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Kelley Shea, at 27; her love story transcended illness They shouldn’t have met, and though they later seemed fated to be a couple, that wasn’t the case on St. Patrick’s Day in 2010. For starters, Kelley Shea was 22 and a senior at the College of William and Mary in Virginia. And Spencer Kushner? “I doubt she’d give her blessing for me to recount this,” he recalled in a eulogy, “but I was a freshman who happened to sneak my way into a popular bar on campus and was floored when I saw this girl I had never seen before. Advertisement pre bonded hair“At the time I didn’t realize she was a senior and was obviously way out of my league. She had beautiful flowing blonde hair and had her arms wrapped around her girlfriends singing. She was wearing an extra-large Larry Bird jersey. She was full of laughter and joy and commanded the attention of everyone in the room.” This was Kelley, who played ice hockey, never to be outdone by her brothers — one older, one younger. Kelley, who was majoring in neuroscience and art history. Kelley, who would soon land a job at the Atlantic Monthly. Kelley, the vibrant center of circles of friends rippling outward from Williamsburg, Va., to her hometown of Brookline. handout
Spencer Kushner and Kelley Shea. “She was approaching graduation. I obviously was not,” Spencer said. “The probability of outcomes was not in my favor.” And yet, by the end of the school year Kelley was saying “‘I think I have a boyfriend,’” her mother, Nancy, recalled. “I knew better than to try to get details.” The key detail would become apparent over time: Spencer stayed.remy hair extensions Advertisement He stayed after Kelley was diagnosed with breast cancer in August 2010, a few months after graduating. He stayed when she had chemotherapy and surgery and thought she was out of the woods. He stayed when she moved to New York City and fell at a party because of a weak hip, only to learn the cancer had metastasized. They remained a couple – ever closer even when physically apart – as he finished college and she went through more than 20 kinds of cancer treatments, clinical trials, and surgeries. And they were together when Kelley died Dec. 12 in her family’s Brookline home at the age of 27. “It would have been so easy for him to go the other way,” Nancy said. “He was 19 at the time, and cancer? He was just starting college, why would he take that on? But that’s not who he was. He was just with her. He never left.”
To those who knew them well, Kelley and Spencer had “an effortless love – like they have known each other since the beginning of time, but in the same moment they know exactly how to push each other’s buttons,” Kelley’s cousin, Ellen O’Dea of Boston, said in her eulogy. That last point is important. Those outside of relationships in which a serious illness is present sometimes want a simple story: the patient and the saint. Cancer, Spencer said, “was never part of the equation. We were two people who really liked each other. It was a normal relationship that had some really serious stuff going on in the background. “We were two young people living together in New York City. We had all the normal fights and pretend breakups that normal couples have,” he added. “We were two people in love.” Kelley Elizabeth Shea was born Jan. 4, 1988, and grew up in the Chestnut Hill neighborhood, the only daughter of Nancy Phelan Shea, a lawyer who works in public policy at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and James R. Shea Jr., a commercial real estate lawyer. “From the time she was a little girl she was just a little handful,” her mother said, adding that Kelley also “was the one in the family that took advantage to the fullest of everything that was offered to her. She would find the best, wherever it was. If it was storytime at the library, she would find the best book. Everywhere she went, she wanted to do the most.” Kelley’s cousin Ellen, who grew up in Hingham, said that “as she grew into her go get ’em drive, she also blossomed as a brilliant student with creativity and a large capacity to love.” At Brookline High School, from which Kelley graduated in 2006, she swam, rowed crew, and played ice hockey.perruques cheveux naturels “Kelley played hard, laughed hard, and later in life she loved hard,” Ellen said in her eulogy. She noted in an interview that her cousin “wasn’t fazed as much by what other people thought. She was always self-aware and assured. To have that confidence, to have that inner sense of self, was so rare at such a young age.”
