A Life of Caring Ended Too Quickly

The short, bright life of Alice Kelly, a registered nurse who was so good at her job because she simply cared about people and strove to make her patients feel better.

“Wherever the art of medicine is loved, there is also a love of humanity.”

— Hippocrates

None of my father’s eight children became a physician like he did. Although that may not have been his dream, if it were, at least he took some satisfaction in that he produced a “healer.”

This fall my older sister, Alice Ward Kelly, would have celebrated her 60th birthday so I thought I’d reminisce about her all too brief but meaningful life.

Educated in Catholic primary and high schools on the Jersey Shore, Alice was a person of great intensity and beauty. Today, many men — accomplished and confident men — who grew up with her, tell me how swayed (and sometimes intimidated) they were by her dazzling persona.

Gone, not forgotten

Etched into my memory forever is the evening when my father answered a phone call and learned of the death of his second daughter. (The early 1970s were tough on the Kelly family. We had lost my eldest sister, Claire, in a November 1971 auto accident, on the night of her 19th birthday.)

Although, I was just a boy of 14 when Alice died, my memories of her are still fond. A woman of great inner and outer beauty, Alice was an accomplished 21-year-old registered nurse when she died in auto accident during the Thanksgiving weekend of 1974.

The previous year she had graduated at the top of her class from St. Clare’s Hospital School of Nursing in New York City.

“She decided all on her own to go into nursing and she did it all on her own without any help from me,” my physician-dad told me. “I was very proud of her work and I know she was too.”

Never afraid to jump into action, Alice worked in the intensive care unit at my Dad’s hospital — a very busy health care facility in New Jersey. There she quickly won the respect of her health care colleagues.

“She was a very bright and determined person and rightly earned the admiration and trust of the doctors and other nurses — not always an easy task for such a young person,” said my father. “What made her a good nurse is the same thing that makes all health care professionals good — she cared about people. Her goal was always to make patients feel better.”

Lasting legacy

Whatever stresses she had — and I’ve learned she did have some — she managed to conceal from me and most others. But the pressure was intense. My father always said that nurses are the real backbone of America’s health care system.

“You can’t run a hospital efficiently without nurses,” my dad once told me. “And there are no nurses in hell. Unfortunately, I can’t make the same statement about doctors.”

The ancient Greeks — who knew a thing or two about life — believed that “out of tragedy comes wisdom.” As painful as that is for me to admit, I must agree with their reasoning. And thus, while Alice maybe gone, I trust that her noble ways live on in all those she touched.