Lisa Killeen’s incredible journey began in the village of Crigglestone, Wakefield in the English county of West Yorkshire. She’s lived in the St. Petersburg area since 2004 – and it was those in-between years that forged and polished who she is today.
“I’m present wherever I am now, and it takes a lot to achieve that,” she says. “It wasn’t always like this.”
Killeen, who’s just published her first book of poetry, WordheART, works at Northside Hospital as a telemetry technician and patient care tech; she’s also a healthcare worker associated with Hospice.
“I’m not in a pink cloud any more,” she says. “I guess I used to live in a little pink bubble – it’s nice and fresh and rosy, and it’s your world. But I’ve seen a lot of what’s not my world.”
When Killeen was 19 and living on the Isle of Man, she became friends with a hospice nurse, who told her one inspiring story after another. “I thought ‘When I grow up, I’m going to do that. But life didn’t take me there.’”
Instead, she worked in a stockbroker’s office, married an Irishman, raised two children and – in her mid 20s – emigrated to the United States. Where she labored even harder.
She’d already been to Florida’s east coast, working in events and marketing for Discovery Cruise Lines.
For several years, Killeen operated a Dunedin gift shop called Crème De La Crème; she worked for Lifestyles Family Fitness and helped create its rewards program. She started her own marketing and sales business.
Through it all, she jotted down her thoughts in poetry form.
“I can’t really fix anybody, but I can tell you what my thoughts are to fix it,” Killeen explains. “And that’s really what the book is. People think ‘Oh, that’s a love poem,’ all about me. This is not true. If you read it, it’s predominately about other people. ‘Baby Girl’ is about my daughter, when she was 6 months old. ‘I See Your Colors’ is about the gay community.”
The poems are uniformly positive, but Killeen insists she’s no Pollyanna.
“Poetry is a quick way to get over a message – it’s a message about other people, it’s what I think, that we should all be loved, basically. It’s all things love. It’s pollinating positivity.”
Divorce, devastating health issues and the loss of a close friend in an auto accident all contributed to Lisa Killeen’s re-examination of her life.
And that’s when she re-connected with her altruistic side.
“As you get older, you realize life’s pretty short,” she says.
“Reality slams you again and again, and then you get a few more slammers … I realized that time is the most valuable thing that we have. And we are the most precious commodity we have – not your car, not your house, this, that and the other. The most precious things you have are time, and people and love and moments. And kindness.
“I’m not in charge of you, and you’re not in charge of me. But wouldn’t life be better if we were just nice? It’s not that hard. It’s much harder to be angry or hateful. You’re spoiling your own time over something you’ve no control over.”
At the peak of the pandemic, she says, hospital staff were also wondering aloud about mortality. “They were calling us heroes and superheroes, but we didn’t really feel like that. We still had the same level of fear that you lot had.
“In fact, if not more, because we had to face it daily. We had to be brave enough to walk in. We had to accept what was coming to us, no matter what.”
Killeen is quick to suggest that working in hospice care probably isn’t for everyone. “It takes all kinds to make the world go round, and it’s not everybody’s cup of tea.”
Unlike hospital work, she explains, where the notion of “fixing” people provides feel-good adrenaline, there’s no emotional trophy waiting when one’s hospice work is all said and done.
Yet the rewards are substantial.
“You’re helping that person to transition,” Killeen says, “and that helps the family to live in acceptance.”
Although some are recent compositions, the majority of the poems in WordheArt were written over several decades. “I like to empty my filing cabinet from time to time,” Killeen laughs. “There’s a lot goes on in there.” She provided the accompanying illustrations as well.
The pandemic, she explains, “gave me the edge, because it gave me time to sit down and collate it.
“I’d come home from work, and I had a lot of boxes sitting there. I started thinking ‘What are you gonna do with it? Leave it for someone to siphon though? Make your children feel guilty to throw it away?’
“And so I thought no, just put it all in a book.”