Vernal family finds support while grieving loss of 16-year-old daughter
VERNAL — Kevin and Michelle Stratton gathered around their kitchen counter, flipping through old pictures of their only daughter, Emily. They recounted stories of when she was a little girl.
In one photo, Emily held on tightly to a little hummingbird. Another time she was brave enough to hold a snake. Kevin Stratton remembered Emily saying, “Dad, can I hold it?” Soon enough it was in her hands.
“I ran in the house and got the camera — the old kind with the film in it,” Kevin Stratton said.
The Strattons have experienced what no parent should ever go through. They lost their 16-year-old daughter almost four years ago. No one expected it. She was a healthy, high school cheerleader doing flips and dancing until one day, she wasn’t.
“She ended up getting IVs and went to tryouts that night and ended up making the team,” Michelle Stratton said.
A couple weeks later, Emily got sick again and the doctors removed her gallbladder thinking that would be the solution. It wasn’t.
Five days later, she felt sick again.
“My wife called me and (said) she (Emily) had a seizure. We rushed her to the hospital,” Kevin Stratton said.
Emily was taken to Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City, but it was too late. Doctor’s diagnosed Emily with medulloblastoma, cancer on her brain stem.
“The pressure on her brain stem basically killed her,” Kevin Stratton said.
After doctors told Kevin and Michelle there was no hope of Emily getting better, they made the difficult decision to turn off the machines.
“When she passed, we walked out of that room like, ‘Now what do we do?’ and they said, ‘Well, go home,'” Kevin Stratton said.
Leaving the hospital and getting in their empty car was perhaps the most difficult part.
“You get in your car and just know that someone is missing, like you shouldn’t be leaving,” Michelle Stratton said.
For six months, they didn’t know what to do.
“We were still lost,” Kevin Stratton added.
Finally, they enrolled in Primary Children’s Hospital’s 8-week bereavement class to learn how to manage their grief. Eight couples gathered weekly to share stories of their children.
“We needed to be with those families that had gone through what we had gone through,” Michelle Stratton said.
Kevin Stratton agreed and said, “It was a Godsend to us.”
After hearing the Stratton’s story, Primary Children’s bereavement clinical coordinator Leigh Ann Morse recognized that people all over the state needed help.
She remembered hearing the Stratton’s experience when the hospital staff said, “You can just go home now.”
“Emily’s story was so tragic to all of us at the hospital,” Morse said.
She knew they could do more to help the Strattons and other families experiencing loss.
Under her direction, Primary Children’s Hospital organized a special bereavement day camp for families in the Uintah Basin. Through guided art and music therapy, each family shared their story.
“Everybody just listened. It was beautiful,” Michelle Stratton said.
Through music therapy, the Strattons began to enjoy things they once shared with Emily.
“We hadn’t turned on the music since Emily had gone to heaven. So we were like ‘Tom Petty?! Emily loved Tom Petty,’” Michelle Stratton said.
The Strattons still rely on one more thing to heal. They call them “blowishes”. Emily loved to pick dried dandelions when she was outside in the field with her dad.
“Anytime she came across one, she’d pick it, make a wish and blow it out,” Kevin Stratton said.
Today, anytime they come across a blowish, they pick it and remember their daughter.
Now, the Stratton’s have one wish.
“We never want to forget her. We don’t want people to forget her,” Michelle Stratton said.
Michelle and Kevin Stratton started a nonprofit in her name called, “Blowishes for Emily.” Last year, they raised about $13,000 and gave away nine college scholarships for students in the Uintah Basin. Visit their Facebook page to learn more.
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