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By Eugene Tapahe and Loren Tapahe

Today I remember the innocent, the soft-spoken, the elderly who have senselessly suffered and died alone.

Their memories will live forever in the hearts of their loved ones, as well as their wisdom, their stories, and their influence on the many lives they’ve impacted.

On May 26, 2020, in the early morning my aunt, Emolind “Emily” Tapahe, succumbed and died from COVID-19 at the Little Sisters of the Poor Assisted Care Center in Gallup, New Mexico. She was 80 years old.

Emily was born March 16, 1940 at Rehoboth McKinley Christian Hospital near Gallup. She is Táchii’nii (Red Running into the Water People clan) and born for the Kinłichii'nii clan (The Red House People clan).

Emily spent her early life in Fort Defiance, Arizona, where her mother worked for the Indian Hospital and the BIA boarding school. She also spent time at the Tapahe’s traditional home in Coalmine, New Mexico, helping her grandparents herd sheep.

Emily went to school in Fort Defiance and later went to Intermountain Indian School in Brigham City, Utah. She and her twin sister, Imogene Tapahe, graduated in 1958.

Emily worked in San Francisco, California, for a few months then returned to Utah to work at a beauty salon in the Zion’s Cooperative Mercantile Incorporated (ZCMI) department store in Salt Lake City. She worked there for nearly 20 years as a professional manicurist.

I remember as a child, I looked forward to our annual summer visits to see Emily in Salt Lake City. She would save all her quarters the whole year in a sock while waiting for my visit. We would use those quarters at the Trolley Square video arcade. We would spend days playing games, pool, skeet ball, shooting arcades and video games.

Eugene Tapahe and his aunt Emolind "Emily" Tapahe. (Photo courtesy of Eugene Tapahe)
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When we were done playing we would share a huge banana split dessert served in a “kitchen sink.” It was such a treat. She had a heart of a child. She was so fun to be with. She and I would proudly walk around the arcade, dangling and swinging that sock full of quarters––not caring what people thought of us.

Emily was known as a humble and kind person with a big heart. She would often receive many compliments from her work at ZCMI. Whenever family or friends came to visit her in Utah, she would always make sure they had a place to stay and ate well at the local eateries.

The last time I saw Emily on the Navajo Nation was difficult. I could see my mom’s eyes in hers. When she first saw us enter her room, her eyes lit up and she smiled so big. We laughed and cried reminiscing of old times with my grandma and mom, who both recently passed away. At the time, I didn’t know this would be my last visit with her.

When I heard she left this world, my heart sank. She was so innocent. She probably didn’t even know how this virus had affected the world and her. Because of the health protocols of COVID-19, she suffered and left this world alone. I cried. I got mad. I wished it wasn’t real.

Emily had a tough life, but through it all she stayed a strong Navajo woman with a kind heart. She’s reunited now with her twin sister, Imogene, grandma and mom. I envision them sitting around grandma’s old kitchen table, with the yellow flowers, laughing and telling stories. Oh, the stories they must be sharing.

Emily will be laid to rest on June 1, 2020 at the Fort Defiance Cemetery. There will be no church services due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Emily is survived by her brother, Loren Tapahe; nephews Emerson (Karen), Eugene (Sharon), Emery, and nieces Evonne and Luralene Tapahe, and in the Navajo traditional way, grandchildren Deone, Dwayne, Tyler, Dexter, Erin, Carter, Sydney, Dion, Chloe, Eriona, Cara, Ethan, Seth, Cayden, Elaina and Evan.

Emily is preceded in death by her mother, Susie and father, Thomas; and three brothers: Tommy, Melton, and Murvyn; and three sisters: Imogene, Charlene and Vivian.

Only five family members are allowed at the gravesite due to COVID-19. The Pallbearers and Honorary Pallbearers will be Loren Tapahe, Emerson Tapahe, Eugene Tapahe, Emery Tapahe, Jeffrey Francisco and Ron Wood.

The Tapahe family wishes to thank all those who knew Emily and supported her throughout her life. Our lives are much better because of you, Aunt Emily. You will always be in our hearts.

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