One year ago today I sat in an airport and cried. Stunned I wiped tears, I ignored looks, I choked on my own words as I called to tell my husband what I had just learned. My friend Gina’s husband had been killed in a tragic accident. Hit by a tow truck driver as he waited on the side of the road with his broken down car.
This was the beginning of 2011 for Gina. The man she loved, taken from her, just days before they were to celebrate their wedding anniversary. My heart was heavy with the thoughts of what I could only imagine would be an incredibly painful year for her.
I had no idea.
Let me stress: I had no idea.
I have truly lost count of the number of times I have thought to myself, “just how much is one woman supposed to take?”
And yet, while I rail about fair and unfair, Gina takes a deep breath and carries on. She is remarkable like that. While I would have crumbled to pieces, she has held herself and those around her together. Strong, she is.
I had no idea this friend I adore…. this woman who was one of the very first people I ever wrote about on this site in August of 2009 would be someone who would impact my life as she has. I was then and am now awed by her ability to overcome, enthralled by her giving nature, drawn in by her immense talent.
Inspiration comes in many forms, but for me, right now, it has taken the shape of a petite brunette. She is sitting across from me calmly drinking ice tea as she talks about her drive to ‘give back’. Photographer, Gina Kelly works with more than 20 charities in the St. Louis area. That’s right, 2-0.
The questions are galloping through my mind, leap-frogging over one another to spill out of my mouth first: How does she find the time? How does she choose who she works with? Does she have a favorite? How does she give…is it time, talent, or money? Why does she do it?
Gina Kelly’s story is amazing. Any given week you can find her photographing (for free) a Mother-Daughter Tea for little girls with Down Syndrome, flying to the Dominican Republic to document charity work with the Albert Pujols Foundation, joining with other local organizations to outfit children in a Dominican orphanage with eye-glasses, taking pre-school class pictures, catching a bride and groom in their perfect moment of love, or donating her time to tell the stories of previously homeless teenagers.
ExtraordinaryMommy.com, August 2009
I had no idea that the tragedy of January 4th was truly only the first in what would be a series of tremendous blows Gina would take to the chest, yet somehow continue to allow faith, the strength of those around her and a beautiful heart to keep her on her feet.
The next was a summer diagnosis of colon cancer. Don’t think she didn’t fight it and win, because she did.
It is her style.
The gift Gina has given me is more precious than gold.
And in return, I give her my faith.
You see, I believe today is her new beginning. Today is the New Year Gina deserves. As if proving she was strong enough to beat the colon cancer wasn’t enough, she was diagnosed with liver cancer at the beginning of December. And then, just days before Christmas, was told the cancer had spread to other areas in her body.
And yet, when I talked to her, she spoke of nothing but faith and fighting. Nothing but beating this.
And I believe her. She is surrounded by love – a wonderful man, a soulmate, who is carrying her on this journey, her children and family. And friends….. many, many friends.
My friend, thank you for the gift of you. I have faith in you, Gina.
I am proud of your heart. I am awed by your strength. I am inspired by your character.
You are more precious than gold.