MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -
For 6-year old Maria Emilia Strickland her 4-year battle with brain cancer came to a quiet end two weeks before Christmas in 2006. Maria died in a corner bedroom at her grandfather's home in Prattville. Surrounded by family Maria passed away in her father's arms.
"It was a bright, sunny day. Peaceful," said Randy Strickland.
A peaceful end to a young life but the beginning of profound grief for Strickland, grief became his constant companion for nearly a year.
"I didn't work for 11 months," said Strickland.
And then Randy Strickland thought of something, an idea that put compassion into action.
First, a website in honor of Maria. It tells her story and encourages people to donate school supplies to her kindergarten school down in Ecuador. Maria often spent time there when mom went back to visit to her family in South America.
"We're talking about paper and crayons," Strickland said.
Perhaps the true colors of Strickland's heart in remembering Maria is Emy's Place, the name Strickland will give a home in north Montgomery once he finishes renovating it. Emy by the way is short for Maria's middle name Emilia. The home used to belong to Strickland's brother.
"I know Maria would be very pleased," Strickland.
Maybe more than Strickland could ever imagine. In about a month Strickland will offer the home off Lower Wetumpka Road to any out-of-town family with a sick relative while that person is getting medical treatment. It's Strickland's way of reaching out to others when so many reached out to him during his darkest hour.
"We've been given so much. We'll contact the pastoral staff at local hospitals. I get more satisfaction in helping somebody else," said Strickland.
The families who stay at Emy's Place won't have to pay a dime in rent. All they have to do is concentrate on getting well, something that never happened for Maria.
"She's looking down and saying 'that's my dad.' That's all I need. This is my mission and it will make my life complete," said Strickland.
A mission that's not quite accomplished just yet since there's still quite a bit of work left to do, but step-by-careful step, Randy Strickland is clearly on his road to healing with Emy's Place.
Strickland says he and Maria's mom are separate and will probably get a divorce because Maria's death was too much.
Maria's story can be found at www. mariaemiliastricklandfoundation.org