Sometimes people drift through one another’s lives as if on a barely noticeable breeze. They’re like ships passing on the ocean in the dark. Occasionally, though, someone roars into your life like a hurricane, and that person is never forgotten. I want you to meet Hurricane Kelly.
It will be one year this coming Halloween that my friend, James Kelly O’Mara, was murdered in Sauk Rapids. Even though he is no longer here, it still seems like every day is a Kelly day. I can feel his approval over my shoulder as I write this on Oct. 8 (his 44th birthday). I can almost him hear him say, “You go, girl. I like it; keep writing.”
Kelly, as he preferred to be called, absolutely loved life, and he appreciated every day. He was a full-blooded Irishman with red hair and an occasional Irish brogue followed by a wink from his bright blue eyes. To him, there was a bright side to everything. He found a pot of gold everywhere he looked. It never ceased to amaze me.
He had just turned 43, but he was wise beyond his years. No matter what anyone was upset about, he did three things: he listened, he put it into perspective, then he minimized it so it wasn’t such a big deal. I always walked away feeling better and sometimes wondering why I was mad to begin with.
He would frequently say, “Tomorrow’s another day. This won’t matter tomorrow. Just get through today.” (It was his way of saying “settle down.”)
We (his friends and neighbors), couldn’t even complain about the weather around us. At 40-below, he’d say, “It’s brisk, man! It let’s you know you’re alive,” while rubbing his hands together for warmth. A blizzard was a beautiful thing to him, “You go, God! Give us what you got up there. We’ll deal with it down here!” If it was 100 degrees in the shade, he’d say, “This is what summers are for, sister. Enjoy it and thaw out.”
He had a hard beginning and a hard end, but he made the most of the middle. His own dad, James C. O’Mara, died at home on his couch when Kelly was 11. Kelly was the first to find him. He was the only boy among four sisters and he became the man of the house. He never got over the loss of his dad and he became over-protective of his mother and sisters because of that. He took it hard when his mother had a stroke, and even harder when his sister Julie died of cancer, six months before his own death. That protectiveness grew to include his son, daughter and wife.
He was a good son, brother, father and husband. He had a boy, 18, living in Iowa, whom he was just getting to know. He had a daughter he helped bring into the world and raise until his death when she was just 13. He lived for both of them.
He said, “I will do anything I can for them as long as there’s breath in my body.”
And he did.
He had a party for his daughter’s 12th birthday, which included a town-hall venue, a limosine and 200 kids. He would drive five hours one-way to bring his son here for a weekend visit and do it again when the visit was over. He would spend endless hours working on his own house, his mother’s or sisters’ houses and even the houses of us friends and neighbors. He would help anyone in any way.
I never once left his house without a hug, and his last words to me and my husband were always, “Drive careful, sister. See ya, brother. You know who loves ya, and I want to see you tomorrow.” (We lived on the same street).
He did love us. He considered all of us friends his family. Like all families we squabbled sometimes among ourselves, and Kelly was the peacemaker in a funny Irish way. He was always saying, “Don’t sweat the petty stuff, just pet the sweaty stuff.” I still hear his favorite saying, though it’s been a year since he said it:, “Make the words you speak today tender, warm and sweet, ’cause come tomorrow they well may be the words you have to eat.”
Some words, like some people, are just unforgettable.