Spencer added in his eulogy: “I quickly came to love and appreciate Kelley’s timeless beauty, her intellectual depth, and her spunky shell which made her so strong and so intriguing.” In 2010, Kelley graduated from William and Mary and had moved to Washington, D.C., for her Atlantic Monthly job when, at 22, she discovered a lump. The hospital suggested she bring someone with her to hear the test results, so she went with her mother, who was helping her settle into an apartment. “It was very blunt. It was bad,” Nancy said. “We didn’t even understand right away what they were saying to us. They showed us X-rays and said ‘you’re going to need treatment and you’re probably going to need surgery.’ The whole thing was shocking.” Kelley left Washington and returned to Brookline for treatment in Boston, but “even after her diagnosis she was still trying always to make the best out of situations, to get the most out of life,” her mother said. Kelley got a job in the fashion industry in New York City, where she worked long hours. For weeks she took a bus to Boston Friday night, went to chemotherapy Saturday, and returned to New York Sunday. When the doctors gave her a clean bill of health, she decided to stay in New York. Family photo “She was true and honest and straightforward,” Kelley Shea’s mother said about her.perruques cheveux But when she fell and had her hip examined, “sure enough they said, ‘It’s in your bones,’” her mother said. As a woman in her 20s with metastasized cancer, Kelley participated in advocacy activities with Stupid Cancer and “was just so incredible about her spirit and her journey,” said Thea Linscott, who is in remission from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and chairs the board of the nonprofit for young adults diagnosed with cancer. “Kelley exemplified advocacy in the young adult community.’’ That spirit took Kelley to places where some might never venture. One of her family’s photos shows her surfing in Hawaii, when cancer had moved into her legs and spine. “There was nothing fake about her,” Kelley’s mother said. “She was true and honest and straightforward. She was even like that in her style, in the way she dressed: Never fussy, never a lot of jewelry, just simple and beautiful.”
In the New York offices of Meredith Xcelerated Marketing, where Kelley worked, employees recently posed for photos incorporating props that expressed their philosophy. Kelley was very ill and in pain the day of the shoot, but the camera captured only the casual. Her philosophy was make lemonade every day, her prop a lemon. She tossed it into the air and in the photo the lemon floats forever, never falling. Two nights before she died, “Kelley told me she wanted people to know that she didn’t lose to cancer, science just hadn’t caught up to her,” Spencer said at her funeral Mass a week later. “And with the challenges she faced every day, and frequent unexpected setbacks,” Ellen said, “she made lemonade of them all.” handout A photo of Kelley Shea at her job in New York.lace front wigs Along with Spencer, her parents, and her cousin, Kelley leaves her two brothers, James III and Connor, both of Brookline; and her grandmothers, Mary Shea of Hingham and Phyllis Phelan of Vancouver, British Columbia. At the funeral Mass last Friday in St. Ignatius Church in Chestnut Hill, scores of people stood in the back after all pews were filled. Scores more went to the balcony. “Looking out among the pews,” Spencer said, “it confirms my belief that Kelley never had a shortage of friends.”
A couple of days later, he recalled that at the end, Kelley “was never really scared. What she conveyed to me was that she didn’t want her last moments in life to be scary. She wanted to have hope in her heart.” Part of that hope meant doing what they had discussed for a while. On the edge of her bed on a Thursday night, he proposed. Because the prognosis had quickly grown worse, there was no time to shop for “the ring she always wanted,” said Spencer, who had instead a simple gold band. The ring is perfect, she said when he tried to mention the absence of a diamond. cosplay wigs“For some reason that symbol of putting a ring on Kelley’s finger and having her look at it was very powerful, because there wasn’t much time left. It turned out to be two days,” Spencer said. “To me and to Kelley it was very important to – at one point in our lives, however symbolically – be associated that way,” he said. “It didn’t change how we felt about each other, but it was important for us to know that we were able to call each other, ‘My fiancée,’ ‘Her fiancé.’” Marquard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.