It’s cloudy, windy, gray, with a little bit of rain here today. That seems right. Today is Kelly’s birthday. Some of you reading this post know and love Kelly, but there are some who don’t, and because it is her birthday today, I am going to post a few things in her honor, this being the first. Kelly is one of the inspirations for this blog, so it seems right. If you don’t already have a Kelly in your life, it is my greatest wish for you that you will.
The following is a short essay I wrote that was published in the CSU English Department’s yearly newsletter, the Freestone. The voice is a wee bit strange, different from what I use here, because this newsletter gets sent out to alumni, and I was writing it from my position as a working member of the department. The hardest thing personally, besides trying to limit myself to 750 words about such an amazing person, was having to keep repeating “Kelly was.” I wanted to say “Kelly is,” but I would have come off like a crazy person, so…here it is, such as it is.
Our Friend Kelly (Cockburn) Feinberg
Kelly Jo Cockburn Feinberg, CSU alumna and dedicated instructor, passed away peacefully in her home on May 14, 2010.
A 2002 graduate of the Masters program in English, she married CSU alumnus Matt Feinberg in 2006 on a day full of happiness and love. Matt and Kelly moved to Kentucky, where Matt began work on his Ph.D. in Spanish at the University of Kentucky. Kelly, an instructor of literature, writing, and women’s studies while at CSU, also taught writing at the University of Kentucky.
Kelly and Matt welcomed their son, Ari Isaiah, in June 2008. In the profile for her blog, Kelly said of herself, “I like to stay busy reading, writing, and being outdoors. I’m a mom to a very sweet and active little boy named Ari. He is silly like his dad, Matt. They both bring joy and laughter to my day.”
Kelly loved to garden, hike, cook, and craft, and was a published author. Her most recent essay “This Sucks”, published in Brain, Child, garnered national recognition and was awarded the very prestigious Pushcart Prize. After being diagnosed in February of 2009 with a rare form of breast cancer, Kelly faced her prognosis and treatment with bravery, grace, and hope, giving back in equal measure the love and support her friends and family provided during that time. We remember Kelly as someone who was strong, smart, creative, cheerful and compassionate.
Kelly was strong. Born early and weighing only 3 pounds, 13 ounces, her family says “she was a fighter from the beginning.” She used this characteristic strength to face her cancer treatment, undergoing surgeries and chemotherapy treatments, caring for a toddler and continuing to live her life as fully as she could. She remained a supportive and loving friend, making sure that we who loved her were okay, too.
Kelly was smart. In an essay she wrote for the Mount Holyoke Alumnae Quarterly, Kelly said that one of the lessons she wanted to pass on to Ari was to “fall in love with learning.” She was engaged, curious, and determined. But she didn’t just learn for herself; Kelly was excited to pass along what she’d discovered, to mentor her students and share with her friends. At CSU, teachers and students alike were impressed with her commitment to learning, and while at the University of Kentucky, she won a teaching award. At her memorial service, a University of Kentucky student came to the door because he’d seen her funeral announcement in the paper and wanted to pay his respects. He stood in their backyard with Matt and told him how Kelly’s class “had changed his life.”
Kelly was creative. Kelly’s love of making things by hand was a simple joy she cultivated and shared. When she asked Ari what he wanted to be for Halloween and he answered “Whoo Whoo,” Kelly and her mom got to work making him an owl costume, sharing the process and final product on her blog. She was always on the lookout for new foods or recipes to try, or working on new projects for her home and garden. Most recently, she was learning to quilt.
Kelly was cheerful. The week on Facebook when everyone was posting their celebrity look-alike doppelganger as their profile picture, Kelly was undergoing chemo and losing her hair, so she posted a picture of Telly Savalas as her look-alike. Kelly didn’t just see the bright side; she embodied it and radiated that light.
Kelly was compassionate. In a situation where she thought someone was being taken advantage of or someone needed help, Kelly got involved. While at CSU, she was an active member of a group working towards improving conditions for adjunct teaching faculty. She made dolls for the Craft Hope Doll Project. At her annual community garage sale, Kelly organized a bake sale that raised money for the local food bank. Kelly was always looking for ways to better the lives and community around her. She kept her heart wide open.
Kelly hoped she’d be able to pass on many lessons to Ari. As she put it, she wanted him “to grow into a joyful person, a warm friend, and an open-minded and engaged citizen.” As much as we wish Kelly could be here to do that teaching herself, all Ari really has to do to become that person is grow up to be just like his mom.
I found a poem yesterday that reminded me of her, of our loss. A few lines:
“Let us not look for you only in memory,
Where we would grow lonely without you.
You would want us to find you in presence,
Beside us when beauty brightens,
When kindness glows”
“May you continue to inspire us:
To enter each day with a generous heart.
To serve the call of courage and love”
This is my promise and my wish, to do these things, to honor her, to honor myself, to honor all of us.