Remembering Will

By Sharon Swing

By Sharon Swing with Joan Kelley and family

Many of our recent oneLife letters have been written by Joan Kelley.  She has shared her journey with God through the leukemia diagnosis and treatment process of her 17 year-old son, Will.  She has brought many of us powerful insights for living in a way that helps us to recognize and respond to God in our daily lives.

Will Kelley is now with Jesus.  This past week, we have mourned Will’s passing and celebrated his life with the Kelley family.  I ask that you would please join us in praying for them.

I’d like to share a piece of what Joan, John, Megan, Drew and Mitchell spoke as a tribute to Will at the ‘Celebration of Life’ service in his honor.

"I would like to thank you all for being here today to help us celebrate Will’s life. But, right now in the service Will would be saying 'enough already about me.'  He would have rather sat down with each of you and heard how it came to be that your story and his came together. I think to answer that question we have to look at his life a bit.

It’s hard to summarize a life in a few pictures, a favorite quote, or a display of his interests.  Will’s life is not represented by the stuff in his bedroom, an ACT score or a well played game of lacrosse.  Will’s life was definitely not all about leukemia – he made it clear that we are not to remember him as the cancer kid.    Will’s life here on Earth was captured in his smile, his listening ear, his competitive spirit, his love and concern for others – whether friend, acquaintance or stranger.

I remember when we told Grandpa Kelley that Joan was pregnant with Will. He told us, 'Well now you two will have be responsible.'   I remember being so offended.   I thought we were the most responsible people I knew – we had good jobs, owned a home, and paid our bills on time.   And then March 20, 1993, this little boy named William Hugh Kelley entered our lives and I realized that Grandpa Kelley was right – we were now responsible for raising this precious child of God.  We somehow snuck home without changing one single diaper at the hospital.   I remember them handing us the baby carrier and thinking 'Why are they giving us this child?  We have no idea what we’re doing!'

As we drove home and we were turning down Williams Drive, yes, that was the name of the street we used to live on, and we passed a funeral procession.  I was struck that day with the brevity of life and how one life was beginning and another one ending.

None of us know how many days we will be given, so the question Will would ask you is what are you going to do with each one you have. What are you going to do tomorrow that tells your unique story, that makes a difference for someone else, and more importantly points someone toward Christ.

And as we thought about Will’s 17 years, we think he lived 'quite a full life in a very short time'.   It’s very common at our house to ask questions around the dinner table and so on Thursday we sat down as a family to ask some questions about Will and his impact on us.

The first thing we asked was what did you like to do with Will?   Drew is going to let you know what we came up with.

  •  Play capture the flag
  •  He taught me how to play games
  •  Late night talks in his bed
  •  Playing soccer in the backyard
  •  Seeing how he would work through a problem
  •  Watching 24 and Top Gear
  •  Going on a walk and holding his hand
  •  Looking in those blue eyes and seeing that sweet playful smile
  •  Receiving one of his awesome hugs

Another thing we talked about was that he was not always a “perfect” brother – I know it’s hard to believe:

  •  He could get easily annoyed
  • He really thought he was the 'favorite child' and signed all his letters this way.  We all know otherwise.
  • He liked to critique mom and dad’s driving beginning at his 15th birthday when he got his permit.  Only 202 days until I’m 15 and I’m planning on doing the same thing in his honor.
  • He secretly wished he was an only child
  • He was annoyed that mom got a Facebook before him.  She did this so he would “friend” her before he knew it wasn’t cool to do that.
  • He hated to lose and he usually beat me at pretty much any game or sport
  • He thought mom and dad lumped him in with “all other teenagers”   he certainly did not fit that category.

