Philly couple want their lost son’s belongings to go to Afghan arrivals

John Kelly and his wife, Christina, had kept their son’s childhood belongings, Lego blocks and Beanie Babies, thinking that if they ever became grandparents the kids might like to play with the old toys. of their father.

This “one day” disappeared in November, leaving with their only child, Thomas, 30.

His chest of drawers, bed, and desk, left behind when he moved into his own accommodation, can be found upstairs at the couple’s home in Delaware County, along with a library filled with books in the rooms. languages ​​he mastered, French, German, Spanish and Arabic. .

They were wondering what to do with it all. But when the couple learned that thousands of Afghans were getting off evacuation flights at Philadelphia International Airport, they knew who should have their son’s belongings.

“He would have chosen her to go to them,” said Christina Kimball-Kelly.

She and John began to check out where they could donate, including the large Philadelphia agencies involved in the resettlement of evacuees from Afghanistan, and the smaller nonprofit partners who often have more room to gather and store goods.

It is a personal gesture offered as part of a national enterprise, the largest resettlement effort since the end of the Vietnam War. In the coming months, the Biden administration intends to control and resettle tens of thousands of Afghans who fled when the Taliban took control of the country.

Aid agencies say Congress will need to provide billions of dollars in funding, even though companies and associations advance.

A coalition of Bush administration officials, Clinton and Obama was launched last week Welcome.US to encourage broad support and provide a single point of contact for those wishing to donate money and supplies.

Airbnb says it will cover temporary housing costs for 20,000 Afghans, Walmart has pledged $ 1 million to refugee and veteran groups, and Care International intends to donate $ 1,000 to each household for food, hygiene products and other necessities.

Thomas’s parents say his things don’t need to be kept together, kept as a collection. His life was not a museum. It was an exploration, one that filled the pages of two passports with stamps that marked arrivals and departures.

An Afghan family in need of a bed could take it. Another might need clothes. Maybe another has kids who would love a puzzle or want a little stuffed creature to cuddle with as they take root in the United States.

“We had a son who had a love of language, a love of people, a love of different nationalities,” said John Kelly. “How can we better put his mind out there, for the people who have nothing?”

Kelly, 60, owns a van. He will deliver.

He works as a salesperson for a company that manufactures specialty spray nozzles. Christina, 62, teaches French at Strath Haven High School.

They live in Springfield Township, where Thomas competed on the high school swim team.

He planned to become a doctor but gave up on the idea in Grade 11, weighing the reality of a decade of medical training and the certainty of vast debt.

He spent his last year in Germany, after obtaining an exchange scholarship. At New York University, he immersed himself in the city, teaching students at Fluent Manhattan and, while working at The Standard hotel’s gift shop, directing visitors to his favorite places off the beaten track. beaten.

He lived and studied in Paris and Amman, Jordan, as a junior. And a few years after graduating from NYU in 2012, he moved to Berlin.

“I can be poor and live well in Berlin,” he told his parents. “I can’t be poor and live well in New York.”

In Berlin, he met friends like him, polyglots – Germans, Romanians and Tunisians – young people who liked to write, think and share.

Always, books were at hand, poetry, politics and literature in five languages, with passages underlined and notes written in the margins. He collected copies of The little Prince in different languages. He read then reread Infinite joke, known for its length and difficulty, a novel where even the endnotes have footnotes.

“He didn’t sit down to watch TV,” his father said. “He was always reading or going somewhere. “

Thomas’ affinity for words and languages ​​seemed familiar. Her mother is qualified to teach Spanish as well as French. And his grandfather was the longtime sports information director at Syracuse University, revered in academic circles as “dean.” But depression was also running in the family.

During his final year of high school, Thomas was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, characterized by intense and distinct emotional states of happiness and sadness.

He hated taking medication, claiming it left him unable to feel any emotion.

Life could be a struggle. On time he was in terrible pain.

His health usually improved when he had a job and worked, looked after every day and worsened when he was between jobs.

In Berlin he worked for the branding company Realgestalt – think, true gestalt – management of translations for client companies, including Daimler AG, the large automotive company. The company is involved in all kinds of strategic communications, and Thomas loved it there.

But he was fired last year as the coronavirus pandemic took hold and Germany slipped into a hard and prolonged lockdown. The closing of the local swimming pool kept him away from the water which offered him exercise and rejuvenation.

He insisted on making his own way even as he struggled. Moving would have seemed like a defeat.

That summer, a close friend approached Thomas with a loving proposal that changed his life. What if they had a child together? They could co-parent, not as lovers, but as adored companions, raising a son or daughter.

Thomas said yes. So no.

“I don’t want to risk passing this on,” he said.

The phone rang in Springfield on a Monday evening. Christine responded. A friend of her son’s online. Thomas had left a detailed list of contacts, and a note that said: “It was above all a good life.”

Some of his goods are shipped from Germany. Books, of course. Pictures. An Armani catalog – Thomas modeled it but never mentioned it, instead marking the pages where his photo appeared, so his parents could see it.

Them and his friends held a memorial service in Berlin’s Tempelhof park, not far from where President Kennedy gave his famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech. By showing the city to friends, Thomas was able to discern the old Cold War dividing line between East Germany and West Germany simply by examining the architecture.

In his Berlin apartment, his mother and father found two coffee cups, made in Germany, bearing the inscription of a passage from The little Prince: “My star will only be one of the stars, for you. And so you will love looking at all the stars in the heavens … “

His ashes rest on the hearth of the fireplace.

It’s hard for his parents sort their son’s things. Everything seems to bring them back to his youth.

But they know that people could use these goods. And that Thomas would like that, would like to help people who are trying to navigate a new life in a strange place.

“He would be so happy,” his mother said.


If you are considering harming yourself, or know someone who does, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline offers free, confidential, 24-hour support at 1-800-273-8255.

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