Posted in Lanscape of Loss, Losing a friend

Journey with an old classmate

July 5, 2018

We share the same name.

I remember her as wild and audacious at a time when I was the new girl at her Catholic High School, hesitant and introverted.

Decades later, she messaged me when I was the new middle-ager arriving on FB, and I was surprised to learn that she (like me) was fully adulting–not only as a wife and mother (unimaginable!) but as a widely, impactful professor (more unimaginable!)

Given the limitations of “knowing” someone within the confines of a high school uniform, I was further delighted to discover that beyond her memorable snark and comedy, there was a kind, tender and thoughtful soul–revealed in her very private responses to my very public writing–which I received from her from time to time in messages and in delightful hand-written notes and even in that rare in-the-flesh connection when we shared a pew or two back east.

She is still passionate about horses and friends. And now her 3 children. Her husband. Her work.

Looking back to high school, I can see passion as her sustaining quality. Living large. Gusto.

It’s hard to imagine such a life/light vulnerable.

The love shining back at her in this moment is exponentially large.

Send yours if you will out to Washington state.

May we all step inside this light of connection to hold and be held in times of difficulty.

ps. Kelly, our name means WARRIOR.


July 6, 2018

My first Cortado.

What I loved about youth was the way i could throw it all away. Sex with a total stranger on a ship crossing the channel. Tequila shots from Kass’s pump. Pool crashing and star-gazing with another’s lover. All night pillow talk. Another party. Another concert. Another city. Another train. Another friend of a friend’s couch. Hitchhiking. Road tripping. Heading out for a season in the Rockies.

There was so much life on the table that there was plenty to waste.

A high school classmate took a fall on Tuesday. A car accident on the side of the road. An overdose. A suicide. An empty nest in August.

In 2 weeks I’ll see my oldest friend.I want to wrap my arms around her and not let go.

Maybe I should have ordered the Flat White.


July 8, 2018


This morning in my Facebook feed. A highschool classmate with whom I share a name. She took a fall on Tuesday beside her horse.

This morning we hear from her husband through a friend:

Kelly has taken the next step in her adventure… with strength and grace and beauty, as always.

And just as my heart collapses for him and their 3 children and Kelly’s life ending at 54, the very next post I see is that of a newborn.

The baby of my cousin’s daughter.
Arrived this same week.
“Aria,” they call her.
An operatic solo.

And isn’t that just like Kelly, as testimonied by friends and family and students and colleagues–near and far–past and present–as together we prayed/hoped/shouted/danced for a different ending than the one we’ve been given just  now.


July 9, 2018

Take a walk

Her husband writes:

Good morning to everyone, and peace be with all of you. I’ve picked up Kelly’s phone this morning for the first time, and I’m not Facebook savvy. I’m hesitant to post because I don’t want to stop the flow of love and remembrance and tributes and photos and stories. So don’t stop.

I’ve only read a few posts, and been deeply moved, to laughter and tears and admiration, by all of them. I will read them all, eventually, but know that the kids and Kelly’s enormous circle of friends are following right along.

Kelly loved life, and so many people, as fully as she could, and these last few days have shown all of us that her connections are even broader and deeper than any of us realized.

For today, and tomorrow, and as long as you can, keep her in your hearts, and live by her example, loving deeply, laughing often, reaching out, bringing together, questioning, wondering, inspiring, reading, mentoring and collaborating and learning, and walking in the light, both literally and spiritually.

(Our family) treasures these memories you are sharing. Keep it up.

Peace be with all of you. Now go take a walk, and take Kelly with you…


July 9, 2018

Post from a colleague:

July 10, 2018

Good morning!

Her husband writes:

Good morning!

There’s been some conflicting information about Kelly’s accident, so hopefully a few details will at least help make sense of what happened, if not why.

…On a beautiful Tuesday evening she picked up her horse from the trainer where he’d been while she was away. Since she was looking forward to riding in the Albion, WA 4th of July parade the next day, she led Eddie on a walk around the neighborhood — on foot. About a quarter-mile from home, walking into a slight ditch, her feet slipped from beneath her, and she fell with her head hitting the ground first.

