This excerpt from “Kelly Tough: Living Courageously by Faith” by Erin Kelly with Jill Kelly is printed with the permission of BroadStreet Publishing. For more information, go to erinmkelly.com.
This was the turning point, the last-minute audible that shifted the momentum of the game, the day everything changed. I had never been so excited to be standing in a hospital room. Camryn and I anxiously peeked around the corner every few seconds to make sure we were prepared to surprise Daddy when he got there. Grammie and Grandpa waited inside room 1021, ready to get pictures and video of his arrival. My mother, sister, and I strategically chronicled unforgettable moments on our social media outlets – and this was certainly one of them. Our homemade Welcome home, Daddy! sign was all set, and Cam and I couldn’t wait a second longer to see him.
As his wheelchair pulled around the corner of the 10th floor at Erie County Medical Center, after spending over six weeks at Lenox Hill Hospital in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, New York City, I knew that nothing would be the same. Yes, he would have to continue his medical protocols and chemotherapy and radiation treatments. But not even that could shake the joy of being back in Buffalo.
It’s true. There’s no place the Kelly family would rather be than “the 716” (our phone area code). It’s home. It’s where our people are; where the team and the fans rally. It’s where people we don’t even know come up to us in the grocery store and say, “We’re praying for you.” If Buffalo, New York, is where you call home, you know exactly what I’m talking about. And although people usually give me crazy looks when I tell them I’m from Buffalo, there’s really no place I would rather be.
I believe that this overwhelming love for my city and community was shaped out of the deep heartache that my family experienced during the life and death of my brother as well as my dad’s cancer battle. I’ve always loved Western New York, but never as much as I do now. And I’ve never witnessed people come together the way they did when my father battled cancer in 2013 and 2014. These aren’t the type of people who just rally with you during the good times. Rather, they see your need when you’re down for the count, and they pick you up off the ground and hold you up when you can no longer stand on your own.
My father was at that point. In fact, I would even dare to say he was beyond it. Daddy desperately needed someone to help him up – even hold him so he could stand. I had watched as he slowly fell apart. I had experienced firsthand what being away from home looked like for my dad. I hated it. I felt as if we were slowly losing our grip on something we wanted so desperately to hold onto. It’s exhausting trying to grab onto something that keeps slipping through your fingers. It was as if the moment I believed we had reached land, the sea came crashing onto shore with its savage undertow to try to pull us back out into the deep and drown our hopes once again.
My family’s longing for my dad to be home was nothing in comparison to his own desperation to be there. And out of desperation came determination. My mom was willing to do anything and everything to get my dad back to Buffalo. Because what do you do when the quarterback is sacked with no hopes of him returning to the game? The backup grabs his helmet and runs out onto the field ready for battle. And that’s exactly what we did.
My parents flew home from New York City on April 19, 2014, just in time for Easter. What a blessing that was! I remember asking God over and over again to please just allow my dad to come home. The closer it got to the holidays, the more earnestly I begged God to bring him back to Buffalo. I’ll admit, part of me prayed out of selfish motives because of the longing I had to have him back home. But the other part of me anxiously prayed because of the desperation and exhaustion I saw in my father’s eyes as he lay trapped in a New York City hospital room. He needed to be back in Buffalo – there was no question about it. This monumental play call ended up being the exact one needed to turn the game around.