HAMPSTEAD —Emily Grace Hollis’ room is coated in shades of pink and white. Beautifully framed pictures of her time in dance and among friends and family tell a story of happiness, love, devotion, and even resilience. There are smaller objects, too, that showcase the kind of vibrant little girl Emily was — ribbons, nail polish, and seashells she had collected along the shore.
Had she not been diagnosed in 2006 with anaplastic medulloblastoma, a cancerous tumor that tends to spread to not just the brain but also the spinal chord, Emily would be celebrating her sweet 16 this year.
Though it’s been several years since Emily journeyed home to Heaven, Linda Hollis, Emily’s grandmother, can still be found traveling to Duke Children’s Hospital, where Emily was treated. There, she meets with the child life specialist and the volunteer coordinator and hands them bags of handmade blankets, caps, scarves, prayer shawls, pillowcases and jewelry. Each one is prepared like a gift; wrapped with tissue paper and including a card that reads "Covered By Grace" and Corinthians 12:9, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."
“Now, don’t blow this out of proportion, like I have this big ol’ UHaul filled with stuff,” Hollis says about her efforts. “I just have my SUV.”
Keeping track of all those who help her fill the bags is a challenge; the effort is a community act of dedication.
“I guess you could say Covered by Grace was born at Wal-Mart,” Hollis began.
“I was shopping there buying more fabric for blankets when a random woman inquired about what I was doin’. So, I told her,” Hollis continued. “Then, she said, Well, I don't know how to make blankets, but I know how to make caps. I was just delighted. Her name was Zelda Richardson and she was from Texas. You just don’t realize it until you experience it, but it’s cold (at the hospital). And the children don’t have their hair. Caps were perfect. When I got home, I thought, Lord, you might have just given me an idea. If that woman wants to help, I bet there are some more.”
Born and raised in Holly Ridge and a resident there for 40 years, Hollis moved to Hampstead about 10 years ago, right around the time Emily grew sick.
When Hollis started the Covered By Grace venture, bringing what she calls “little bits” to the children at Duke roughly three years ago, she had planned to go twice a year. It was her way to pay forward the love and support the town of Hampstead and Holly Ridge had given to their family during such a difficult and life-altering time.
Today, those little bits have grown in size and in frequency, even crossing the state’s line including more woman similar to Zelda Richardson.
Like divine intervention from a certain little angel above, Hollis would make casual conversation with people and more would become eager to simply volunteer their time, funds and talents. After a while, Hollis took to Vista Print and made her own cards to pass out. The design on the card is just as significant as the purpose itself: an intricately designed pink and purple butterfly leaving the hand of a woman. It reminds Hollis of the children at Duke.
Many of them are all “wrapped up” and resemble tiny little delicate cocoons. Some pass on and leave their wrapping, but it’s important to remember despite the sorrow, they are finally free.
That, according Dawn Hollis, Emily’s mom, is what makes Covered By Grace so impactful. It helps Emily’s legacy of being such a strong and gracious child continue.
“A lot of times, these little trinkets offer a bit of a distraction from what’s going on, both for the child and even for the parent,” Dawn Hollis said. There were hints of emptiness still lingering in her voice. But, despite it all, she remained pleasant, patient and accommodating. “For example,” she continued, “the jewelry that people make or the toys others give help mom or dad take extra time to speak to the doctor. And that’s important, especially when it comes to coping and understanding what’s happening to your child.”
Coping with just how much is sacrificed during these medical hardships is the secondary reason why the Hollis family makes certain Covered By Grace endures.
“Until you go through these situations, you don't know the things that are needed,” Linda Hollis explained while she shops at the Noelle Sample Sale distributer company in Hampstead. She’s searching for items for the teenagers at Duke Children’s Hospital — a demographic of patients she says too many don’t readily think about. “During Emily’s surgery to remove the tumor, before we learned it was cancerous, there was a total of 28 people who were there for our support. But, some families don’t have that. Some may have one neighbor or maybe two family members present, because of the strain of distance. I want to give them something to hold on to. And the child to hug while traveling the halls in a wheelchair.”
To contribute or inquire about Covered By Grace, contact Linda Hollis at email@example.com
Tiffanie DiDonato can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org