Lessons from My Sister, a Teacher Who Left Too Soon

ImageNext Monday my sister Kelly would have turned 48. She died six and a half years ago after battling cancer on and off for twenty-five years. I wrote her obituary, which said in part that “While cancer took her life on Feb. 27, it was Kelly who won the war. For Kelly’s energy, sense of humor and passion for life live on in all who knew her.”

She was a teacher.

Kelly left behind her husband, Tony—maybe the greatest brother-in-law anybody could ever ask for, a man who stood by her through the roller coaster of her last few years. And she left three awesome kids– Lexi, Garret and Leanna–who were in grades 3, 2 and pre-K at the time.

Time passes, and Tony is happily remarried and the kids are doing great. We miss Kelly a lot. In every room she was the person who was happy, enthusiastic, and just plain fun.

Kelly learned that her cancer was going to be terminal about seven months before her death, and so this is what she did: Kelly took her video camera and drove to all the places where something special happened in her life. She videotaped herself at each of the places, telling the stories she knew she would never have the chance to tell her kids.

The time she cut her knee on the sliding board at the pool and had to get stitches.

The time she changed clothes with our cousin Carol in the backyard in an attempt to confuse our parents.

First job. First boyfriend. First car.

And so now her kids have a memory of their mom, and the stories of her life.

Kelly taught me a lot about education. She was a fantastic teacher: innovative, child-centered, and instructionally sound. But she taught me more about life.

Kelly reminded me that life is fleeting. Every day we read tragic stories in the news of untimely deaths. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring. So, because life is so short, we shouldn’t spend a second of it being miserable or negative or vindictive or angry. Kelly reminded me that we need to be grateful for every breath we have and act as if we truly are grateful.

And Kelly was a reminder that our kids are our most precious commodity. We need to give them as much time as we can and the best time that we can. We need to tell them our family stories, teach them our family traditions, and help them understand they are a part of something bigger than themselves. That’s how we build a legacy, by connecting the next generation with the past generation.

That’s why six and a half years later I feel like Kelly is still around.

(The picture shows my sister Kelly in the center, surrounded by her kids in the yellow shirts, and four other cousins).

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