"Through The Storm"
How is it possible to manage the magnitude of a devastating loss and still move forward? The Boughmans will tell you that even though it has been five years, they are not experts by any means. While their grief continues to change over time, Kim and Eric know it will last until they are able to see Emma again.
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In the deep south, a line of ominous storm clouds can build quickly on the horizon. The heavy rains and churning winds that often accompany storms twist the branches of the strongest trees, attempting to uproot them from their very foundation. Eric and Kim Boughman have weathered a devastatingly similar storm. However, the unexpected storm the Boughmans faced was the sudden and tragic death of their seven-year-old daughter, Emma. The Boughmans wondered how they would navigate a storm of such overwhelming grief and sorrow. Just as trees which endure the stormiest winds depend on strong roots for stability, the Boughmans turned to their deeply rooted faith to guide them through the storm that altered their family forever.
When Eric and Kim began dating in 1994, they realized that they were fortunate to have many things in common. Most importantly, they shared a mutual faith in Jesus. Eric and Kim were married on May 24, 1997. The Boughmans were overjoyed when their first child, Houston, was born in September of 2000. Kim and Eric describe Houston as a friendly, mature, gifted child, blessed with both academic and athletic talents. A little sister, Emma, was a welcome addition to the family in October of 2004. The Boughmans describe Emma as the strong-willed one, the feisty and funny second child with a mass of beautiful, brown curls and a special, magnetic personality of her very own.
February 2, 2012 was a beautiful, 70-degree, winter day in Liberty, South Carolina. It was a welcome glimpse of spring in the middle of an unpredictable southern winter. On this cloudless day, where the blue sky was filled with sunshine, Emma and Houston couldn’t wait to get home from school to go play outside. Living in a close-knit neighborhood, they were accustomed to visiting with their neighbor who had a basketball goal. Houston asked his mother, Kim, if he could go across the street to practice. Typical of all younger siblings, Emma wanted to tag along with her older brother. Emma asked if she could ride her scooter in the neighbor’s driveway while her brother played basketball, something she had done many times before.
After spending the early part of the afternoon riding her scooter, Emma told her big brother that she was ready to leave. Houston wanted to practice a little longer and Emma decided to ride her scooter home. There had been many times in the past when she went down the hill, stopped at the stop sign, then crossed safely into the next-door neighbor’s driveway and into the Boughman’s yard. As Emma made her way down the hill, Houston yelled for Emma to wait on him. She turned to look at him and exclaimed, “I’m going home,” and then continued riding her scooter. Houston, trying to catch up, was just a few steps behind her. In an unexpected and devastating turn of events, Emma was struck by an SUV just as she was crossing the road in front of the Boughman’s home. The impact of the vehicle thrust Emma approximately twenty feet, causing her to land near their front yard. Kim’s heart lurched when she heard the collision. However, her heart split into when she ran outside and found her little girl, unconscious and bleeding, clinging to life, on the side of the road. The driver of the vehicle and the neighbors rushed to Emma’s side to assist, begin CPR, and call 911.
Emma’s father, Eric, who worked at the supermarket in town, was contacted and told that Emma had been struck by a vehicle. After a frantic transition to the emergency room at Greenville Hospital, Emma’s doctors assured Kim and Eric that they would continue to do everything in their power to help her survive. However, Emma remained nonresponsive. Eric recalled, “I began to yell and plead with her to stay. I thought if she heard me she would fight to stay alive.” Eric feels that Emma had already passed long before that point. However, the medical staff exhausted their efforts trying to help her. Eric added, “After a very short period of time, the doctor declared that they had done all they could do. Emma was gone.”
Traumatized by the sudden and unexpected loss of his daughter, a million things went through Eric’s mind. He recalled, “I ran over to her little body and wrapped my arms around her. I remember saying, ‘What am I going to do? What am I going to do?’ over and over again.” Kim embraced her little girl in one last hug as well. Eric explained, “I told Kim it was no one’s fault. God wanted Emma. She was safe with Him in heaven.” The Boughmans felt swallowed up by their sorrow, suffered soul crushing grief, and experienced feelings that they didn’t even know existed. Eric described, “I felt like everything inside of me had just been ripped out. Everything I had hoped, dreamed, thought, imagined – it was all crashing down around me. I was in shock, dazed, confused. I was in a storm in my life that I never thought I would face.”
That tragic night at the hospital, the Boughman’s family, neighbors, and numerous friends from surrounding communities came to the hospital to show support. These visitors, in addition to the pastor and fellow members of Rock Springs Baptist Church, lined the hospital halls to pray for the Boughman family.
When they returned home, support continued for the grieving family. The aftermath of their unimaginable loss was extremely overwhelming and they leaned on family and friends for strength. Kim and Eric had the task of planning Emma’s funeral, which seemed completely surreal. When the Boughmans received friends at the funeral home, approximately 1800 people attended. Emma’s funeral was the following day, February 5, 2012, at Rock Springs Baptist Church. There were over 1000 friends and family at her funeral. Eric said, “Six or seven people made professions of faith that day, and probably many more we don’t know about. If there had been only one it would have been reason enough for Jesus to have allowed this storm in our lives, but it was more on that day and many more since.” Eric assured me, “Lives have been saved and lives have been changed as a result of Emma, her passing, and God’s moving in the midst.”
