Kelly was extraordinary to the people who had the opportunity to know her. Born February 24, 1983, she epitomized the month known for love. The first of three children to Randy and Nancy Burk, Kelly believed it was her duty to look after her younger brothers, and anyone else who came into her orbit.
From as early as age 3, she accompanied her aunt Mary on any adventure she suggested. As a kindergarten teacher Mary had a lot of the same days off as Kelly. And so began Kelly’s love for life. She rode bikes, swam, played ball, and visited the zoo. When Mary dressed up as a hobo for a Halloween party, Kelly was right there with her.
Kelly’s brother, Todd, came on the scene two short years after she was born. As kids, they fought and bickered as all siblings do. In grade school she even claimed not to know him. By the time she got her driver’s license she begged her mom to make him find his own ride to school.
Tyler was younger than Kelly by almost 7 years. This greater difference in age would allow her to look out for him from the perspective of an older and, she thought, wiser sister. And he adored her too. “She would brighten your day the instant she walked in a room. Kelly made sure that everyone was happy and having fun regardless of her mood.”
She and her mom were best friends. They did nearly everything together: shopping, cooking, baking, cleaning and decorating the house.Theirs was a relationship any mom would love to have with a daughter.
As Kelly grew to become a young woman she also started to gain weight. Enough weight that it became a concern for her. So she went on a program to lose it. It all seemed reasonable, watching calories, exercising, and eating healthier meals. She was having great success and getting compliments on how good she looked.
She was also falling in love. She met Jared when they were both freshmen in high school. They started out as friends but one night in their senior year it all changed. An outbound road trip to a basketball game with another friend became a return trip with just the two of them. After two hours of sharing life stories, hopes and dreams, their fate was sealed.
Christmas was her favorite holiday. Her family had up to 7 trees for her to decorate. Kelly hunted for just the right sugar cookie recipe. She wanted to bake and decorate a flawless batch, or more, for her brothers and cousins. The holiday table was equally important. Dishes, glasses, flatware all had to coordinate. No misfits on her watch.
As Kelly and Jared prepared to go off to different colleges, she continued with the high spirited approach to life that was becoming her signature. She grew closer to family and friends and became known as the “go to” person for anything they needed. She was fierce in protecting her loved ones. And that circle was growing larger.
But college had its own set of challenges for Kelly. She did not like being away from her boyfriend or her family. She worried about her brothers. She missed her parents. She did not have the control that she craved over life back home.
So, she turned to what she could control, her exercise regime. And that program was becoming excessive. Kelly became one of the 8 million Americans who have an eating disorder. Todd picked up on her disease early in the struggle. He knew she was purging. He watched as his parents reached for everything they could do to give Kelly the help she needed to fight, and the love she needed to know she wasn’t alone.
Kelly’s body image had always been an issue between Jared and her. Unfortunately it was not a subject that they often addressed. They chose to pretend that it didn’t exist. Jared could not stand to upset her. Others felt the same way. Her aunts, other relatives and friends wanted or tried to talk with her, but what should they say? What was off limits? What were the limits?
A Beautiful Life Cut Short
On April 12, 2008 Kelly married her high school sweetheart. The wedding was flawless, a perfect fairy-tale day. Kelly would not have it any other way. The bride was beautiful. The mood was high. Todd danced with Kelly and told her how much he loved her, how proud he was to have her as a big sister. He was convinced that she had begun to conquer her demons and was recovering.
Kelly and Jared began to create their own home and life together as newlyweds. They had a beautiful house for her to decorate and a garden for her to create. Although she had earned a masters degree in exercise physiology, what she really wanted, was to be a wife and mother. She confided to Nancy that she knew her illness made her dream of having children of her own impossible. Her heart had such capacity that she was willing to adopt.
Kelly loved adventure and travel. Road trips were a high point and she was all in for them. An adult version of what she did from the age of 3 with aunt Mary, Kelly and Jared joined her folks on all sorts of trips. Kelly and Jared would sit in the back seat, surrounded by magazines and newspapers. She would share comical editorial about what she read.
Her dad’s first child, and only daughter, Kelly held a special place in Randy’s heart. One summer night, she popped by just to say hello. She stuck her head into her old bedroom to see her dad watching t.v. Immediately seeing an opportunity to connect, she crawled up next to him to cuddle and tell him how she wished she could just take a nap. In an instant, his spirits were raised. They talked about her girlfriend’s wedding that she was going to be in that Saturday. He was so excited for her enthusiasm.
The next morning, August 7, 2009 our world was turned upside down when Kelly lost her battle to anorexia. Randy got a call from Jared, Kelly was gone. She went to bed and did not wake up. Her heart refused to work. Todd believes that his sister gave so much and cared so much that her heart couldn’t keep up.
After Kelly’s death, the questions flooded in. What should we have done, or not done, asked, or said, or not said? While she was with us, we all wanted to do something for Kelly, something to help her in this battle.
How We’re Fighting Back
Although we were not able to help Kelly win her battle, we want her to be remembered as more than a victim of an eating disorder. We want to carry some of her light into the lives of other young boys and girls struggling with this mental illness. It is our sincere desire that through our programs and actions we can put an end to this devastating disease.