Maia Dunphy: Emma Hannigan, the funny, brave, kind writer I knew

She always had an encouraging word and generously shared advice. She celebrated the success of others as if it was her own

Emma Hannigan: Someone else’s success was always something to be celebrated. Photograph:  Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Emma Hannigan: Someone else’s success was always something to be celebrated. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

 

“Faced with very little time can I tell you what screams out at me? Love. Nothing else has much meaning anymore,” Emma Hannigan wrote in an extraordinary piece, posted publicly two weeks before she died.

It was in many ways, a love letter to all of us, and summed up the Emma I was lucky enough to have known. She felt it was important to share this last chapter publicly, as she had shared so much with us over the years.

My husband, who had never met Emma, said it was the bravest piece of writing he had ever read. I am always wary of hijacking other people’s grief, as Emma and I were not very close friends, but her kindness and humour was something special – and not just in the face of illness – she was just one of those people it was great fun to be around. She was also someone for whom life was not a zero sum game, and trust me, that is not all that common in this industry.

Many people have an understandable paranoia or unease about advising or helping others “too much” in a very competitive business. Not Emma. Someone else’s success was always something to be celebrated.

When I had my own first book launch a few months ago, she was apologetic about missing it despite being very unwell, and her enthusiasm for my small achievement was palpable. I’m not sure I would have even replied in her situation. But that was Emma; any opportunity to big someone else up she would jump at, not ever in a sycophantic or fawning way.

She was very, very funny. I remember at the Tatler Woman of the Year awards a number of years ago, she made a joke under her breath to me that I actually couldn’t repeat out of context here. Let’s just say it was perfect comic timing.

Emma was also incredibly glamorous and I loved that she never underestimated the power of looking your best – whether dealing with cancer or not (we shared an uninterrupted desire to find the best fake tan for our Irish hue).

I sent her a text message after I read her post. I didn’t know if it was appropriate to send it, or if she would be in a position to read it. But she replied, as she did to so many others, and I will treasure those words forever (and as usual, it was damn good advice).

When she talked about the love that screamed out in the face of knowing there was little time left, she really did include all of us. She used her inimitable and inexhaustible spirit to raise over €100,000 for Breast Cancer Ireland in her final days, and all of us who knew her (and those who didn’t), helped fast-track her latest book Letters to My Daughters to number one. I have no doubt it would have got there anyway, but I hope it went some way to showing her how highly she was regarded. Because sometimes it’s too late to tell people, and Emma never waited to tell anyone something positive.

I am heartbroken for Cian, Sacha and Kim and all of her family and friends, but what a legacy she has left and what a trail she blazed. As she so often said herself, love and light. That’s what I’ll remember; that and the cheeky joke which I’m still not sharing.

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