06/09/2014 03:16 pm ET Updated Aug 09, 2014

The Day After

Dear Emily,

Yesterday was your graduation and it was one of the most beautiful ones I have been to. Your friends spoke beautifully about their experiences and what they can expect in the future.
What struck me was how the graduating class seemed so cohesive, so in touch with each other; you got a sense that their was real friendship between the classmates, no matter who you were or what type you were. There was a mutual respect and a true feeling of caring between them. I never got that feeling before at your sisters' graduations, and definitely never felt that at university graduation. The classes are too big.

It made my heart proud that this was your class. It also maybe me think that because many of them were your friends, that maybe you affected them in a way that they were not even conscious about, not taking the moment for granted, and having mutual respect for one another -- or maybe it was just because it was the last time they would all be together, Either way, it was beautiful.

For us, it was opening up a wound, sitting there looking at all these young people all grown up, and remembering them when they were your little friends made us too sad, left us wondering who you would be, what you would be doing and what a joyous day it would have been. But that was not to be. I don't want to dwell on this, but literally it was like reliving your loss, especially at the end, when it was all over, everyone had someone to celebrate with. We felt happy for the kids we knew and their families, but it hit hardest as we walked out on the field and no Emily, no daughter who should be there, but was not. I'm almost sorry we went, but we felt we had to go to show your classmates we support them as they remember you.

Oh, how they remember you. Sammy gave us your yearbook; the pages are filled with beautiful words of how you touched so many, and even those you never knew or only met in passing. Then came more stabs to the heart, but what a legacy you have left to so many lives. I can only imagine how you would have impacted the world around you had you continued to grow; because, if a 13 year old could do this, think of what you could have done by 23 or 43.

You have made me proud and taught me so much in your death. The general comments were that you brightened up a room, you made people laugh and you always had a smile on your face, but most of all you cared about everyone around you. You radiated joy and sunshine.
I know you as my daughter and that relationship is so different, but I always remember, even when you were upset or something was bothering you, or you got in trouble, you would accept it, deal with it and the smile would come back almost automatically. I wish I could do that.
So I have to heal again, get strong, push on keep you in my heart. God, I miss you, and a day doesn't go by that I don't think of you, your smile, your laughter and your general attitude to life.

You made your mark, my love, on the hearts of many; and may everyone keep you in their hearts and as they move forward through life. May they remember to help others, and not take any moment for granted, even as the memory you fades for them, as it will. You help us be better than we are.

Your loving, heartbroken father.