None of my father's eight children became aphysician like him. Although that may nothave been his dream, if it were, he can takesatisfaction in that he got a piece of it.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the deathof my older sister, Alice Kelly. And as October is herbirthday month, I thought I'd reminisce about her alltoo brief but meaningful life. Educated in Catholicprimary and high schools, Alice was a person of greatintensity and beauty. Today, many men—accomplishedand confident men—who grew up with her tellme how swayed (and sometimes intimidated) theywere by her dazzling persona.
Etched into my memory forever is the evening whenmy father answered a phone call and learned of thedeath of his number-two daughter. Being just a boy of 14when she died, my memories of her are still fond.
A young woman of great inner and outer beauty,Alice was an accomplished 21-year-old registerednurse when she died in an auto accident during theThanksgiving weekend of 1974.
In 1973, she graduated at the top of her class fromSt. Clare's Hospital School of Nursing in New York City.The commencement exercises, which I attended, wereheld in the magnificent St. Patrick's Cathedral inManhattan. "She decided all on her own to go into nursingand she did it all on her own without any help fromme," my physician-dad told me. "I was very proud ofher work and I know she was too."
Never afraid to jump into action, Alice worked in theintensive care unit at my dad's hospital—a very busyhealth care facility in a growing Jersey Shore county. Shequickly won the respect of her nurse colleagues and thestaff physicians. "She was a very bright and determinedperson, and rightly earned the admiration and trust ofthe doctors—not always an easy task for such a youngperson," my father said. "What made her a good nursewas the same thing that makes all health care professionalsgood—she cared about people," Dad explained."Her goal was always to make patients feel better."
Making a Difference
Whatever stresses she had—and I've learned she didhave some—she managed to conceal from me and mostothers. But the pressure was intense. My father alwayssaid that nurses are the real backbone of America'shealth care system. "You can't run an efficient hospitalwithout nurses," he once told me. "And there are nonurses in hell. Unfortunately, I can't make the same statementabout doctors."
The ancient Greeks—who knew a thing or twoabout life—believed, "Out of tragedy comes wisdom."As painful as it is for me to admit, I must agree with theirreasoning. Thus, while Alice may be gone, I know thather noble ways live on in all those she touched.