Submitted by Kathy Mayberry, Emily’s mom

What Emily loved the most

Emily O’Neal

The smell of the crisp morning air. She loved life — playing with her two young sons at many of our local playgrounds or parks. She loved to cook! Occasionally, it wasn’t so great, but none of us told her — to this day, we still laugh as we recall the burnt sweet potatoes.

I remember when she was on the homecoming court. She wore the most beautiful red gown. It was a magical night, and she was so popular. I have many memories like this — when everything was bliss.

In high school, Emily had difficulty with attendance. She opted to pursue her GED, which she passed with flying colors! She received the third-highest score in the state at the time. Emily loved to read and write. She even had a couple short stories that were pending publishing.

She was always so determined

I have so many vivid memories of my daughter it’s hard to choose just one. I believe my favorite is the first time I took her fishing. Now, Emily did not like fishing very much — then she caught her first catfish! After that day, Emily was determined to catch another fish, and indeed she did. In fact, she was the only person to do so that day. Emily was proud to hold that string of fish up for everyone to see.

Emily would have wanted people to know she had the determination to never give up. I think Emily’s proudest accomplishment was the birth of her two sons. She had been terrified of childbirth but was determined to do her best.

After the difficult birth of her second son, her doctor gave her hydrocodone

Emily and her two sons

That’s when everything changed. The doctor just kept refilling the prescription.

She began buying from a friend of ours — of course, I didn’t know he was selling his medication. She would ask me for money for apparent bills — I lent it to her. It wasn’t long before she was taking up to 30, 10 milligrams a day of hydrocodone.

As she struggled, our relationship became strained

I couldn’t not help, but I didn’t want to. She was living in hotels. I maxed out every credit card I had to make sure she was safe. It got very expensive, and I was taking care of her children. Just trying to communicate with her was difficult.

I have a memory of her sitting on the hotel floor in her room with her black dress splayed out around her. She was crying, yelling and begging me to please help her. I thought she meant rehab, but she wasn’t ready for that yet. Sobbing so hard and pleading with me, blond hair messed up and big blue eyes looking still, yet so beautiful. She wanted more money to buy pills. I had to tell her no.

She struggled with the cost of needing so many pills that her husband eventually got her to try heroin. Eventually, she was ready to go to rehab, but she let her friends talk her out of it. She struggled with opioid pill use for about nine years. Then onto heroin — she struggled for 18 months. Emily died on the morning of August 18, 2017, but I know that wasn’t her intention.

Her doctor apologized

A moment I still struggle with today has to do with an unexpected phone call I received in the hours following her death. The doctor who initially prescribed her pain pills called me and apologized for ever prescribing Emily pills. I still don’t know how to react to that call.

If I could say one thing to her today, it would be

I’m sorry I couldn’t do anything to help you. I love you. I wish I didn’t watch life leave your eyes. I wish I could have you back.