One Final Step With Emilie


By Anthony Kovatch, M.D., Pediatric Alliance — Arcadia.




(Musical accompaniment: “Once Upon a Time in Paris” (Gymnopédie #1) by French composer Erik Satie.)



I’d like to get away from earth awhile

And then come back to it and begin over.

May no fate willfully misunderstand me

And half grant what I wish and snatch me away

Not to return.  Earth’s the right place for love:

I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.

— From “Birches” by Robert Frost



Once upon a time in Dublin (or its whereabouts on the Irish Isle) two people fell in love while on holiday. Upon returning to their native United States and meeting his Irish relatives, Emilie decided to follow her lover Matt to Cleveland so that they could pursue post-graduate studies together and live happily ever after. Emilie was well-aware that Matt had recently had a brain tumor removed that could return at any time, but she was undaunted and believed that Fate would be compassionate and do no snatching.

I had not seen Matt for ten years until his funeral last week, but I was fiercely compelled (even creating and missing self-imposed deadlines) to tell his story, lest I procrastinate too long and ultimately commit the most unforgivable of sins: forgetfulness. Although I was pediatrician to Matt’s two younger brothers, who were elite basketball players, and to many of his close cousins who sported traditional Irish names — Mairead, Eibhlin, Padraig, Flynn, Liam (Will), Caelan — Matt himself was in the process of transitioning to an adult doctor when I first met him. I uncannily remember now that I had evaluated him for a sprained ankle, a fact that I cannot verify since it was before the days of electronic medical records. Apparently, Matt suffered an injury in every sport in which he participated, so the endeavors were short-lived; he pursued a career in counseling/sales since he was friend of all the world — “Everybody’s Everything.”

The stairway to “happiness ever after” was interrupted by relapses of Matt’s malignant brain tumor, but the couple endured cancer’s vicissitudes for ten years and never wavered from their eminent devotion to each other. In spite of the fact that Matt’s cancer was judged terminal, they wed and Emilie became her husband’s inspiration as his physical condition declined. They climbed the stairway to heaven together and he was to “pay it forward” to the rest of us:

Inspiring us all:  Promise on back of running shirt


All runners know that the last few miles of any long race are the most painful and mentally exhausting — the point where the competitor will either quit or “keep on steppin.” What makes one individual throw in the towel and another persevere to the bitter end? I think a dying man takes one last earthly step into paradise because he is absolutely convinced that not only his legacy, but his whole being, will live on in those who love him.

Elite runners Aunt Jen and Cousin Jackson steppin’ strong at the “Great Race.” Matt died several days later with Emilie and his family at his side. His legacy had already been manifested!


Racing, “The Blood Sport” (as running guru George Sheehan called it), is often employed as a metaphor for life. The last step crossing the finish line symbolizes the one final act of our personal drama: death. And if we are believers, we will rejoice that heaven is the right place for love: “I don’t know where it’s likely to go better”!  For Matt and Emilie, it will be said: “All this and heaven, too!”


“It’s very hard in the beginning to understand that the whole idea is not to beat the other runners. Eventually you learn that the competition is against the little voice inside you that wants you to quit.”      

— George Sheehan. Doctor Sheehan struggled with prostate cancer for seven years before he succumbed. Matt struggled for ten years, and, with Emilie at his side, he never quit.


As they say in Dublin:

“Until we meet again —

May God hold you in the palm of His hand!”



(“So in Love,” by Cole Porter)