The impact left a small bump on her head, but initiated massive internal bleeding, which led to profound and irreversible damage. She walked her horse home, put him out in the pasture, came inside, grabbed an ice pack, called to (our kids), and they decided to take her to the emergency room. She lost and never regained consciousness before she got to the hospital.

Pullman Regional immediately called LifeFlight for transport to Sacred Heart in Spokane, but all of the neurosurgeons agree that nothing could have been done outside the first 10 minutes or so, and in that window Kelly was still walking with her horse in the Palouse hills she loved so well.

Because Kelly was young, strong, healthy, and possessed of an indomitable will to live, she defied predictions for several days, which allowed her family and many friends to say goodbye to the woman they loved and admired. She passed peacefully as first light filled the sky.

Please keep her in your hearts, and keep the memories and tributes and photos coming. They are a treasure and a blessing and a solace and a smile to all of us who knew and loved and worked with Kelly, from family members and lifelong friends to casual acquaintances and professional colleagues.

Peace be with all of you.


July 11, 2018

A young friend of Kelly writes:

So apparently, Kelly has made it through orientation in record time (as expected) and the admins in heaven are letting miracles and moments like this bless our lives down here.


July 11, 2018

Her huband writes:

Good morning!

We are working on plans for a celebration of Kelly’s life — as soon as we have things figured out, they will be posted here as well as other sites. You Facebook readers will be some of the first to know.

We are also working on details of a memorial fund to, as Provost Dan Bernardo puts it, ‘perpetuate Kelly’s legacy at WSU.’ We are all sorry that the WSU family only had a year of Kelly’s enthusiasm and action and vision as Vice Provost, but we are hopeful her memory and momentum will be carried forward. Details as they become available.

Make sure to take a walk today, even if it’s just around the block.



July 12, 2018

Better for a while

Her husband writes:

Good morning!

We are very close to finalizing the details for a celebration of Kelly’s life and legacy…

Sharing this song this morning, because it feels right. It’s a favorite of ours. It’s for all of you, who ‘make it seem better for a while.


July 13, 2018

Her husband writes:

Good morning!

Here are the details, press release-style:

Dr. Kelly Ward, Vice Provost for Faculty Development and Recognition at Washington State University (WSU), passed away on July 8, 2018.

A celebration of Kelly’s life and legacy will be held on Saturday, August 4, 2018 at 2:00 PM in the M.G. Carey Senior Ballroom in the Compton Union Building (CUB) on the WSU campus in Pullman, Washington. A reception will follow at the Lewis Alumni Centre, also located on the WSU campus. Program details for both events will be finalized and released in the near future.

The Funeral Mass for Kelly will be celebrated at 7 PM on Friday, August 3rd at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Pullman.

Gifts in memory of Kelly can be sent to the “Kelly Ward Legacy Fund” at the WSU Foundation ( The Kelly Ward Legacy Fund has been established for the advancement of women faculty at Washington State University. The Office of the Provost will work with the Association for Faculty Women and the Commission on the Status of Women to ensure that Dr. Ward’s legacy continues in perpetuity.

For those traveling to Pullman, hotel blocks have been reserved at the following locations:

July 14, 2018

She listened to the end

Her husband writes:

Good morning!

I promise I won’t keep doing this every day, but it’s therapeutic. I’d love to talk and write with so many of you, so this is a small step…

Yesterday I moved the truck back to its spot beside the barn – Kelly had left it in the usual location for unloading horses. I knew from a message that she had been ‘jamming’ to music as she drove home Tuesday night, and as I turned on the CD, it switched from track 6 to track 7, so I know that this is the last song Kelly listened to, and that she listened to the end.

July 15, 2018


Her husband writes:

Good Morning!

…Kelly and I have lived together since 1991, and she has written in her journal every day. I have NEVER seen any of the entries. Last night, while putting something away, I saw the book on the bedside and looked at the final page.

