Like anything else, grief affects each of us in different ways. For me, coping with the loss of Kelly has given me what seems to be a form of spiritual vertigo. Not only has her loss catapulted me back in time, but it has also inspired me to look far into the future, much further than I’ve been able to in recent years in fact. Between all the looking back and all the looking forward, I’ve found clarity, and perhaps even some peace, that I can only attribute to Kelly. And in this journey, her mandate to “keep promises to myself and others” has been my north star.
I’ll start by going backwards. Despite attending high school with Kelly, we didn’t get close until college. She was the decorated, bubbly choir star and I was the girl that never left the debate room. The common thread was our desire to leave Kansas and one day attend law school to help make the world a better place.
Not achieving the first of those wishes ended up being one of the best things to happen to the both of us. After a light dose of mutual commiseration, we decided to live together in the scholarship hall at KU that we had both been accepted into. Looking back over our lengthy Facebook messages from that summer before college is such a treasure, and I dearly miss the time when our biggest stresses were what color rug to get and whether or not we need a whiteboard (we didn’t).
We spent those first few weeks gushing about how much we loved our classes, debating about the 2008 election, and excitedly signing up for every pre-law and social justice organization KU had to offer. Even then, I could tell Kelly would leave a real mark on me. She had a unique ability to bring up especially controversial topics (for Kansas), such as the need to end capital punishment or protect LGBT families’ ability to adopt, without ever offending anyone. Together, we started college in this shared flurry of all-consuming idealism and soaring ambition. That never faded for Kelly… ever.
Eventually, the newness wore off and both Kelly and I began to encounter the realities of college: over-caffeination, exhaustion, and the allure of new directions. While Kelly continued to diligently attend pre-law meetings, absorb every LSAT material, and meet with her advisors, I veered off the path we had collectively attached ourselves to only months earlier. Along the way, our friendship began to fade as we went our own directions. Occasionally, we’d have classes together, coffee dates to catch up, or just write joint op-eds in the student newspaper as a way of reconnecting. As we both left Kansas, we tried our best to keep in touch and I shamelessly kept up with her every move in life out of awe and admiration.
Fast forward to today. Losing Kelly has made the arc of her life all the more clear to me. This was a girl that had an unshakeable determination to follow through on the goals she set for herself and the obligations she felt she had for those around her. Whatever challenges she faced – moving, break-ups, hard classes, incredible losses – the goals that she so diligently journaled about every night that first year of college remained as her guiding lights.
The strength that shined from her very core is deep on my mind these days. As I think about my next professional steps and what I want my soon-to-be marriage to look like, I crave for the strength and follow-through that Kelly had in all aspects of her life.
Especially as we head into the next four years, I feel the need to do what Kelly did in her blog, in her journal, and in her daily life: take stock of what matters to me most, come up with an action plan for how I am going to protect those values, and then make promises to myself and others.
Like I said, the past year has been a dizzying back and forth of reliving early college and then assessing where I stand now. Leave it to Kelly to have these incredible powers even after she is no longer with us.