MERRIMAC — Emma Louise Journeay had a taste for adventure and had wanted to travel the world. But the world had other plans for her.
Diagnosed with Stage 4 neuroblastoma cancer in September 2011 at the age of 8, the plucky Donaghue School youngster did the next best thing — she viewed the world through the eyes of others by avidly collecting souvenirs from hundreds of pen pals around the globe.
Less than a year later, on Aug. 25, Emma succumbed to the disease.
In addition to many grieving hearts, she left behind a travelogue of postcards and collectibles from 46 countries, each of the 50 states and every continent.
On Thursday night, those items were displayed like fabulous jewels on 13 tables at the Merrimac Public Library.
Those close to Emma said the young girl would have been proud to describe the collection as well as the pen pals who had sent the items to her.
The collection grew from an innocent comment by Emma soon after she was diagnosed with the cancer that typically originates in the nerve cells of young children. When doctors discovered it in Emma, the cancer, which has no known cure, had already spread to her surrounding organs as well as lymph nodes, bone marrow and liver.
“I’m a little sad that I won’t be able to do the pen pal picnic this year at school,” Emma told her mother, Tina Journeay, whose broad grin instantly recalls her daughter’s famously wide and happy smile.
With the help of a Facebook page, “Emma’s Pen Pal Adventure Around the World” was born.
When Emma was no longer able to attend class, her third-grade teacher at Donaghue School, Kathy Terceiro, stepped forward to tutor her at home and assist with the pen pal project, which was launched last November.
Aware that the cancer treatments at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston might not work, Emma worked fast. She was rewarded with an outpouring of love from afar, her spirit reaching out to the places she could not go herself.
“It wasn’t long before the quantity of mail was too much for my tiny mailbox, so the post office started bringing everything to the school,” Terceiro said.
Tina Journeay said one woman from California sent so much mail that she felt she just had to meet Emma.
“So she flew out here from the West Coast just to meet Emma, whom she had come to think of as her own granddaughter. Emma died just three days later,” Journeay said.
In the span of just seven months, Emma had garnered:
A USS Mississippi T-shirt signed by the nuclear submarine’s captain
An Eiffel Tower necklace sent from Paris
Ceramic Dutch shoes mailed from Holland
A model of The Colosseum sent from Rome
Dozens of stuffed animals, which are being distributed to hospitalized children
A playground ball proclaiming “Bounce Back Soon!”
Inspirational Wayne Dyer books, “Incredible You” and “Unstoppable Me,” which seemed to have been written with Emma in mind
Personal letters, creative handmade Valentine cards, books and dolls from young well-wishers from every corner of the world
Postcards from Antarctica, Alaska, Hawaii, Japan, Africa, Egypt, Russia, Australia, Canada, Italy, Liechtenstein and a thousand other places, all with the same basic message wishing Emma a speedy recovery
On Thursday night, more than 100 people wandered the room, marveling at the collection of items on display for one night only. A slide show featuring photographs of Emma opening some of the many packages she received ran continuously, while “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” played softly in the background. Tables were also set up at the library for kids to write cheerful messages to hospitalized children.
Emma’s personal world map was on display at the library, too, full of the push pins she used to track her vicarious travels around the world. Also on display were postcards featuring photographs of a smiling Emma that the girl used to respond to everyone who sent her something.
Tina Journeay is hoping her daughter’s spirit lives on not only in her family, but in the hearts and minds of all who knew her, whether locally or from afar.
Emma’s Facebook page will also continue, said her mother, with updates showing the items that were received and the good that those gifts are now doing for other sick children.