Habits in our daily lives can be lost when someone we know dies. This is especially true if the death involves a family member with whom we developed a daily habit in our life. Kelli Burbank Hysell is my sister-in-law, who recently passed one evening. I use the present tense “is” because I believe, as a Christian, that death can not take that which cannot die. Kelli lives in the hearts of those who love her, and with whom she shared her love during life. As a brother by law and somewhat removed from the dynamics of having family within easy driving distance, I want to share what I know about the life and death of Kelli. She didn’t expect to die a couple of weeks after her 46th birthday, and we didn’t expect to say goodbye so soon without warning.
How We Live
How Kelli died isn’t as important as how she lived, how she loved, and how she managed to be a matriarch and alpha sister. She stood tall among her peers as a strong and resolute woman who loved unconditionally, shared generously, and acted courageously. Her husband relied upon her for guiding their family – as he worked hard to provide her complete freedom to organize family finances and direct their path in life. Her children relied upon her guidance, and even when they displayed anger towards her honest and direct advice, they always returned to her for more advice because she was usually right.
If you could imagine reaching up into the night sky and removing a star from heaven, you might come close to describing the light in her eyes. And if the moonlight were a color of paint and dipped into with a brush – she would use that color to caress the skin of her children. She loved unconditionally – and though I know she got angry and unsettled as we all can at times, she was able to step back and look at the circumstance as if she were standing on top of a mountain, speaking softly into the wind with her words, which would soothe a broken heart, nurse a sick child, give happiness to a baby, or reassure and comfort someone in pain. She was adamant about her home being a place of order, as much as it can be for a busy family with pursuits in sports, adventures, and celebrations.
I knew Kelli to be an organizer. She planned about making plans, and planned when it was appropriate to make plans. She planned as if she were a lawyer – thinking of contingencies and having a response for each. If this, then that, else this, but not that. She did not plan on dying. Today, as she looks at those of us left on earth reeling in shock by her sudden passing, she is likely shaking her head as we struggle with what she was able to do with little effort.
Kelli also effortlessly worked with the three graces of God, those being faith, hope and love. She lived her life with her eye firmly fixed on love. She loved God, she loved her family, and despite the vulgarities and struggles that happen in life – she kept her faith and hope in God.
To someone such as myself who reveres the stories of American history , I think Kelli was lucky and blessed beyond measure. She worked in a place within a mile of the old Oregon Trail, not far from a pioneer cabin that was used as a waypoint for settlers heading west. Some might feel that Kelli died in a way that was tragic. When you think about where she died in a historical context, her passing was akin to many pioneer woman who died along the Oregon trail many years ago.
A few days before the evening of her death, she shared a picture of the road between her house and her place of work. It was a blanket of white virgin snow, untouched by animal or machine and you couldn’t see the road. That exact stretch of road follows the Oregon Trail, and the picture of a snow covered path was a foreshadowing of what was to come. A couple of weeks before the bitter cold surrounded her, Kelli shared a music video entitled “Jealous of the Angels’ by Donna Taggart. When viewed now, her sharing this video was almost as if she were leaving a message for us here now. It’s a message of love — listen to the song and you’ll know a piece of Kelli’s heart.
Kelli left the earth on her own terms by circumstances not of her choosing, and beyond her ability to control. The evening of her death came too soon for those who had the joy of knowing her. We miss her and look forward to seeing her again. When we do see her again, I have no doubt she will have that event planned as well. She will likely utter the words, “Alright, let’s get this party started!”
Matthew 25:21 “Her master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your Master.’”