Thus began an emotional journey for a young married couple as they not only had to deal with issues pertaining to raising a child with Down Syndrome but now had to face the all-important question: can our daughter beat this disease?
Suddenly, Down Syndrome became insignificant in face of the giant monster they now faced, the war raging inside their young daughter's body, seeking to claim her life. Cancer was, and is, such a big word - a scary word no loved one wants to hear.
I read My Emily twice, in one sitting each time. The first was in 2012 when preparing for my daughter to give birth to my first grandchild. I cried then and I cried again as I read it today, my grandson's first birthday which continues to see him healthy and thriving, even walking since he was 11-months-old, a little child with an infectious smile who stirs my heart each time I look into his eyes. Perhaps this will become an annual event at this time of year, remembering Emily and her family while thanking God for the blessings which continue to be bestowed upon us.
My Emily is one of the most honest accounts I've read, relayed directly from the heart and soul of a father who clung to his daughter with all of his might. Refusing to give in to despair, he continued to hope.
He admitted to making mistakes - sharing areas in which he felt he could have done much better, could have used a little more foresight before speaking and acting - but who could blame him?
I watched and listened to this man (with the heart and wonder of a child) undergoing the most difficult episode of his life; I found myself wishing I could comfort him in some way. I wanted to offer a hug, a prayer, a pair of listening ears - anything to erase the burden from his heart - but all I could do was continue to read his story, continue crying as I tried to put myself into his shoes.
My Emily is a first-person account in that Matt is telling the story from his feelings, from his perspective. Even so, I found myself wondering, as a mother, how I would feel if one of my children had been diagnosed with a terminal illness.
I tried putting myself into Bonnie's position (Emily's mother) as she cut her daughter's beautiful hair, hair she loved to comb and style. How did she feel when she said good-bye, when passing Emily to her husband, knowing it would be the last time she would hold her firstborn daughter? How did she feel knowing her husband was preparing to hold their beautiful daughter until life faded from her tiny body?
I cried as I watched the scenario unfold and cried even harder when trying to imagine undergoing such an ordeal in my own life. Honestly, I wouldn't want to - and I feel no shame in being honest.
Traveling back to February, 2012, when I began to read My Emily for the first time, I had no prior knowledge of Matt Patterson; his name was among a sea of millions - albeit, a grieving father for a daughter he loved and lost.
It wasn't long after reading his story when I penned a letter to him through Facebook, telling him how sorry I was that he lost his daughter, how his story gripped my heart and soul in its clutches.
I remember him thanking me for taking the time to share my thoughts. Since that time, I've followed many of his steps as he shared aspects of his life with the world; sometimes, I would leave a comment or two while, at others, I would be a silent observer. What have I observed over the past year?
First and foremost, Matt Patterson is a man who exudes dedication. His love for God and family shines through in his real-life story and reaches beyond the book into the real world.
Also, he has loyal friends which can only come about by being a loyal friend. Friends surrounded Matt and his wife during the time of Emily's illness and subsequent death. Friends who have come into their lives since then have done the same, especially after more people learned about their story as shared in My Emily.
Matt Patterson appears to be a one-man show, traveling from one part of the country to another, sharing his story with others on what can only be a grueling schedule and continuous emotional journey, as rewarding as it might be on various levels.
One may ask how he can maintain such a hectic schedule but, as challenging as it may be, I'm sure in the moments he is most tired, he remembers the never-ending smile of his daughter, Emily.
He remembers her heart filled with love and, between those memories and the strength he receives from God, he continues to take another step forward, hoping to reach others who are in desperate need of encouragement. Matt Patterson is a man who believes in giving to others the same blessings bestowed upon his family in their time of need.
Since I'm being candid, I must admit there are few souls who grace this planet whom I admire to the degree I do Matt Patterson.
If you've lost a loved one, or are struggling with the possibility that it might happen in your own family, I'd encourage you to read My Emily. It's sure to grip your heart and soul.