Emily Long is the mama of two daughters gone too soon, a Life Archaeologist, coffee shop writer, consumer of bagels and hot cocoa, endless reader, lover of travel, and occasional hermit. Emily works and speaks nationally advocating for the voice of grieving parents and families. In her downtime, you can usually find her in her hermit house re-reading Harry Potter (again).
I absolutely believe that giving voice to the hurts and wounds that feel unspeakable are our greatest catalysts to healing.
We can’t heal in silence and isolation.
Sharing our stories and voicing the unspeakable helps us feel less alone – it builds connection, courage and helps our hearts begin to mend.
When I’ve done speaking engagements and talked about the death of my daughters, I’ve had women and men come up to me afterwards and, for the first time in 30, 40, 50 years, speak about the babies that they have lost. They speak their names and tell their stories – and that sorrow that they have carried visibly begins to lift. I see the light and the joy of acknowledging the child(ren) they love so very much.
Countless times in my years as a therapist, I have had teenagers and women sit in my office and share stories of abuse, trauma, and shame. I have watched them break down in tears of grief, of release, and of relief for having spoken the words they’ve held inside for so long. They begin to breathe again with the freedom that releasing those stories gives them.
Telling our stories is powerful and healing. It can set us free.
And sometimes we need someone to go first. Someone to show us that we can give voice to the things that feel unspeakable and terrifying and be ok. Hearing the story of another can help us say, “Maybe, just maybe if they can do it, so can I.”
That is why I share my story. Because I believe without a doubt that hearing each other’s stories helps us feel less alone. I speak up and speak out on the slightest chance that hearing my story will begin to break the hold of the shame that keeps so many of us silent.
Hearing the story of another can help us find the courage to share our own.
At the age of 12, after years of doctors and humiliating physical exams and being relegated to the status of a rare, interesting disorder rather than a young girl with a name and feelings, I had major back surgery for the spinal defect I was born with. I felt very much alone and scared and damaged.
It was then that I decided that I wanted to help other people who felt alone, lost, and scared. I never wanted anyone to feel like I did, a nameless, faceless person with no value as a human being.
I never lost that desire to offer support, love, and understanding to others.
I often feel I came into this life to understand losses of all kinds and to learn how to find hope and beauty even in the most painful of times. Grief has always been part of my journey.
- I have said goodbye to more friends and family members than I generally care to think about.
- I wrote my first story about grief in elementary school.
- I picked up my first books on grief and depression when I was in high school.
- I spent my teens and early twenties battling severe depression and suicidal thoughts.
Then in my twenties, my fiancé was killed in a car accident. I was pregnant with our first child when he died. Just as I was starting to find my footing again after the loss of my love, our beautiful daughter was born still.
I felt broken and shattered in ways my mind couldn’t comprehend. I didn’t think I would survive the loss of them.
I almost didn’t.
For years, I struggled alone in the dark abyss of grief, depression, and suicide. I searched for solutions to my pain in traditional counseling, countless books, medication, and religion.
And still, one night I found myself face to face with suicide. I just wanted to stop hurting.
Voicing the Unspeakable
I can’t say why I didn’t die that night. Perhaps some small part of me still held a sliver of hope. (Or perhaps I have a reason to thank my stubborn nature!) I promised myself I’d give it another six months. I told myself I’d try something different this time. If it didn’t work, I could always make the choice to leave this world behind.
I stopped taking all the medication I was on. I quit the counseling that wasn’t really working for me. I threw out all the books on grief that talked about stages and levels and timelines. I stopped listening to what everyone else thought would “fix” me and my life. (Spoiler: Grief doesn’t need fixing)
I stopped listening to the society that said I shouldn’t talk about these things that hurt me – the death of my child and partner, depression and suicide.
I started looking inside myself for my solutions. I starting seeking the answers to my questions in the wisdom of my own body and mind. I started to speak what felt unspeakable.
And I found healing. I found light and beauty and hope, things nothing and no one can ever take from me again – not even the death of my second daughter during pregnancy.
The Beauty in the Ruins
My life was in ruins and somehow I found a way to dig out of the abyss of darkness and create the beautiful life I now get to live. It wasn’t easy – some days it’s still not – but it was worth every painful step and bewildering path on the journey. Today,
- I have an amazing support system of family, friends, and colleagues that I adore.
- I no longer meet the criteria for any of the mental health diagnoses I’d been given over the years and have no need for any medication.
- I live in a place that I adore.
- I am an author, a life archaeologist, and supporter of grieving parents who is head-over-heels totally in love with her work.
- I am grateful for all that I get to see and experience and know.
- I am deeply honored to hear the stories of so many people and feel privileged to walk with them on their journey of healing.
- I am grateful for the gifts that my fiancé and daughters were (and are still) in my life – and I celebrate their lives every day by living mine to the fullest.
I am no longer afraid of the shadows of life because even in the darkest moments of grief and loss and depression, I discovered that light and beauty can exist.
I found my voice and it has given me unshakable hope. That is a beautiful gift.
That is my story. It is one of healing and fierce persistence and hope.
And on a less serious note, a few fun facts about me:
Things I love a little too much: Harry Potter. Hot cocoa. Cursing. Ocean waves. Books.
Favorite things to do: Running and hiking. Baking homemade bagels. Travel. Silliness with friends. Creative arts.
Things I’m practicing: Art Journaling. Meditation (again). Keeping my house clean (ugh).
Random Facts: I never learned to ride a bike. I’ve lived in 5 states. I’ve never had coffee. I am completely tone deaf. My favorite season is Winter.
Emily R. Long