Friends and family had warned me that when the one-year anniversary of Lisa’s death arrived, I might be a hot mess. One friend advised me to avoid scheduling anything of importance during the week approaching the date. I did the best I could with that, keeping my evenings free and committing only to Kyle’s first karate tournament. It was scheduled for November 3rd. Originally I had planned to skip even that, but I came around. I am alive, after all. No sense hurting Kyle, even subtly, with my absence.
After the tournament I drove out to the cemetery with a blanket, a beach chair, some Diet Coke and a snack, and my notebook. I left flowers at her grave and sat there for about an hour and a half, watching the Notre Dame vs. Pitt football game on my phone. It was sort of like watching it with her. Her particular resting place is situated in a sort of secluded section of the “memorial park,” so unless you count the dozens of buried people around, I was alone.
So I talked to Lisa. For the first time in the year since she’s been gone. I sat in my beach chair sipping my Diet Coke and talked to my dead friend as if she was sitting right next to me.
Like a crazy person.
But in a way, her sudden disappearance from my life has left me a tiny bit crazy. I operate and function like a normal person with the exception of several instances that I have documented here that seem admissible for the grieving. Just when I think I’m processing my grief in a healthy way, I find myself behaving badly toward the living. I can forgive myself those things…because I’m grieving. But then again, this is America. We only make so much time for people to get over it.
I told Lisa about the things she’s missing. Notre Dame’s first undefeated run since 1993. The election. Hurricane Sandy. The sale of her house. Our mutual friend’s long-awaited pregnancy. Her mother’s injured leg. (Which is better now.) I told her about how I have made her death something that happened to me, and that I know I have to release her. I pictured her face and what her reaction would be. That daydream included her tripping over something and laughing her barking laugh to break the tension.
Her gravestone remained silent. I told her I wished she would be a ghost and appear to me so at least we could have a conversation. Stranger things have happened to people, right? It might as well happen now. But nothing happened, unless you count the sudden perfect, cool breeze that broke up the bright heat of midday on the top of that hill. But I don’t.
After I exhausted myself of things I wanted to say, I simply sat. I wrote in my notebook, I read my book, I ate my snack. I poured a little bit of Diet Coke into the ground. It seemed fitting.
As I left I glanced one more time at the grave marker, and what struck me the hardest was what was missing. ”Wife. Mother.” Those are two titles Lisa would have loved to have. I’m so sad for her that her life was cut short before she could add them to her description. I’m so sad for her. This did happen to her, even if we are the ones left behind to deal with the Lisa-shaped hole in our lives.
This is a message from Lisa’s best-friend-for-life Vassie Leigh. They grew up together and remained best friends. Vassie Leigh asked me to share, and I hope you will help:
A year ago on November 3rd, my dear friend Dr. Lisa Kelly, suddenly lost her life to a pulmonary embolism. Lisa was a devoted daughter, sister, aunt, friend and godmother. She battled cancer twice and in an effort to rehabilitate, began participating in triathlons. She spent almost 20 years in the study of medicine and became a talented and well respected Neonatologist. Lisa worked at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles as an Attending Physician. She published numerous articles in her field and did research with Children’s Hospitals around the country to determine how and where best outcomes could be achieved in Neonatal Medicine. Lisa participated in numerous medical mission trips around the world treating patients and educating medical professionals in best practices.
For those of us who knew her, this loss is not just the loss of a friend or a relative or co-worker, but a huge loss for the medical community for which she served, the tiniest of children – premature babies.
At the time of her funeral, a fellowship program in her honor was announced by her department head, Dr. Seri, at CHLA. With the blessing of Lisa’s parents, Ray and Cindy Kelly, I would like to announce that the Dr. Lisa Kay Kelly Fellowship Training Program in Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles has formally been established. Lisa was wholeheartedly committed to research and education and a devoted mentor to the upcoming generation of medical leaders in the field of Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine. This Fellowship will allow a young doctor following in Lisa’s footsteps to have the financial backing to go further in accomplishing the amazing work that she did.
The renowned Fellowship Training Program in Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine at CHLA is among the largest neonatal training programs in the nation, educating 15 fellows at a time, many of whom present research at prestigious conferences throughout the year.
As we approach the November 3 anniversary of Lisa’s passing, many of us are reflecting on the unbelievable loss that we felt and shared a year ago. For myself, I lost my “sister” and friend of over 30 years. It felt like I lost a physical part of me. I think every day of her and how she touched my life. I did not want this anniversary to come and go without letting all of the people who loved her know that this loving gesture from her co-workers has indeed become a reality.
Please consider joining me to make a gift to The Dr. Lisa Kelly Fellowship in her loving memory. Your gift will help cover costs associated with research, traveling to conferences and other fellowship program expenses – alleviating some of the financial demands on these incredibly accomplished young doctors. I have been assured that this donation will go directly to the Dr. Lisa Kelly Fellowship and no other operating fund of the hospital.
Checks can be made payable to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (in the memo, please indicate “In Memory of Dr. Lisa Kelly) and sent to:
Children’s Hospital Los Angeles
Attn: Carly Stewart
4650 Sunset Boulevard, MS 29
Los Angeles, CA 90027
You can also make a donation by credit card on the Children’s Hospital website. Under “I would like my donation directed to:” please type “Dr. Lisa Kelly Fellowship Program” in the “Other” field. Please also indicate Lisa’s name in the “tribute” section.
Any further questions may be directed to Carly Stewart at email@example.com or 323-361-1747.
I thank you for your consideration of this Fellowship Program in Lisa’s Memory. Feel free to share this information with anyone who knew Lisa. Please continue to pray for her family, her colleagues at CHLA and all of those who loved her so dearly.
In loving memory of my friend through life,