We asked Mitchell what was the best thing about Will?  He wrote on a post it:

  •  'Will was the nicest person I ever knew'

We talked about what Will would tell us about how to live:

  • First:  Get a life...a real life  (Be present in the moment.  Notice where God is at work.  Find some eternal perspective in the mundane and in the significant moments of your day.  Don’t just live a repetitive life day after day, live each day with purpose no matter what comes your way.  And then live into it in such a way that you always enjoy the ride!)
  • Second....Have a little faith....(trust in the one who created everything and loves you more than you can know.  The faith that many of you remark about in our family is available to you as well.   It’s a choice you make every day whether you believe that the God who created this unique day is big enough for you.  It’s a choice you make with your attitude, your resources, your actions, your be at peace through your faith with what is....not what you wish it to be.
  • Finally...Be Yourself.   God created your life to be a unique expression of Him.  Be comfortable enough to just be the one and only you each morning when you get up and look in the mirror.

So how do we live out these lessons learned in Will’s journey?   I think Will would have a list something like this....

  • Help a friend when you think you really don’t have time
  • Look your child in the eye tonite when they talk, when you tuck them in
  • Donate blood when you can
  • Find a good cause and support it
  • Take a risk and maybe ski some black diamonds in life
  • Turn off your phone, your TV and have a real conversation around the dinner table
  • Ask someone a good question...and then really listen to their answer
  • Quit worrying what others think
  • Let you’re actions speak louder than words

We love you sweet William.   We are so proud of who you are and how you chose to live your life for God as only you could uniquely do.   We are honored to call you our son, our brother, our friend.  As you said in a recent letter to us while you were off skiing...”Congratulations Mom and Dad.  You have done your part and I’m on the way.  So you don’t have to worry anymore. I’m going to have a blast!”  And so it is today as well…

See you soon buddy!   We know you’re having a blast!"

4 comments on “Remembering Will”

  1. Before I go walk this beautiful Florida morning, I feel to write to let you know that reading this moving story of Will's life
    has made me realize how important our stories are indeed!
    In this cold and often unemotional world where money rules and people run to get enough of it, often to just pay the bills,
    stories of courage and fighting to live against all odds like Wills' is very important.

    May God most tender Love continue to bathe each one of your hearts
    in constant lovely memories of this awesome soul who graced
    your lives for a short but powerful time!

  2. Comment to the Kelly family.

    In October, 2009, my oldest son had surgery for a brain tumor, glioblastoma multiforme, Stage IV. He went into surgery with a 50/50 % chance of coming through it. He not only came through it but the surgeon was able to remove 98% of the tumor. However, he was left with lack of function in his left arm and hand, and left leg, ankle, and foot, with some loss of function of the left side of his face. He is completed the radiation and is completing his last and sixth round of chemo. This type of cancer is the most aggressive, and fastest growing cancer. He has been given two years.

    However, we know that God is in control. He currently has regained almost all function of his left leg, ankle, and foot. The restoration of his left arm is much slower, but he continues to gain little bits of improved function, so we maintain optimism. Just this last couple of weeks, he was able to pass the test so that he can drive the car again, and as you might know, this was a tremendous milestone for him. He now is gaining a bit of normalcy.

    He is married and has a thirteen year old son. The surgeon gave him a time frame, but we have not, because God knows the number of days that he has for him.

    My heart and deepest sympathies go to you, the Kelly family. Thank you for sharing your beautiful story.

    Blessings, Blanche Hunefeld

  3. What a beautiful, wise young man Will must have been for his age! We celebrate the fact that his thoughts were Christlike and his love for family and friends transcended his age. Our God has chose your son/His son to be with him now, rather than later, a mystery to all who are parents. May your lives continue to be blessed and comforted . . .

    Love to all,

  4. Dear Kelley family - though I don't know you, in a way, we have met...through the sharing of your story, Will's life, and your faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. As a cancer survivor myself, my heart felt for Will and all of you as I realized the journey God had called you to walk. May Abba wrap His loving arms around each of you and may 'video replays' of times with Will bring a smile, make you laugh out loud, coax a contented sigh, and bathe your hearts and minds with loving memories.

    Till we are all united once again with those we have loved who have gone before...may God's comfort and grace be yours,

    Nancy Bentz
    Spokane WA

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