CARMEL VALLEY — The loss of a child is an incomprehensible tragedy for parents. As Emily Beaver discovered, it is an especially difficult experience with its own set of challenges for a younger sibling.
At age 11, Matthew Beaver was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. Emily was 8 at the time.
Through the next several years she watched her brother experience the amputation of his lower right leg, chemotherapy, radiation, relapses and failed stem cell therapy.
She missed a month of school during her freshman year of high school.
“All the family was at home except me,” she said. “I didn’t want to risk missing his passing.”
Matthew lost his battle with the disease when he was 17.
“It’s devastating to lose a sibling, whether you get along or not,” said Emily, who describes her relationship with her brother as “remarkably close, even before he was sick.”
“I want to make it clear, out of respect for my family, I didn’t want to put blame on anyone for ignoring me,” she said. “People often asked my parents how they were doing, but they didn’t ask me directly. That was upsetting. I would have liked to talk about it.”
Emily had always kept a journal, but about a month before Matthew passed away she decided to turn it into a book.
Writing the novel, which she completed at 14, was partly a coping mechanism, she said. It was also to honor Matthew, who had encouraged her to follow her dream to become an author.
She said it took about six months to write “Slipping Reality,” which was published two years later in July 2011.
In the book the main character is Katelyn Emerson, a 14-year-old who uses her imagination to deal with her emotional trauma. The 270-page novel is a coming-of-age story that addresses the trials of young grief, insight and growth.
“It’s about the things I wish I could have done, but doing them would have been running away from the problem,” she said.
Now 17 and a senior at Poway High School, Emily will be at Barnes & Noble at 12835 El Camino Real in Carmel Valley at 7 p.m. April 23 to celebrate World Book Night.
Her advice to other young authors is to keep writing.
“It sounds cliché, but write every day,” she said. “It may be painful and horrible, but it’s worth it. I wrote my book 13 times and I still don’t think it’s perfect. I know I have a long way to go to improve. You always get better.”
She said young people facing the loss of a loved one should “stop worrying about what you can’t change and focus on what you can control,” such as death or divorce.
“Life is unfair,” she said. “But you can control how you deal with it. Don’t run away from problems or make bad decisions. Develop a hobby and look to family and friends.”
As for adults who may want to help those teenagers in need, “Sometimes we just want to talk,” she said. “We don’t always want advice. We’re not looking for answers — just support.”