More than anything, Sherline Romph and her daughter Erin Regan want to make sure Margaret is never forgotten.
Taking a walk through Sherline’s Jefferson City home shows some of the many ways they’ve been successful.
Margaret Romph — Sherline’s youngest child and Erin’s sister — was paralyzed from the neck down and on a ventilator after a car accident in 2009. She died May 6, 2019, at 15 years old.
The outside of the Romph family home is lined with purple flower pots, and taking a step inside, you’re stuck with the big personality of a teenage girl who lived life to the fullest and wanted those around her to do the same.
A purple living room decked in poster-size family photos with Margaret’s infectious smile leads into a purple kitchen, complete with a purple china cabinet, purple dishes and even a purple KitchenAid mixer.
“It was her favorite color,” Sherline said, as she shows off Margaret’s bedroom, covered — of course — in purple paint and so many stuffed animals the bed underneath is barely visible. Teen-inspired posters and handmade art completes the room, which remains a tribute to her life.
“She had a huge personality,” Erin said. “You’d come up to her and say ‘You’re so cute,’ and she’d put her hand on her hip and say ‘I know.’
“Even after the accident, she was the exact same way. She knew what she wanted, and she was so loving and so happy.”
‘Family is everything’
Sherline is the mom of four children — Erin, 28; Katharine, 24; Patrick, 22; and Margaret — and grandmother of two.
“My family is everything,” she said, noting the joy it brings her to have Erin, Katharine, Patrick and their families all living in the Mid-Missouri area after some had lived elsewhere in the country previously.
“I don’t like a quiet house,” the stay-at-home mom said. “Most people are excited for an empty nest, not me. … It’s like I told Margaret: ‘I hate that your accident happened, but the one blessing out of it is I’ll always have you at home.’”
Erin, a former high school math teacher and now a stay-at-home mom to son, Braydin, 3, remembers Margaret as her best friend.
Despite the 11-year age gap, Erin and Margaret were inseparable. Erin laughs as she remembers Margaret calling her at her home less than 2 miles away asking her to come hang out because she was having “Erin withdrawals.” The sisters enjoyed going to movies and just talking the day away, always ending with a silly game of who could get the last “I love you” or, more accurately, “I freaking love you” in the conversation.
“She was and still is such an important person in my life,” Erin said. “I just want people to know who she is and that I do a good job of portraying her.”
Sharing the love
Aside from what Sherline jokingly called “the museum of Margaret” in reference to her home, the Romph family shares Margaret’s story on a larger scale through the Miracles 4 Margaret Foundation, which donates blankets to children — mostly those in hospitals but also to the siblings of children in hospitals as well as anywhere else they find a need. After a house fire destroyed the home of a local family with seven children, for example, the foundation provided every member of the family with a new blanket to offer warmth and comfort during the trying time.
Because of Margaret’s injuries, she was unable to regulate her body temperature, leaving her always cold.
“That’s why I’m so passionate about this with the blankets,” Erin said, “because she loved them so much. Just doing this, I know we’re doing it for her.”
Saying Margaret loved blankets is an understatement. She named the special ones; she had different ones for different parts of her body, and they had to be placed just so. There was one folded in a specific way under her knee and another kept close to her face, the only place she could feel its softness.
Sherline recalls a favorite of Margaret’s, the “Love” blanket, which had the word “love” stamped numerous times across the fleece fabric. Whenever she’d get sad or cranky, Sherline would rub the blanket on her daughter’s cheek, telling her “to feel the love” in a silly voice. Sherline still sleeps with it so she can keep feeling Margaret’s love, she said.
After Margaret died, Sherline spotted one of her daughter’s favorite types of blankets — this one covered in a popcorn print, a favorite of Margaret’s — at Kohl’s. She bought it.
Later that year, Katharine came to the family home for Christmas and had a blanket for her little sister wrapped under the tree. They couldn’t resist.
“We’d see them, and they were her security and her comfort, and they have become my security and comfort … and I just wanted to buy them. So we thought, why don’t we still buy blankets for Margaret — and give them to other kids,” Sherline said.
And the Miracles 4 Margaret Foundation was formed.
A family affair
Like most things in the Romph family, the Miracles 4 Margaret Foundation involves everyone. Sherline serves as the organization’s president, and Erin is the vice president. Sherline’s husband, Eric, is the treasurer; her mother-in-law is the secretary, and the rest of the children sit on the board of directors — Katharine does social media and Patrick manages logistics, making and ordering stationary and other materials.
Even 3-year-old Braydin likes to help carry blankets and provide a cute bit of inspiration — or maybe distraction — to his mom and grandma whenever needed.
Through partnerships with hospitals and the Pregnancy Help Center along with a lot of word of mouth and media coverage, the foundation has donated 665 blankets so far this year.
And that number is constantly growing.
A portion of Sherline’s basement — which is also painted purple — has been transformed into the foundation’s headquarters with floor to ceiling plastic boxes organized by blanket genre (cars, flowers, holiday, etc.) and a shelving unit packed with fabric to keep making more.
While they mostly deliver shipments of blankets to hospitals for them to divvy out to children, Sherline said they also take requests and are always accepting donations of completed blankets, fabric or money.
It can be a lot of work, according to Sherline, but it’s also fun. Just “think of Margaret,” she said.
One of the high points of it all, she added, is getting to work so closely with her eldest daughter.
“My children have always been my world,” Sherline said. “They are the most important thing to me. Period. I’ve always prided myself on being a good mom; I don’t know if I have always been a good mom…”
“She has,” Erin chimed in without hesitation.
“… I do feel like I let my other three children down after the accident because Margaret was a 24/7 job, but if I had to do it all over again, I’d do it the same way because that’s just who I am,” Sherline said.
While the family continues to grieve and work together to keep Margaret’s memory alive, Sherline said the last two years have allowed her to do something she hasn’t in decades — focus on herself.
“I put myself aside; I gave up my own identity to be Margaret’s mom. My children have been known as Margaret’s sister or Margaret’s brother, and now, I’m trying to figure out who I am, what I want to be.”
The foundation plays a big role in this journey for self-discovery, as does her advocacy work.
Sherline is involved with groups that strive to make it simpler for families and children with physical or mental challenges to work through the public school system. She testified earlier this year on behalf of one such bill, which unanimously passed the Missouri House of Representatives and now heads to the Senate, that would create more transparency in regards to IEP and 504 meetings. (IEP and 504 plans ensure students with disabilities have access to certain accommodations necessary for a public school education.)
She also is involved with a grieving mothers support group, which meets via Zoom, and she hopes to join its leadership.
And for the first time probably since their honeymoon, Sherline said, she and her husband are going on a vacation — just the two of them — in June to a dude ranch in Colorado, and she’s thrilled.
Donate completed blankets, fabric or money to the Miracles 4 Margaret Foundation by mail to P.O. Box 105762, Jefferson City, Missouri, 65110
For further information, email firstname.lastname@example.org