MICHIGAN Emily Smith-Lemmer was relieved when she found the man who did her first tattoo back in 2016. That year, on Feb. 20, her dad, Rich, and brother, Tyler, were shot and killed while looking at vehicles at a car dealership in Kalamazoo. In the aftermath of the tragedy, she got ForeverStrong Daddy and Tyler tattooed onto her right forearm.
Last week, she had the same tattoo artist add some flowers to it.
I love black roses, partially because its a symbol of death and grief, Smith-Lemmer said during an interview at Mattawan High School, where she and Tyler went to school. I love roses because of their thorns, you know, and theyre such a beautiful flower. Its like even though theres the pain, theres also the flower.
Smith-Lemmer said shes still in shock and numb over the death of her father and brother. They were two of the six people killed during the shooting spree that night. Two others were injured and survived.
READ MORE: Kalamazoo shooting spree suspect charged with 6 murders
It doesnt get easier with time, and I think thats the thing that I was hoping for the most is that it would, Smith-Lemmer said after letting out a deep sigh. Everyone kept saying, Time heals, time heals.' Thats not the case. Unfortunately, thats just something I think that Im going to have to get used to is that each day gets harder and harder because its one more memory I make without them.
Since the tragedy, Smith-Lemmer has gotten married, moved to the west coast, returned home to Michigan, and had a daughter. Her mother, Laurie Smith, joked that the now toddler is 3 going on 30.' However, whenever she sneezes, she reminds them of Rich, who used to do the same thing.
She so funny, Smith said while smiling. Weve told her, Grandpa used to do that,' and she was very aware that grandpa and uncle TT are in heaven.
Smith said the journey has been hard for her as well. She created the ForeverStrong Foundation in honor of all the victims. Theyve since held fests, galas, soccer tournaments and done several service projects around the Kalamazoo and Battle Creek area.
However, whats gotten her through some of her hardest times is her faith in God.
One thing that Gods working with me on is to realize that its okay to be happy after, Smith said. You know, everythings before and after. And, I have felt guilty. I felt like I shouldnt be happy, or if I do be happy then theyre not here to experience it with me. So, Gods really been working with me to say, 'Its okay. Its okay to be happy.'
These days, Smith-Lemmer is finding her joy and comfort in working with dogs. She even created a business called Sit for Pets after becoming an official trainer.
I got that after everything happened, and I love helping animals, Smith-Lemmer said. I love volunteering for shelters and stuff because I help animals that are innocent that have had cruel things happen to them, and it just...it helps me so much.
Smith-Lemmer said she hopes to turn them into therapy dogs one day. In the meantime, she's focused on keeping her father and brothers memory alive for her daughter and on adding more artwork to her arm.
I love it, Smith-Lemmer said while looking down at her tattoo. I plan on doing quite a bit more to my grief sleeve, which sound a bit morbid, but I like it. Its therapeutic.
READ MORE: Tomorrow is going to be better: Nonprofit honors victims of Kalamazoo shooting
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