Emily Ann Watson

Emily Ann Watson

Kind, giving, artistic, observant, independent

From the beginning, Em marched to the beat of her own drum. On a shopping trip for shorts when she was three, she loudly protested in the girls’ dressing room, “I don’t like them. They make me look like a girl!” She played baseball with boys until they moved up to kid pitch, adamant that girls softball just wasn’t the same.

The youngest of three children, Em was determined to keep up with her older sister, Erin, and brother, Blake. When the family went skiing, she was intent on being the first down the hill, even though she didn’t know how to stop. She enjoyed family trips to Disneyland, the Black Hills of South Dakota, and her grandfather’s farm.

Erin and Blake always looked out for Em. Bonded over their father’s issues with addiction, the three siblings were very close. When they were young, they played outdoors, jumping on the trampoline and riding bikes. As they got older, they enjoyed watching South Park, The Simpsons and movies together.
Em was artistic, expressing herself in photography, school art projects, clothes and her choice of tattoos, including one of Jane Doe that ran from her knee to her ankle. She learned to play guitar, loved indie bands, going to local concerts, being with her friends and taking photos. Photography was Em’s passion, and she wanted it to be her career. Her photos were exhibited at the Curtis Center for the Arts and the University of Colorado Denver.

She also had a huge heart and cared about people. Em was known to spend her last dollar handing out food, clothing and cigarettes to those in need.

Strong and brave, nothing held Em back. At 12 she was diagnosed with scoliosis. By high school she needed major surgery—two rods and 20 screws were implanted to straighten her spine. Em was in pain before and after the surgery, but rarely showed it. The surgery meant she missed a month of school, but she completed all her assignments. She made the honor roll in middle school and high school.
Em’s mental health challenges first surfaced in middle school. Her pediatrician diagnosed her with depression and prescribed Prozac, but it made her feel worse. In high school she began getting drunk and cutting, but insisted she was fine.

Often moody and sometimes combative, Em self-diagnosed herself with bipolar disorder. She sought treatment for it in college. The meds were working, but she didn’t like their side effects, so she decided to stop them. Determined and fiercely independent, it was hard for Em to see she needed help. Her best friend’s boyfriend suggested she try heroin. She did, and 45 days later Em died of a heroin/cocaine overdose.

“I miss Em’s laugh,” her mother, Beckie, said. “It was genuine and contagious. I miss watching her succeed despite having so many challenges, both physical and mental. I miss her corny jokes and sense of humor. She said she got that from me.”

After Em’s death, Beckie vowed to learn more about mental illness and discovered the strong connection it has to substance use disorder (SUD). She started Em’s House Foundation, a nonprofit sober living house, to honor her daughter’s giving spirit and to help others battling the disease of addiction have a safe place to live while they get back on their feet. “It was how Em lived her life that made me want to do this,” Beckie said.

Emily’s mother, Beckie Watson, provided the information for this narrative.
May 31, 1990 – September 22, 2010-Age 20

Portrait Artist: Theresa Clower
Narrative Writer: Lynne Mixson

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