Over the last month I have spent most of my time focused on celebrating Emily’s remarkable life. Certainly, her battle against cancer was part of that, but I have purposely set my mind on all of the other things that were incredible about Emily before this terrible disease became a part of our life.
Today, however, as I think about the impossibility of being one month apart from her, I can’t help but think about one particular moment from the last days of her life.
In her final weeks, Emily had lost so much weight and strength that she was unable to move very much on her own. Adjusting herself in bed was near impossible, so getting out of bed by herself wasn’t even an option. While Emily was virtually pain-free in those last weeks, she was often uncomfortable. I spent large parts of the day and night by her side helping her shift her little remaining weight or adjusting her leg or head position.
Emily also wasn’t a fan of the hospital bed provided to us by hospice care (or any hospital bed for that matter), so she would often ask if I could help her get on the couch: a seemingly simple task that had become a large undertaking in those final weeks. I would lean over her bed, and Emily would wrap her long, skinny arms around my neck to help me lift her. Each time, I would hold at that place for a few moments and she would sometimes kiss my cheek as payment for my service—the best thing ever. I would then lift Emily up in her bed and swing her legs around so she was sitting up. We would have to take a moment for her to catch her breath and to adjust various medical devices.
Then I would lift Emily up to her feet and let her find her balance. Without me there, she would have crumbled to the floor, but with her arms wrapped around my neck and me supporting her weight, she could find enough strength to support herself. From that standing position, we would move together the three or so feet from the hospital bed in the middle of our living room to the couch.
Each time, I would tell her, “OK Hun, we’re just going to do a little dancing.” We would slowly wobble back and forth, making our way to the couch where I would gently lay her down among a ridiculous amount of pillows.
After one of those last dances, Emily was still struggling to find comfort and was growing frustrated. After fidgeting for several minutes as I watched helplessly, she looked up and asked, “Can I just lay my head in your lap for a while?”
I’ve never been in the habit of telling Emily no, and there was nothing that would stop me from fulfilling this request. I wiggled and shifted myself beneath her and placed her head on a pillow in my lap. Thankfully, she found a few moments of relaxation.
As she lay there, I found myself speaking without even thinking. I began to tell her, in detail, how much she meant to me. How much I loved her. How I loved her before I even knew her because she is the person I have always dreamed of. I told her that every day I felt like the luckiest man on the planet.
I didn’t know at the time that Emily would be gone in a matter of days. I didn’t know that this would be one of our last conversations. As I look back, I am so thankful that I took advantage of that opportunity. Those words I spoke were the inspiration for my eulogy dedicated to her this past Saturday. Today, as I reflect on an impossible month. I think about that dance. About that conversation. About being the luckiest man on Earth.
My name is Bret Newcomb and I am the luckiest man on the face of the earth.
I first became aware of the wonder that is Emily in 2006. We shared classes together at the University of Houston – Clear Lake where we both were pursuing degrees in communication. From a distance, it was apparent that she was absolutely beautiful. From the way people gravitated toward her, it was apparent that she was a charmer. From the way professors celebrated her, it was clear she was brilliant. And from the way I noticed all of these things without ever even speaking to her, I knew I was in deep, deep trouble.
The truth is that I loved Emily long before 2006. As we all do as kids, I had imagined and fantasized about what my wife would be like one day. Clearly she was going to be gorgeous. She would be smart and funny and think the world of me. Emily was so close to the picture I had spent years drawing in my mind, that getting to know her was like living in a constant state of Déjà vu; everything was clearly new and exciting, but at the same time, familiar and comfortable and right.
What I didn’t anticipate was that reality could do such a better job than my imagination. Not only was Emily incredibly beautiful, but her beauty was effortless and free of ego. Emily was not only smart, but she used her intelligence to help others and give a voice to the voiceless. Emily wasn’t just funny, she was covertly funny. Her sense of humor was deep and multi-faceted and she would reveal aspects of it based on whom she was talking to and what she knew they would find humor in. Humor wasn’t just a means of entertainment for Emily, but a way she connected with others.
As an aside, I would love to tell you funny stories about the jokes Emily and I shared, but they are entirely inappropriate for today, and absolutely hilarious.
In every way conceivable, Emily was out of my league. I’m comfortable with that fact. What I also know is that she never once in the decade that we knew each other made me feel that way. In fact, it was quite the opposite. On a daily basis, Emily made it clear that there was nothing more important in life than me. She was the most beautiful, but made me feel handsome. She was incredibly smart, but she hung on my every word. She was hysterically funny, but would let me take the spotlight and laughed sincerely at my juvenile sense of humor.
No doubt, a lot of you know about mine and Emily’s love from pictures and stories we’ve shared through some type of digital window opened to our life. You’ve read stories of Emily’s incredible bravery. You’ve seen pictures of us thoroughly enjoying life in spite of our circumstances. You’ve read my thoughts of Emily as I have tried to process the existence of someone so incredible. All of this has painted the picture of an incredible love. A rare love. A love that only exist in movies and fairy tales. All of those conclusions, however, are drawn from a limited window by which you were able to peer into our life together.
While our love was strong and deep and passionate, and shined bright in these moments we shared with you, the truth and depth of our love was found on a sectional couch in our living room. That’s where we spent most of our time together. We would indulge what we believed to be each others bad taste in regard to television—me subjecting Emily to endless hours of football during the fall and Emily torturing me with the worst of reality television during the off season.
On the best nights, we would cook a simple meal together and I would convince Emily to put off doing the dishes till the next day, which was totally out of character for her. We would lay together on that couch, Emily on one side with her head in the corner where the two sections met and me stretched the other way with my feet in her face.
Emily was always ready for bed before me, but wanted us to go to sleep together. Somewhere around 9 o’clock, I would feel those tiny, long fingers reach out and start lightly stroking my feet. If anyone else did this, it would be insanely ticklish, but when Emily did it, I immediately felt my shoulders release. My eyes would get heavy and my pulse would slow. She knew exactly how to work me. It wouldn’t take long before I would get up and take that tiny hand into mine and we would crawl into bed together. And just before we would both slip off to sleep, I would navigate my way beneath the sheets, and I would put my unnervingly ice cold feet right on her legs and she would gasp and shout “Bret!” all at the same time.
From there, we would eventually fall asleep, and Emily would tell you that I would drift off impossibly fast most nights. But some nights I wouldn’t. Some nights I would lie awake and watch her sleep. Peacefully, quietly with two cats curled around her feet. I would watch her and listen to her soft breath and I would think of my 12-year-old self and everything he imagined of his dream wife. I would think of that and I would laugh quietly to myself at how I so impossibly over achieved. And the last thought I would think as I fell asleep, which I still think every night, is “I am the luckiest man on the face of the Earth, because I loved and was loved by Emily.”