Voices that Live Forever

By Alexa McKellips

unnamedMy scalpel slices through the corpus callosum into the sheep’s brain. A rush of excitement overtakes me as I experience a glimpse of my future as a doctor. I embrace the opportunity of this dissection in my physiology class and only wish I could share the experience with my grandparents or my Aunt Diane, a teacher, with an unyielding interest in my learning.

Then there were the annual birthday letters from Grandma Jenny and Grandpa Dwaine, urging me to follow my ambitions. My family inspired my drive. When I started my pet sitting business in the fourth grade, my family cheered as the business continued to grow with more than 10 clients.

Yet some of the family cheerleaders are no longer here. I lost four influential family members–three grandparents and an aunt– within a short span of time as I transitioned from middle school to high school.

 I can still hear the sound of my Grandpa Dwain’s voice during Thanksgiving as he tells my Aunt Cindy that her Swedish meatballs are not considered Swedish meatballs because they were the size of baseballs. I recall the summers I spent with my Grandmother Theresa along Lake Michigan at the Calatrava Art Museum and the taste of my aunt’s homemade boysenberry jam.

A cheerful voice interrupts the flood of memories of my beloved two grandmothers, grandfather and Aunt Diane. “Hi, you must be Alexa.” I suddenly flinch and turn around. I see a tall lady with red, curly hair.  “Welcome to Aegis Assisted Living Home,” she said.

When I volunteered at Aegis in the spring of my sophomore year, I found remnants of the wisdom of my aunt and my grandparents surrounding me every day. I developed relationships with the residents and they shared their advice that motivated my drive and triggered memories of my relatives.

I spent many days at Aegis with Anne, a resident who saw resemblances of my desire to capture my dreams in the way she followed her love of tennis.  “Alexa,” she would say, “It is important to accept every opportunity that you are given. You will acquire knowledge that will help you in your future. There may be difficult times, but they will benefit you as well.”

When I told Anne about my strong desire to be a doctor, her excitement was infectious and inspiring. I felt Anne’s influence long after my time at Aegis. I spent last summer working in the education department at Marin General Hospital where I attended classes for the doctors and nurses that ranged from how to put in a catheter to how to deal with aggressive patients. Even though I initially felt intimidated sitting next to highly-valued doctors from the hospital, I soon opened myself up when I was asked to work with a group of physicians to figure out the workings of a new app they would be using. To find my confidence, I thought back to a Anne and Eve, another Aegis resident.  Eve was blind and soft spoken but she would speak for herself and share her viewpoints confidently.   “Eve, it has been warming up outside; it feels like it is almost Spring.  I love this weather,” I would say.  “Actually, I like it better when it is Autumn and it is windy outside,”  

Just as Eve was comfortable sharing her views, I led the doctors through understanding the complicated app by showing them how they could log onto a patient’s profile before seeing the patient and communicate with other doctors who were working with the same patient. The doctors were very accepting, just like the residents at Aegis.

It has been five years since I experienced the sudden loss of family members. Today their words of support still have the same value. The residents at Aegis helped to inspire my flashbacks and memories that will guide me through challenges to come.


Alexa McKellips, a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is a graduate of Redwood High School.

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