Published: 06:00, 16 April 2021
| Updated: 15:03, 16 April 2021
A mum has told of the unimaginable grief of losing her “beautiful” daughter after a treasured memorial to the 18-year-old was trashed by vandals.
Emily Set, a former pupil at Langton Girls in Canterbury and Folkestone College, died suddenly on November 28.
Her death came as a devastating blow to her loved ones, many of whom could not attend her funeral due to Covid restrictions.
Her grieving young friends instead created a woodland tribute to the “intelligent, spiritual, thoughtful” teen, who was passionate about the natural world.
But last week they were horrified to find it trashed by vandals, who had smashed candles and caused a fire that destroyed some of the memorial.
One friend branded the act “inexcusable”, explaining the site “is just as important and meaningful as a gravestone”.
Emily’s close friend, Abi Griffiths, described the riverside spot at Toddlers Cove as her and Emily’s “favourite place” - somewhere they visited often and the last place she had seen Emily.
Upon hearing news of Emily’s death, Abi said: “My heart ached for her family and for everyone who loved her.
“I knew that with lockdown rules it would be difficult to come together and show our love for her. I knew so many people would be feeling the ripples of losing such a beautiful soul.”
Two nights later, Emily’s friends decided to hold a vigil at the peaceful riverside spot, in the light of the full moon.
Visiting in small groups, they lit candles, wrote messages of love to Emily’s family, planted daffodils and mourned their beloved friend.
They now visit daily, with fresh flowers and candles.
But last week, they were devastated to find the whole area “trashed and burned”. Candles had been smashed and a fire left burning.
Carefully entwined twigs that formed part of the memorial had been used as kindling and some of the treasured, carefully placed items destroyed.
Emily’s distraught friends returned next day to “make it beautiful again”.
“We even put a sign up saying what this place means to people, and to please just be respectful,” said Abi.
But sadly, their newly-planted flowers were taken a few days later.
"I wish people would understand that with Covid-19 and the regulations, this is just as important and meaningful to loved ones as a gravestone would be.”
“This has become a special place of remembrance for those who loved Em, somewhere to come and feel close to her spirit,” said Abi. “It is such a beautiful spot, somewhere filled with love and memories.
“To see it destroyed saddened grief-stricken hearts even more.
“It is inexcusable. There are no excuses for such a disrespectful act. I wish people would understand that with Covid-19 and the regulations, this is just as important and meaningful to loved ones as a gravestone would be.”
Emily’s mum, Rebecca Set, described the vandalism as “thoughtless and cruel”.
“We couldn’t have a wake, we have no grave,” she said. “Nor have I scattered her ashes yet; I can’t bring myself to part with them. None of her friends were properly given a chance to pay their respects because of Covid.
“They made these temporary memorials as somewhere to go to think and mourn Em.”
Emily’s friends are raising money for a permanent memorial to Emily.
Ms Set hopes to gain permission for a memorial bench and a Japanese cherry tree in the Garden of St Mary de Castro, which Emily often visited with friends - but says this could take months.
“Therefore the temporary memorial is all the more important for Emily’s friends to have somewhere to go to remember her,” she added.
Emily’s mum has spoken of her deep heartbreak following her daughter’s death.
“If you lose a spouse, you are a widow,” she said. “If you lose parents, you are an orphan.
“But there is no word for a parent who loses a child.
“No one knows that you are in mourning and it’s difficult to meet people as they always say ‘How are you?’ out of politeness.
“I’d like to say ‘how do you think I am? Can you imagine losing your child?’
“But it’s unimaginable unless it has happened to you.
“I wear black every day now and probably will for a while, though no one would know that I am grieving the loss of my beautiful daughter as I can’t really walk around with a black arm band on like footballers.”
Emily attended St Peter’s Methodist Primary School in Canterbury, followed by the Langton Girls, and Folkestone College, where she studied art and business.
Abi Griffiths describes her as “the purest soul I ever met”.
“She cared without bounds for everyone,” she said. “We dreamed of travelling the earth, giving our time to helping others.
“Her energy radiated through any space, enticing smiles from everyone around her.
“From her colourful hair to her funky clothes or silly jokes, just being around her made people so much happier. Her spirit will never be forgotten, it shone with such intensity.”
Emily’s mum describes her as “an intelligent, spiritual, thoughtful young lady who loved art, photography and the natural world”.
“She was looking forward to Christmas and had made a list of the presents she was going to make for her friends and family,” she said.
Dreaming of travelling with a friend in a camper van, she was also keen to resume driving lessons, and planning to move in with friends in the new year.
But Emily tragically died in the early hours of November 28, after a suspected accidental drug overdose.
On the day of her funeral, many people lined her close in Rough Common, and stood along Rheims Way as the hearse travelled past.
“I asked if everyone could wear black and light a candle that day,” said Ms Set. “It was not a day to celebrate her life but to mourn her loss.”
An inquest into Emily’s death is yet to take place.