These are the last words Kelly wrote to herself that Tuesday morning:

‘Do not be held back * Surrender the material’

Posted in Lanscape of Loss, Losing a friend

Tribute to a Friend

Laura and I shared a love for summer, particularly as we aged, though after our high school years, my summers were increasingly spent in the mountains while hers continued at the shore.

Laura was Italian while I was Irish but we both loved to dance.

Additionally we were each outspoken and politically at odds.

When I posted this selfie on the morning after the election (an election Laura celebrated) she immediately messaged me, “Kel, maybe his election will give rise to women.”


Two months later, when we were meant to be together for a girlfriends’ New Year weekend, Laura was under the weather and didn’t join us.

A few days later I received the news that Laura had been admitted to ICU, and I kept vigil with her that night from my bed.

In the morning, as I dressed and readied myself for the day, I felt something I’d never felt before.

An undertow?

A rip tide?

Like an old woman, I steadied myself, and lowered my bottom to a chair, and clutched my heart, and breathed deeply, as tears, unbidden, sprung from my eyes, like a sprinkler, just before the water gushes through.

I gulped it whole, lungs flooded, like swallowing the sea.

So this is what it is to lose a friend.


A fews back, Laura made a pilgrimage from her home to mine, 300 miles away. She came by train, with a frail heart, and arrived in the evening, as snow began to fall on these Green Mountains that I call home.

Laura hated winter, especially after she got sick, but she made the early December journey to celebrate my 50th even if she couldn’t dance like we had when we were young. And not only that, she came a day early, alone, ahead of her husband and our mutual friends–so that she could steep in the landscape that I had long insisted was as nourishing as our roots at the shore.

Laura settled into the room that belonged to my older son in a not so comfortable bed, but she said that she slept like she hadn’t slept in years.

Maybe it was the mountain air, or the absence of street lights, or that we didn’t have television, or cell reception, or a reliable internet connection, but Laura returned home insisting on thick shades for her bedroom windows.

And yet, if you were up past midnight or if you woke at 4 am, like I did this morning, anticipating my own pilgrimage–not to Laura’s birthday which we celebrated together at the shore last year, but to a gathering of her loved ones–you could always find a friend in Laura online, and she would say, so compassionately, “Why aren’t you sleeping?” as if your suffering, so simple compared to hers, was the most important suffering of all.

Our mutual best friend from Lou Ann sent me the news. It was a simple line. That I expect. Will forever. Pierce. My heart.

Laura 2/19/63-1/19/17
Posted in Lanscape of Loss, My Bonnie

the sister i’ll never know

Today is my sister’s birthday.

I was 19 when my mother told me that I had an older sister.

Mommy was sitting in this exact kitchen, looking like she looks in this photo, only I thought she was much older. (She was 40!)

She was 19 when Susan was born, only she wasn’t my mother then, and my father wasn’t her boyfriend.

She spent those months without family or friends at the Home for Unwed Mothers in Trenton.

“Don’t make 2 mistakes,” she used to say. “If you get pregnant, you don’t have to get married.”

A year after Susan was born, now pregnant with me, my mother married my father.

Though I searched for my older sister for years—in the faces of strangers, who looked familiar, and were also named, Susan–I only met her once, 17 years later, at my mother’s burial.

It was 17 years after that, just before my 54th birthday last autumn that I received the call,

Afterward, I looked through the photos posted online, and I was surprised and delighted and pained.

She looked so much like the rest of us in surprising ways. Another sister’s eyes. My niece’s cheeks. A familiar smile.

She lived so much life, without us, and was gone, 6 months before I knew she died.

To lose a sister without knowing seems criminal.

Shouldn’t I have felt something inside?

My mother only lived in that kitchen for a few years–in between the separation and the divorce.

She was on her dying bed when she met her daughter for the second time.

I’d found Susan, at the last minute, with the help of a woman at Catholic Charities.

In the years since I’ve fantasized about the conversations we’d have once we were reunited. I would finally have an older sister like I had been to so many.