At the present, it has been five years since Emma’s passing. Kim said, “After it all happened, we began to look back at things, and that’s when we started connecting the dots.” According to Eric and Kim, there are some small clues and unusual instances that preceded Emma’s death. This changed their perspective on the short life of their daughter and for the Boughmans, it confirmed that God used Emma in a very special way. For example, they remember at a very young age, Emma would often question Eric about death. She would ask, “Daddy, what if I died? What would y’all do?” Eric disclosed, “I had conversations about this with Emma that I had not even had with her older brother.” Eric explained that she would ask him on many occasions and he would tell her how sad they would be. Eric stated, “I just never thought I would actually have to find out what we would do.”
There was also an unusual event on the evening before Emma’s death. Emma and Houston attended Wednesday night services with friends at a church in Liberty. Emma’s class was constructing Valentine’s hearts. However, she was busy creating something different. The teacher reminded her about making a heart but Emma told her she wanted to make some wings. Emma stated, “I’m getting ready to fly away from here.” Kim went on to say that when a friend complimented Emma on her special wings, she said he could have them. Emma told him, “I won’t be needing those wings anyway.”
In addition, Eric explained that Houston always felt that Emma’s last words to him before the accident were about heaven. When Emma turned to look at him and exclaimed, “I’m going home,” Houston felt that Emma was talking about her heavenly home. Eric pondered, “Maybe in Emma’s heart she somehow knew her time was short here and she was fulfilling God’s perfect plan – knew He would use her life to bring others into the Kingdom of heaven.” He continued, “I don’t know but I do know that she was concerned with things that most young children never think about, and there may be a reason that’s far too big for me to understand on this side of heaven.”
How is it possible to manage the magnitude of a devastating loss and still move forward? The Boughmans will tell you that even though it has been five years, they are not experts by any means. While their grief continues to change over time, Kim and Eric know it will last until they are able to see Emma again. Kim said, “It’s not like this happened and we magically have all the answers. We don’t. We just have to trust. The Bible tells us He will work all things out for the good of those who love Him.” However, they will also tell you that they are passionate about reaching out and ministering to anyone who experiences a similar loss. Kim said, “The pain of losing your child who you gave birth to and who you’ve loved is just different. It’s a whole different kind of pain. It’s a hard-core pain. You hurt with everything in your body.” Kim and Eric feel that when Emma went to heaven, He put a higher calling on their lives. They feel that God wants them to use the pain they’ve experienced in their family and turn it into a purpose that ministers to others and glorifies Him. In the midst of their storm, they have started different programs and Christian ministries, not only to minister to others, but to do special things in Emma’s memory as well.
EMMA KAPPS (Kids Are Precious People) is a program started in Emma’s memory to teach children about the importance of helmet safety. The Pickens County EMS approached the Boughmans after the accident. While a helmet would not have changed the outcome of Emma’s situation, they felt that this story could raise awareness and impact other families. Every year the Boughmans raise money and buy the helmets for the first graders at Chastain Road Elementary and Liberty Elementary School. The Pickens County EMS presents a program on helmet safety and summer safety at the schools and Emma’s former first-grade classmates from Chastain Road Elementary School assist with handing out the helmets. It is a very special time of spreading awareness and remembering their friend, Emma.
In addition, there is a garden dedicated to Emma’s memory at Chastain Road Elementary School near the students’ playground. The Boughmans work on it year-round and keep flowers and seasonal decorations in it for the students and teachers to enjoy.
Another program the Boughmans started in Emma’s memory is called Polka Dots for Emma. They make blankets by hand and sew an “In Memory of Emma” tag in each one. They are placed in emergency vehicles in the city of Liberty to be given to children in emergency situations. Emma continues to warm the hearts of children just as she always did when she was here.
Eric also started his public speaking and writing ministry. Eric said, "God gifted me with the ability to write thoughts on paper, and now He has given me a subject - my sweet girl and the One who gave her life." Eric’s book, Emma: Her Journey From Here To Heaven is the family’s story that tells about their life from Emma’s accident to present day. It gives the reader an understanding of their journey to the other side of the storm. Eric declared, “God is not surprised by our storm; He has known all along that one day He would use it for His glory.”
Thankfully, storms don’t surge forever. Even so, the Boughmans insist that the only way through the storms and seasons of life is to be faithful and dependent on God. They will tell you that they continue to need His grace daily because they still grieve daily. As a matter of fact, Kim said that it took a long time to find true joy in her life again. However, God granted that prayer request with a big surprise for the Boughmans. To their astonishment, they found out they were going to have a baby boy, something that according to these two, was an unexpected blessing they certainly did not anticipate at this time in their life. Baby Hudson brought a lot of joy to the Boughman household when he was born in April of 2016. Eric stated, “I feel that our faithfulness and trying to do what God wants us to do is why Hudson is here… I think that God felt it was something we all needed so desperately.” In many ways, Baby Hudson was the rainbow at the end of a turbulent storm for Eric, Kim, and Houston. They feel that while the future is unknown, it is a blessed thing to rest in the knowledge that God has a plan and will help them through anything if they remain faithful. Eric reflected on the past five years and concluded, “If we ever go through anything like it again, He will be there and He will give us the grace and the strength to get through it. God has been walking on the waves and He has been carrying us through the storm the whole time.”
Heather Reeves, Challenges Column Contributor
Heather Reeves, a 5th grade language arts teacher, lives & works in her hometown of Liberty, SC. She is a graduate of Clemson University & her family enjoys cheering for the Clemson Tigers. Heather also enjoys gardening, crafting, traveling, & spending time with her husband and daughter.