Nineteen-year-old Emily Skrabacz was a much-loved daughter from Nashville, Tennessee. Tragically, her life was cut short in October 2015 when she was involved in a head-on collision with a drunk driver.
“He veered into her lane and struck her and instantly killed her,” her tearful mother, Catherine, later told WSMV News. And Emily’s devastated family have regularly visited the crash site ever since as a way to remember her.
This ritual started the day after Emily’s funeral when her mom went to that particular spot on the side of the road and laid down a bouquet of flowers. Meanwhile, some of Emily’s friends added a small cross and some trinkets to the tribute.
The area subsequently became a little memorial site. It served as a quiet spot where family and friends could spend some time remembering Emily. “I come out here at least once a week,” her mom explained.
She described the memorial site as “somewhere I can sit to remember her and feel close to her.” And what began as just a bunch of flowers and a small cross grew a little bigger over time; it was a sign of how many people had loved Emily.
But then one day in March 2017 – not even two years after Emily had been killed – Catherine discovered something awful. Yes, she went down to the memorial and found a note that broke her heart.
The note read, “How long are you going to keep piling junk on this beautiful Bellevue roadside?” Catherine couldn’t fathom why someone would refer to the flowers laid for her late daughter as “junk.” And the note didn’t stop there.
It continued, “What obviously started as a simple cross and one bouquet is now in plain terms, illegal littering. The cross cannot even be seen and an enormous shiny red something that will never decay is hung up in the tree.” Of course, Catherine was deeply upset by these callous words.
The final part of the note asked for the memorial to be cleaned up, out of “respect for the neighborhood AND your departed loved one.” The thought of being asked to “clean up” a tribute to her daughter pushed the grieving mom, in her own words, “to a place that was really painful.”
She told WSMV News that she broke down and cried for hours after reading the note. “I just thought, ‘Why would someone go out of their way to be so cruel?’” Catherine said. However, she decided that she wouldn’t be defeated by the passive-aggressive words left on her daughter’s memorial. Instead, she took a stand.
Wanting other people to know about the cruel note, she posted a photograph of it on Facebook. And it didn’t stay unnoticed for long; messages of support quickly flooded in beneath the post.
In fact, more than 100 people commented on the picture, and most of them were just as disgusted by the note as Emily’s mom was. Catherine subsequently told WKRN that the kind messages turned her pain “into tears of joy.”
And it wasn’t just that the Facebook post provided the family with virtual support online. Support in the physical sense came with it, too. Indeed, more and more people visited the memorial site, bringing further contributions with them. As a result, Emily’s tribute grew even bigger than before.
Emily’s mom was deeply touched by the community’s kindness. “It warms my spirit so much, because I know there are people that truly care and that my daughter will be remembered,” she told WKRN News.
But the story didn’t end there. Remember how the note referred to the memorial as “illegal?” Well, it turned out that this was incorrect, because Catherine met the man who owns a lot of the land surrounding the crash site. And he confirmed that the memorial was on his land and that he gave permission for it to remain there.
Then one day Emily’s mom was doing a TV interview right in front of the tribute, and a car pulled over and a man approached her. Fortunately, he had come to tell her how grateful he was for Emily’s memorial because he’d lost a son himself.
After this man had spoken with her, Catherine told WSMV that her tears of heartbreak had again been transformed into “bittersweet tears of joy.” The nasty note had knocked her, but thankfully she and her family were able to find comfort in the kind words and actions of others.
And she has said she forgives the person who wrote the note, as she feels that’s what Emily would have done. Of course, she still misses her daughter every day. “The main thing about our daughter is her heart,” Catherine said. “She was very kind and loving, just a very happy person.”
The school Emily attended, Harpeth High, has also made a touching gesture to remember her by. For the past two years, it has offered a deserving student a scholarship of $5,000 in her name. What’s more, a foundation has been set up to support the award.
Emily’s family were understandably devastated by the selfish and heartless note left on their loved one’s memorial. However, the incredible reaction of the community has shown them that there are a lot of good people out there, too.