Today is her first birthday from the other side. She would have been 56.

I’ve loved her all along just for being there, older than me, leading the way.

Now it’s as if a bead has fallen off the string of siblings my mother handed me.

Posted in Artifacts/My Bonnie, Lanscape of Loss, Light, Markers, My Bonnie

My Mother’s Cup

The sweetness of being with the same man for 32 years is that he thinks to leave this morning’s tea in the fine china that I bought for my mother at the London Design Centre off of Haymarket in 1984 during my semester abroad.

She kept it in her china cabinet all those years because after all, she was a coffee drinker; and perhaps I’d always meant it for me… in the future… when I’d be without her… welcoming a connection to my past and to her gentleness and to the light of consciousness between us.

Posted in Lanscape of Loss, Pure Love

God does not spill milk…

Years ago I came across a stunning piece of writing by a woman married to a State Trooper in Maine. She looked at death unflinchingly and wrote about it exquisitely and I was jealous and moved which is why I decided to buy her book, Here If You Need Me, when I stumbled upon it  at the second hand store, and then chose to bring it along on an unexpected trip to Plum Island, to the house of a friend, who offered her home, while she was away in Maine, without her husband, because he too had been killed in car accident, just over a year ago, when he was in the state that I call home.

Gail & I had been friends since college, long before husbands and children and the New England chapter of our lives, back when she could quit her job at the the last minute and surprise me at the airport and we could take off to Europe with backpacks and no reservations.

She messaged me about her empty house because she knows I need the ocean and new places and maybe because I am a writer–writing about an accident that punctured my life long, long ago.

“God does not spill milk,” Kate Braestrom writes. “God did not bash the truck into your father’s car. No where in scripture does it say, ‘God is a car accident’ or ‘God is death.’ God is justice and kindness, mercy, and always–always–love. So if you want to know where God is in this or in anything, look for love.”

I hated God when I was 14. I never forgave that God. But I found lots of love with a capital L in other places. I found God in the music. In becoming Mother. In loosing my mother. In loving the Earth.

Kate’s words also stirred in me a renewed reverence for the bed I’ve shared with one man for the past 30 years, and something else, unexpected–a deeper sense of the heart and days of those who serve as officers of the law.

Drew’s professional life had an intimate physical aspect. He had to do brave and loving things to and with the bodies of others. Take, for example, those he arrested, particularly those who fought back, the ones he would have to wrestle with, the weight of his body pressing them into the ground, his mouth against an ear, shouting instructions (“Give it up! Give it up!”) as he groped beneath a sweaty belly for hands and weapons… Once he took the tiny hand of an abused four-year old girl who led him out back, behind her house, to show him where her father had chopped her puppy to pieces with an ax. Drew held the shape of that small hand in his palm for weeks. There were the bodies of those, on receiving official police notification of a loved one’s death, collapsed against his Kevlar-stiffened chest and wept…

When I was considering careers, my uncle offered to get me a job at DuPont in the event that I didn’t want to be a doctor or a lawyer, but much to the dismay of my extended family, I chose teaching. Now I think of his second wife, just four years ahead of me at the same university, who has worked for DuPont ever since, most recently leading the global Kevlar team, and I feel pride, even if it didn’t save Kate’s husband from the truck that slammed into his cruiser on a bridge in Maine.

Kate ends her book with an email to her brother, the one who can’t believe that she has decided to become a Chaplain (for the Maine Warden’s Service) after her husband’s death.

I think one reason I like working with crisis and death is that all the complicated and complicating tools of our natal tribe–the intellect, rational analysis, the all-pervasive irony–all these are useless. It doesn’t matter how educated, moneyed, or smart you are: when your child’s footprints end at the river’s edge, when the one you love has gone into the woods with a bleak outlook and a loaded gun, when the Chaplain is walking toward you with bad news in her mouth…

Before departing my friend’s place (the one she recently rented after the sale of their home of 20 years)–still filled with unopened boxes and pictures waiting to be hung–my husband went to the hardware store and picked up some wall hangers and filled in the empty spaces on her walls, while my son filled up the tires of the bicycles on the deck, and I filled a note with all my favorite memories of her and me, and left beside it a pint of maple syrup and raspberry jam from our road.


