The family of Londonderry woman Emma McLaughlin who passed away on Monday after a 14 year battle with a brain tumour have paid tribute to her describing her as the “best hugger”.
In this tribute they describe her life as a gift and say she lit up a path that those blessed to know her can follow.
Her funeral will take place on Thursday at 1pm in St Patrick’s Church, Pennyburn and the wake is at 50 Garden City.
“Emma’s mammy got sick when she was five years old, her little sister Claire only one year old.
“When Emma was seven her mammy Berna died, after having been away from her four beautiful children for long spells of treatment in Belvoir Park.
“Berna was the first patient of the Foyle Hospice, nursed by Hannah, who would later become her daddy Pat’s nurse and her then her own, helping to make this incredibly bitter and difficult time a little softer.
“Emma and her mammy shared the same spirit, strong, determined and positive.
“Berna had been fostered by John McKelvey’s beautiful family in Strabane.
“It was hard for Emma and Claire to remember her – but they had Pat, their rock. He was both a mother and a father to his four children but Emma soon took on a mothering role, cleaning, cooking and keeping her three siblings in line.
“School was a struggle for Emma, with undiagnosed dyslexia, she found her place through her passion for animals, and a unique talent with horses, she said she was ‘100% horse mad, but horseless’.
“Her daddy soon fixed that, finding a low cost way to fulfil Emma’s dreams. With a pony.
“Later her skills with horses, abundance of energy and incredible personality got her a job as an instructor in Delphi adventure centre. She met Harry there.
“After Delphi, Emma travelled throughout Australia for a year and a half. She had the best experiences and met many beautiful friends, meeting up again with Harry in his homeland. Her daddy Pat was so proud to collect his beautiful daughter from the bus station with bells on her ankles that jingled as she walked, radiating happiness.
“Life was good for her but on her return to Derry after months and months of illness her daddy carried her in his arms into A&E on a Halloween night in 2002 to be diagnosed with a very aggressive brain tumour. This was the beginning of her 14 year journey.
“Her daddy would develop cancer shortly afterwards, people often saying he chose to go first and allow Emma to stay.
“Without both her parents and trying to recover from extensive radiotherapy treatment and surgery things were tough for Emma.
“When Pat died Emma had a dream about an old friend from Australia Harry, she wrote him an email, he didn’t just write back to her, he flew to Ireland to be with her.
“Emma and Harry fell in love, and together they made Hope, the light of her life. Their love for each other as a family was a joy to everyone around them. Harry’s patience and dedication to Emma was always so strong and beautiful.
“Their daughter Hope is the creation of love, an incredible little person, an artist, a musician, with the spirit of her granny Berna, and her mammy.
“Emma will always be with us, through Hope.
“Emma’s bond with her three siblings, JR, Rory and Claire was so unique and beautiful. They have been through so much together and they always did it as a unit. Recently referred to as ‘Team Emma’. Their parents would be so proud of them all as they are driven by love for each other that had no limitations.
“Emma attracted special people. Her friends are truly amazing and have been with her every step of the way. Her best friend Sha has cared for her constantly and been by her side through many difficult times. She had a very special bond with her uncle Billy who was a tower of strength to her.
“To begin listing Emma’s friends would leave far too many people out, Emma had the ability to connect with people on such a deep and meaningful way and surrounded herself with genuine beautiful people.
“Those same people helped Emma get better. One very memorable time was ‘Dance for Dizzy’ in 2012 which enabled her to travel to the States for special treatment.
“Over the past 14 years Emma has undergone three open brain surgeries and Gamma knife surgery. She never lay down to it and when she felt good she went for it with every ounce of passion and zest for life. She embraced the philosophies of the health institute Hippocrates, to rid herself from cancer using food as her medicine and completely changed her lifestyle, she began a raw food diet, without even fruit or any sugar for three years. Emma did this with such determination and will power and educated many people about their health. People who were themselves facing a diagnosis of cancer, would visit Harry and Emma’s home and they would teach them about the diet and offered them hope in their lives.
“Without limits Harry helped her grow the sprouts and wheatgrass and live a raw food, vegan, sugar free diet that – all the skills he developed growing up on a farm in Australia.
“When you spend 14 years struggling almost daily with an illness you learn about the importance of life, you learn to grab every minute and live it in gratitude.
“A night out with Emma consisted of coconut water, a lot of dancing and even more hugging. She was the best hugger. She lived to be a mother and Hope gave her all the strength she needed and drive to be well.
“Emma’s recent diagnosis and battle was helped particularly by her doctor Aine Abbott.
“Aine said ‘Emma lived 5 lives’, having someone so compassionate and caring to care for Emma made things a lot easier for her family who had complete trust and respect for her.
“Emma was a gift to us all, we have the opportunity to remember what she taught us and to use this to change and improve our lives and the lives of others around us. She lit up a path that those blessed to know her can follow.”