Celebration of Life
July 28, 2018
I don’t remember the exact year or the first time that I met Kelle because it seems as if I have always known her. Kelle affected you in that way. She had a knack for weaving herself into the fabric of your being, embracing the imperfections and loose threads as if they did not exist, overlooking the damage, and focusing on that one perfect part of you.
Kelle came into our family as a total stranger, someone that our brother brought to meet us, but when she left us on that sultry June day, she had long since become a sister. We were grateful for the many years that she loved our brother and thankful, too, for the care she gave him. God knows she did a much better job of it than we could.
It is easy to memorialize someone after they are gone and to create an ethereal illusion of that person as if they were flawless. Kelle would be the first to admit that she possessed human frailties. I would be remiss if I didn’t say that one of Kelle’s endearing qualities was her stubbornness. I loved her spunk and determination. I think she would want me to mention all of these qualities because she wore them like a badge of honor. As exasperating as her stubbornness was during her illness, it is still, somehow, tied to one of my dearest memories of her.
I was at the movie theatre one day when my cell phone rang. I turned it off. It rang again. I turned it off. It rang again. Finally, I realized there must be an urgent call, so I walked outside the theatre, checked my phone, and saw the calls were from Kelle. She was upset because her pending surgery, the one that would remove the diseased lung, had been postponed because she had an acute pulmonary embolus, an urgent and dangerous situation. She was calling me for advice because her doctor wanted to airlift her to Miami for treatment. She didn’t want to go. She continued to resist even though I explained to her the condition was life-threatening. Finally realizing that my gentle urging was not reaping the desired result, I said to her, “Kelle, get on the damn helicopter.” She did.
When we arrived in Key West a few days before Kelle’s death, I searched for God in that place. It is sometimes difficult to find Him when you are watching someone you love slip away. You look for any pearl that tells you He has neither abandoned nor forsaken you. I found that the searching left me angry and empty. It is a funny thing, God’s love. It is really all around us. It touches us in the most subtle of ways; by the kind voice of the hospice nurse, the sensitive eyes of the home health aide, the soft hug of the hospice doctor, or by the hand-written notes left by friends at the gate to my brother’s home. I saw Him in the loving acts of my younger sister as she prepared meals for our brother and kept the household going as Kelle would have insisted we do, had she been able. I felt God in the wee hours of the morning as I crept into the master bedroom to see if Kelle needed nursing care only to hear the symbiotic breathing of two people who had been grateful to find each other many years before.
Ann Lamott said, “I do not understand the mystery of grace — only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.” I understand now that God was everywhere in that beautiful little home in Key West; the home that Kelle so lovingly made her own. He was there in the warm sun that beat down on our faces as we took short respites in the garden, sipping beer. He was there in the quick movement of Kelle’s beloved cats as they dashed into and out of the house, disoriented by the chaos, but searching for a quiet moment with their owner. He was there, in my sweet brother’s endless energy, that never wavered, as he took care of the love of his life. He was there in the family photographs that Kelle had perfectly located in every nook and cranny throughout the house. He was there in the face of the little man from the funeral home whose pants and heart were both too big for his body. These things make one think about how to spend our moments; not our minutes, but our moments. We should all do things today that have lasting value. Stop to hear people’s stories, spend time-unhurried and undistracted-with family. Be present with the people God brings into our lives and take every gift as a gift from His hand. God’s grace is alive and well. His love is all around us. Even when we think there is a void, He is indeed there.
“Love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.” Kahlil Gibran