Posted in Back to the Castle, Lanscape of Loss, My Bonnie


Last week I woke at dawn, in the home of my husband’s family, and took out my laptop to squeeze out a bit of deadline while everyone slept, but moments later closed my computer, and walked out the front door, and kept on walking, across the island, until my feet were in the sand, and the spray of  sea met my face, and the sun burst above the clouds in regal light.

I trailed the surf then until I came to “my” beach–between the Pan Am & the Crusader–and noticed how the empty lifeguard stands bore the name of roads–all flowers–instead of men or soldiers or continents; something I once dismissed and now appreciate.

I turned away from the surf then and trudged through the deep, soft sand, and into the dunes past the place where the prickers always found our feet or our ankles or our shins no matter how carefully we stepped, and past the beach hotels, across Atlantic, and down along the Little League field where Mrs. DelConte sold the Reese Cups; and across Seaview, alongside what remained of the beach houses not yet turned into condos, until I came to a rose bush, on the corner of Pacific, just across from “my” house, but I didn’t pretend that I lived there, not this time, I just kept on walking, past the Way’s house, the sister house to ours (and a better-looking one at that, having aged with love and continuity instead of loss and abandonment), and nodded across the street to the church where I went to Sunday School and married my husband and buried my mother, and nodded too to the big house beside it, the mother house of the 3, Aunt Sue’s, which was now a summer rental for the wealthy, and turned past the Johnson’s and the DelConte’s and what had once been the Parsonage, until I came to the other end of the block which was once my entire world, traversed barefoot, at the age of 4, big toe bloodied by sidewalks shifting on sand, “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back.”

Nothing left but memory.

Anderson’s Corner Shop, my penny-candy Mecca, now a Realty Office; the bakery with the jelly donuts, a parking lot; and the Polish Shoe guy’s repair shop where he still charged a dollar to fix the pumps I wore as a young teacher, a Driving School. Sticky Fingers, across Cardinal, a Surf Shop, and Snuffy’s Hoagies, across Aster, where my grandfather opened me a summer account at the age of 7, now the Jellyfish Cafe. (Who wants to eat with jellyfish?)

I kept on walking across New Jersey Avenue past where I enrolled in the second grade, for two weeks, before we moved out to Colorado, and even though I told myself that I had no need to see the house that had once been my mother’s, especially with the sun rising higher in the sky, and the day growing warm, my feet took me toward the bay anyway, and I stood still for just a moment and felt into her presence, there on the porch in her wicker chair, with her tomato plants beside the stairs.

“Hi Kel,”

I sank into her steady, constant, contemplative presence, with those chesnut eyes like my first born’s and dark hair that she had dyed lighter and lighter and lighter until it was lighter than mine had ever been (which she had always admired/envied), and then it was the morning of my wedding, just after Jackie finished my hair and put on my veil, and I stopped by while I was still on the island, wanting to be sure that she was okay, and found her sitting on the front stoop, almost sober, still in her nighshirt, hair matted with neglect, and careful of my veil, married twice but never in a gown herself, somberly kissed me on the cheek, and as I got into my car, she stood to wave, leaving, beneath her, a puddle of blood, not knowing she was bleeding…

So I turned away, and headed north, walking until I left the shore once more and returned to the Green Mountains, a safe distance away, from the undertow of a lifetime of accumulated memory.


Posted in Lanscape of Loss, Light, Voices

the other shoe

(after the storm)

Earlier this evening, I snowshoed down to the pond and into the woods, and along the way, I looked down to see that I was wearing only one snowshoe…

Later, we drove our car down our un-plowed driveway, and over to a friend’s house for a  gathering, where I opened the bag of slippers I’d packed, and found only one…

i think it was Anne Lamott who said (about the dropping of the “other” shoe):

Haven’t you heard, God only has one.