:“Every single year since she was seven, Mother’s Day was always the biggest day where her writing really shined,” said Holly Adamonis-Zuller.
Zuller is referring to poems and letters her stepdaughter, Elanna L. Zuller, addressed to her. Elanna was a Pilgrim High School student who died in a car crash, along with her friend and classmate, Bella DiPalma, on Aug. 31, 2011 at the age of 16.
For Holly and her husband Michael, as well as their children Jacob, 12, and Isabella, 6, life as they knew it ended with the death of Elanna. While they said they will forever will be impacted by her loss, Holly turns to the cards and letters Elanna made for her on holidays, especially Mother’s Day, which is Sunday, for peace.
“The other night, I had a bad night thinking, ‘How am I going to get through this weekend?’ and I was going through things she made me,” Holly said. “Reading those letters gives me such a sense of security and passion, as well as just … goodness.”
In fact, said Holly, reading the keepsakes not only helps her cope, it encourages her to continue to be a good mother. Elanna’s letters praised her for her mothering skills and the ability for teaching her how to grow into a strong woman.
“I’m a different person than I was and I’m not the same Holly anymore, but I have to keep a smile on my face for my other two children,” she said. “She’s made me the mother that I am today – the person I am today – and for me to not be that mother Elanna loved and respected to my other two children would be shame on me. They didn’t choose to lose their sister, so how can I not give them love?”
Holly also said that she believes her love for Elanna helped fuse Holly and Michael together as a couple. The two had been friends for a few years, with Holly frequently spending time with Michael and his children, but she fell in love with Michael after she fell in love with Elanna.
“If I never felt the way I did about Elanna, I never would have given my heart to Michael,” Holly said. “When we got married [in 2005], it was a ceremony with the five of us. It was about us all.”
Moreover, Holly said Elanna’s love helped her find out she was able to have children of her own, as Holly suffers from endometriosis, an illness that often prevents women from bearing children. But, after falling in love with Michael and his children, she realized having a child was possible. Six years later, she gave birth to Isabella.
“My whole life, I was told I wasn’t going to have children and up until that point, I didn’t think I was going to have kids,” said Holly.
At the same time, Elanna’s writings also stir up other emotions in Holly. For example, in a letter that Elanna wrote to Michael after he and Holly got engaged, Elanna said, “I’m so glad that you asked Holly to be a part of our lives. You’re going to have a beautiful wife and we’re going to have a beautiful mother. In return, you’ll always have Jacob, who’s not as easy as I am, but you’ll have Isabella, who’s a little me because there’s going to be a day when I’m not here as a visual.”
“Who writes that at 10 years old?” Holly said. “It’s scary because unconsciously she knew it was going to happen through the way she wrote things. It was as if she knew her time here was limited. It was so detailed.”
Regardless, the cards and letters remind Holly of the love she shared with Elanna.
“I know that she’s shining down on us because we always lived a life without regrets,” Holly said. “She passed knowing that I loved her with my heart and my soul. There are little things that I want to share with her every day, but I feel grateful that I had this great relationship with my daughter.”
To further cope, Holly and Michael established a memorial fund in honor of Elanna called the Elanna L. Zuller Foundation.
The fund aims to support the advancement of education, foster national sports competition, and contribute to local charities. The Zullers’ plan is to award college scholarships to Pilgrim mock trial students and assist underprivileged youth who want to participate in sports but struggle to do so because of financial reasons, as Elanna was part of the debate team, as well as the soccer and lacrosse teams.
Michael, who owns and operates MZ Financial, Inc. at 730 Warwick Avenue, said the scholarship fund will be annual.
“We are so passionate about Elanna’s fund,” Holly said. “Michael works night and day on the different events we are having.”
Tonight, Holly and Michael are set to award a Pilgrim mock trial student with $1,000 that the recipient can put toward college. Additionally, they are planning a bike run for June 30. The day will wrap up with an evening of musical entertainment at Biki’s Warwick Gathering Spot at 2077 West Shore Road.
On July 13, Elanna’s birthday, the Zullers will hold an event at Conimicut Beach at 6 p.m. There, they will release 150 yellow and purple balloons into the sky in remembrance of Elanna.
“We’re just trying to keep her name alive,” Holly said.
Further, the Pilgrim sophomore class has organized a 5K walk through City Park June 2 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. The students will keep 50 percent of the profits for their class but plan on donating 25 percent each to both the Zuller family, as well as the DiPalma family.
To learn more about the Elanna L. Zuller Memorial Sports Fund, the bike run, other upcoming events or to make a donation, visit elannazuller.com.