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My Sister Kellie

In one weeks time, my younger Sister, Kellie, lost her life on April 10, 2004 due to an unknown illness. She was 18 years old. I openly discuss my sisters life and death — which I realize isn’t a hot topic of conversation…but it is a rather large part of my life, who I am, and how I came to be *this* girl and *this* photographer. So it is here…not only so that people get her story right, but so that her memory lives on — so that if her story helps ONE individual to see life a little differently? So that you might appreciate the rain within the sunshine…? It’ll have been worth it.
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PS: Feel Free to join Kellie’s Movement : LIVE OUT LOUD. There is a link within the sidebar to help get you started. ♥

My Sister KellieOn Days That End in Y

She Would’ve Been 32.

KellieSeaworld

She would’ve been 32 today, and I’d still give everything to know what the past 13 years looked like on her. 💙 Life isn’t easy without her, and if anything – it only gets harder. You put makeup on, to cry it off.

They don’t tell you that though…that time is incapable of healing certain wounds. 

That there will be days – the happiest of days – where you can’t seem to catch your breath, because she isn’t there, no matter how hard you look. She’s still gone.

I had the hardest time after we were engaged.

People who know grief – know this: there’s something to be said for the enormously happy moments in life that have a sliver of heartbreak within them because you’re missing someone. Those usually come late at night, when the rest of the world sleeps.

It’s the sun shining through rain, the ability to laugh through tears, and being able to find the silver lining on the darkest of days – all wrapped into one. You’re happy and sad, all at the same time. And how does THAT make any goddamned sense?

But it does – of course it does. Because, life.

One of the first questions I asked my best friend after I called to tell him that she was gone was, “How do I get married without her here?”  I wasn’t even 21 yet, wasn’t even dating anyone – let alone anyone I’d consider marrying — and, yet…it was one of the first things I couldn’t stop thinking about.

And now, a little over thirteen years later – I’m about to find out. 

And, I’d by lying if I didn’t tell you that it isn’t a completely gut wrenching and terrifying sort of thing. That the sheer weight of 13 years…of one of the very first thoughts I remember having after losing her…being right in front of me, in this one moment…that makes me so insanely happy…doesn’t sit on my chest a little, and keep me up at night.

But, if the past 13 years has shown me anything…it is this:

I imagine we’ll do that day, as we’ve done the 5,094 others before it. The way she would’ve wanted every single one of them done, the way she’s orchestrated so much of life since April 10th…with happiness, and gratitude, and a ridiculous amount of laughter. Together. We’ll have each other, even if we don’t physically have her.

And we’ll know as butterflies float by, that she is there.

It isn’t to say that these happy days don’t have their tears. It is to say, that we make the best of them…and turn them into the kind of tears she’d be okay with.

If you think we’re good at this life thing…you should know, we learned it from her.

On Days That End in Y…she is who I catch a glimpse of in the mirror as I walk by at just the right angle. She is the voice I hear whispering from deep within, that sometimes even sounds like me. She is who pushes me forward and cheers me on – to live out loud, to always keep going, to never stop being happy. When I hear my heart beat…I know it’s her.

 

Happy 32nd, Kellie. 💙🎈

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Living Out LoudMy Sister Kellie

Thirteen Years.

Butterfly

13 Years ago this morning, we were all in very different places. And in the hours and days and months that followed 8:25 on the morning of April 10, 2004 – I heard a lot of “She’s in a better place” and “Time heals all wounds.”

The things people say when they aren’t yet aware that they can simply remain silent, and that works just as well for people who are getting aquatinted with grief.

I’m no expert on this, but I can tell you that I never ever thought this was a bad place… to be, and time can go and fuck itself for all I care – because, if anything…Time has a way of (sometimes) making it worse. There have been 13 years of missed memories and ones I know we have still yet to live without her physically being here. We’re not healed, not really.

We’ve just found incredibly beautiful ways to live this new life. We’ve found beauty in pain and tears, and we’ve grown stronger through laughter and all those memories we’ve gone on to create – because she has lived on in our hearts. We’re a mosaic of broken pieces, 13 years later. Beautiful, but still broken.

I hate that we have had to live without her, but I love that people have come to trust us in being some of the first they run to when grief has come to meet them. I am proud that we’ve gone on to hold their hands, help them through, and that we’ve endured by giving back. It’s a part of the process I think Kellie knew we would come to own, and I know she’s proud of us.

From those moments in the hospital, I knew. And while I realize this could all just be my own way of “making it easier” – It always felt like she got to see the future she would’ve had, the one that would’ve likely rendered her unable to do the things 18 year old kids want to do. I think she knew the conversations that were happening around her, and I think she got a glimpse of this new life we’d all be living too. That she got to see all the years after that week…and I think she made a choice. Either way, life after that week was going to be different…

So, it wasn’t that she was leaving, because we all know she hasn’t. It was just that she wanted us to know the life she saw. The paths we possibly would’ve never known…if not for her.

There are plenty of moments in life where we get to choose. We get to choose each morning to be happy, for example. And we get to choose, quite frequently, the path to wander down – from our careers to our relationships – we have a say. Death leaves you with very few choices, but life…that’s the part where we get to create our own adventure.

13 years ago we were all in different places, but there isn’t a doubt in my mind…that Kellie helped get us to here & now. Today has been about celebrating her life for 13 years now, that’ll never change…but, I also think…it’s a good day to celebrate how far we’ve come…and the beautiful lives we’re living thanks to a kid who gave us our heartbeat. https://www.facebook.com/images/emoji.php/v8/fbb/1/16/1f98b.png#LiveOutLoud 💙

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Living Out LoudMy Sister Kellie

Living Out Loud.

