NEW CANAAN, Conn. — Emily is running. Somewhere.
I believe she’s running — even if her running shoes are lonely and
empty, lying on the altar of St. Aloysius Church, and she doesn’t need
them any more.
Alongside the shoes are her medals, earned as a state championship
runner for alma mater, New Canaan High, and a huge yellow duck, about
the size and composition of Big Bird, that her brother, Matt, had given
her. Emily loved ducks. She also loved life, and was looking forward
to her sophomore year at Wheaton College. But there was something
inside her, a dread, a torment — “a monster,” she called it — that
wouldn’t let her continue. At 20 she was gone from this life.
An airy flagstone church with cheering stained glass windows, St.
Aloysius was filled last Thursday with about a thousand of Emily’s
friends and friends of her family, people yet shellshocked that anything
could go so wrong and tragically in such a bright, promising life. Who
could fathom it? Only God and Emily, and the priest said they were
“People were drawn to her. They laughed with her,” said her
younger sister, Abby. That was clear.
It is strange to attend a memorial service for someone you don’t
know. Maybe even stranger to feel that you do know that person, after
all, through the testimony of those who did, all kids her age and
younger. But that’s what happened as this trim, usually vivacious
blonde was celebrated for two hours.
Some of them undoubtedly knew of the torment that the priest called
“her illness.” If they did, they also knew how hard she fought to
beat it. To maintain the stability, the vitality and compassion, the
wonderful nature and sense of humor and fun that would always be their
memory of her.
Emily’s parents are my friends, Suzanne and Vince Doria. He, our
boss here for a dozen years, is now an executive at ESPN. They fought,
too, did everything possible to help their oldest child to erase the
darkness that sometimes gripped her. They appeared to be winning…but
who can explain it?
“We didn’t know her, but we should go to the service,” said my
friend, Aurelio. We were almost late, but Aurelio nudged the gas pedal
– and hit the daily double: visits from state troopers of two different
states, Massachusetts and Connecticut. So flustered the first time, she
handed the trooper a credit card instead of her driver’s license.
“You can’t buy me, ma’am,” he said politely.
The second time she pleaded, “Please, officer, we’re going to a
“There must be a lot of them today,” said he, who may have heard
that one before.
Maybe Emily tapped those troopers on the shoulder. Aurelio got off
In one way or another Emily Anne Doria will continue to tap those
who knew her.
She will remind them of her mischievousness, and her kindness. She
gave some of her clothes to a child of immigrants whose parents were
hard-pressed. In the fourth grade she went way out of her route to
school to walk with a girl who was afraid to go down a spooky street.
Fond of striking up friendly, sometimes fictitious conversations
with strangers, once on a train to New York she confided to a man that
she was one of the leads in “Les Miserables,”. She described the good
and bad of being a Broadway star, and he was thrilled to meet her.
“I invited her to a party at Bucknell, my school,” said a young
man, “ and before I knew it she knew by name more people than I did –
and was introducing them to me. She was the last one standing, and the
first up the next day, shining as ever. Emily said sleep was for
weaklings. Everybody loved her.”
A girlfriend related, “Emily wanted to get a birthday present for
my kid sister, and went to a custom-maker of dolls. She described just
what she wanted, and they said it would be 48. That was a lot, but she
had baby-sitting money, and said she’d take it. A month later she went
back to pick it up and found — whoa! — she’d misunderstood. It was 48
hundred, not 48 dollars. The saleslady had to accept that it was
no-sale. She had been so impressed by Emily’s presence and certitude
that she never questioned whether this girl could pay that amount.”
Another said, “Emily, I’m not angry, just saddened by the pain you
The good, often funny stories went on about a kid seemingly in
control of everything. And outwardly that was so. She brought home a
pup from a neighbor’s litter even though her mother was allergic to
dogs. “The pup immediately peed on the kitchen table, which didn’t
help matters,” said her brother, Matt, laughing. “The dog is still
with us, reminding us of Emily.”
I was reminded of Illaria del Carretto, an Italian noblewoman of
Lucca, who also died very young, too young, in 1407. Beautifully
sculpted in marble, she lies on her tomb in the cathedral of San
Martino, her dog at her feet.
As a soprano sang “Ave Maria,” which never grows old, I thought
about Ravel’s haunting “Pavane for a Dead Princess.” You think about
a lot of things sitting in a church where, if you’re not crying, you
feel like it. And, still, you’re buoyed by somebody you didn’t know
whose legacy is friendship, joy and laughter.
You think about the stop made at the grave on a lovely rise above a
lily pond in Lakeview Cemetery. Everyone had departed except a snowy
egret that flitted from a lily pad to the casket, not yet buried. The
bird was on the wing, like her soul, and I believe Emily is running.