroom at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Now Emilie’s mom, Alissa and Joey’s mom, Michele have created Safe and Sound Schools. The only non-profit initiative in the after math of Sandy Hook to focus solely on School Safety.
We also created the Emilie Parker Art Connection which focuses mainly on embodying Emilie’s love of art to connect children suffering from trauma, abuse and neglect to art therapy as a way of healing.
If you would like to join us in celebrating Emilie’s 12th birthday please do so because she loved a party!
Robbie Parker, Father of Emilie Parker