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What does Living Out Loud meant to me?

A letter to DJ Waldow.

– Living in the Now. Reveling in life’s moments – both big & small. 
– Choosing Happiness. Choosing Positivity. Knowing each day has a “win.”
– Living through Giving in Charity, Determination, Compassion, Love, Understanding & Acceptance. WHATEVER you can give – counts.
– Living through trust and transparency … Knowing that life isn’t all rainbows and Care Bears – but the sun still comes out tomorrow, and even when life is ugly – life can still be beautiful.
– Living with appreciation and gratitude. Telling people how you feel, when you feel it. Never losing your voice. 
– Living your Fears. Trusting yourself. Go diving with your shark.

 A lot of these qualities and thoughts were in the shadow of who I was, and who I was becoming, before we lost Kellie – most of it is hardcore in direct result from her death. 
After a week or two of delirious fog I woke up one more and knew I had a decision – life or death, happiness or mastering the art of being miserable, positivity and leading by example or using my situation as an excuse to be sad all the time.  
 
They were the thoughts and qualities that wouldn’t leave me alone late into the night when I missed her, or when I’d hit a wall and look for her — these were the things that made sense.
 
Needless to say, my sister was a firecracker and I KNEW if I had chosen any of those less than stellar options and lived a life SHE wouldn’t have been proud of?  I’d pay for it – someday.  So, since that morning – for me and many around me – it has been exclusively about Living Out Loud.  It may have started for Kellie, but it definitely turned in to a “for me” thing in time.  Now I let no one or no thing stand in my way — I’ve seen hell.  I’ve been there.  Held hands with it.  
 
If I live to see 100 life will still be too short to waste any time on mediocrity, sadness, negativity, or crappy people.
 

This went on to become a podcast for DJ Waldow’s Living Your Passion Podcast

Check it out HERE!

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Living Out LoudMy Sister Kellie

We Went to a Funeral.

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Written August 6, 2015.

We went to a funeral tonight. For a beautiful woman in our community who gave so much – who taught so much.

I never had her class, but I can see exactly where it sits when I close my eyes.

And when I open them – I’m back there again.  My friends flowing through the doors to her English class and I’d head down the hallway, another direction.

The hallways fill me with anxiety. Not because it’s high school, because I know the year…and I know my sister still lives here within these hallways.  Her laughter fills the space between classrooms as lockers clang closed, and even in the crowd…I can always pick her out.

High school isn’t a place I remember easily, not since 2004. I feel most of my memories prior to that week died the day she did. Twenty years and I’m left with shattered fragments, whispers, and shadows.

It’s not uncommon for me to message friends who knew me back then to ask, “Do you remember…” because I sure as hell don’t. I can’t even begin to, it’s just a different life. Something I feel was barely mine; a movie I half-watched but once before the power went out.

And yet, here I am. At the crossroads of hallways. Boys are teasing, girls are giggling. Doors fly open only to slam shut. Groups of teens stampede to their next class. And as the next door flies open, she walks through like she never left. A light smile crosses her face as our blue eyes lock and she waves only enough for us both to know. She fades as she walks into the sea of faceless people I know I probably know, around the corner – I stretch up on to my tippy toes to see what I can see – and she’s gone. Again.

I shake it off and blink the years away to see another family, in another time, take the all too familiar spot at the front of a church. Floral arrangements and a pastor ahead of them, tears streaming. They’re hands are latched together, solidarity never seemed so necessary. I hate that they’re here, but I know they’ll be okay as they’ve found the key to life – and death – is in the celebrating.

The biggest rebellion against death is to live a life so beautiful that it supersedes the darkness that lurks.

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My Sister Kellie

Decade Old Ornaments.

KelliesOrnaments

Written December 9, 2012.

Years ago, Kellie was in school with a dream of becoming an interior designer. That Christmas, our parents let her decorate our tree – the first year without all our collected family ornaments, just a simple red and gold theme and it was beautiful. When she died, we kept using those ornaments – until a few years ago when Stef and I would mix the color themes up a bit.

This year, I opened Kellie’s ornaments only to realize that after almost a decade, they’re starting to fade.  I sat next to Sean yesterday going through them, one by one, deciding which ones we’d hold on to…and which ones we’d let go of.

It wasn’t easy…when it’s some of the last things you have that your sister touched – that was her idea? It’s not easy letting go. I fought the flash backs of our last Christmas, how we never knew…and maybe it was better that way.  I kept a few more than maybe I should’ve. I wandered in the thoughts of someday…in the days of our future when Stef’s kids and my kids would hang the ornaments from the aunt they never met but always knew. They’re not perfect, they’re missing some of their shine. But they were hers, and now they’re ours…and that’s all that matters.

Deciding we didn’t have enough to go on the tree, we pulled out Stef’s color theme from last year. And as I look at it now, all lit up…it’s quirky…and bright…and every bit the family we’ve become.

But we also hung some of Kellie’s ornaments underneath our mantle with old school lights…which makes me smile. A design that came about because we just couldn’t remember how…or just couldn’t get it right…the decor that was there all the years before this one.

You see, life isn’t what we’d ever planned for…it’s messy and about as far from perfect as one family can get. But it’s ours. And together, year after year…we somehow show that life is most beautiful when it is mostly messy…when we just kind of fall victim to the wind and let it take us to where we need to be. Keep those you love as close as you can, m’friends…and never be the first to let go.

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