Mary Jane Kelly: Grandmother. Nurse. Friend. Optimist. Born April 19, 1943, in Toronto; died Sept. 2, 2020, in Kingston; of prolonged bacterial infection; aged 77.
Jane Kelly laughed loudly and often. It was the kind of laugh that started slow, moved through her whole body and then was shared with everyone in the room. It’s a wonderful gift to laugh like that because it means that your lens on life is largely framed by the ability to see humour and light around you.
Born in Toronto, Jane grew up in Oakville and Montreal. She attended nursing school at the Montreal General Hospital in the mid-1960s (where she also worked as a pediatric nurse). Here she met her two lifelong besties – Sally and Mary – while seeking a tube of toothpaste in residence.
Long-lasting friendships were the lynchpin of Jane’s life. She invested heavily in her friendships and benefited from a wide, loving circle of friends who were like her family. She was a living, breathing example that you get what you give.
No doubt, this exuberance is what drew Kevin Kelly to Jane. They met in Montreal and married in 1971. Two children, Heather and Sean, soon followed. The family settled in Kingston and Jane stayed home to look after her family.
Kevin and Jane had a spirited relationship, he the foil for Jane’s razor-sharp wit. Kevin doted on Jane, driving her places, holding her purse while she shopped, caring for her when she was sick and showering her with surprises that came in small blue boxes.
In the late 1980s, Jane returned to school to study gerontology and became co-executive director of the Kingston branch of the Alzheimer’s Society (1990-97).
Jane believed in celebrating the small moments in life, which was how she ran her household. There was green milk on St. Patrick’s Day and pink milk for Valentine’s. One Halloween, she brought home full-size skeleton decorations by strapping them into her car with seatbelts. She laughed while recalling the reactions of other motorists.
As a mom, Jane could also be firm and was nicknamed “the warden.” In the early 1990s, when Sean criss-crossed the Canada/U.S. border on a road trip, he missed a scheduled call. The next morning, at a remote border crossing in Saskatchewan, the customs agent said: “There is a town just up the road. Call your mother. She is looking for you.”
Jane was also a legendary grandmother. Going to Grandma’s house was like visiting a resort. Her five grandchildren would come home with a souvenir or two from her impressive toy inventory or her snack-filled pantry.
Jane was an unwavering optimist. When Kevin died in 2018, days before their 47th anniversary, she bore the loss with grace. Grief can gnaw at positivity and dull even the most vibrant sense of humour, but Jane persevered, relying heavily on support from her family and friends. She held his funeral on their anniversary as a testament to their decades-long connection.
In the spring of 2020, Jane keenly felt the loneliness of her retirement-home lockdown. She was reluctant to tend to an infection because leaving for a doctor’s appointment meant further isolation. Ironically, just as the lockdown measures were scaled back in the summer, she was admitted to hospital with complications from that infection. She would remain there for weeks before she died.
Jane knew that good fortune and good humour are always around us, but sometimes it takes more work to reveal. When the headlines were filled with fear, Jane characteristically threw out an emotional rope to her loved ones and shared stories that focused on pandemic porch concerts, appreciation for front-line workers and neighbours pitching in to help each other out.
Referring to the pandemic at the time, but in an eerie foreshadowing of her own fate, she said, “When this is all over, I hope people remember the kindness.”
Heather Wright is Jane’s daughter.
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