/The beautiful life of Lisa Kerr

The beautiful life of Lisa Kerr

By Emily Stonehouse

When someone passes away, it’s often asked what they did in their lives. All those little things that add up over a lifetime. 

For Lisa Kerr, perhaps a more apt question would be “what didn’t she do?” 

A musician, a volunteer, a philanthropist, a homeschool teacher, a daughter, a wife, a mother. 

There is no singular word that captures Lisa Kerr, who passed away at the age of 59 on February 15 from a brain tumour. 

“The best way I can describe her is just that she had a full zest for life,” shared her daughter, Loretta Kerr D’Ambrosio, “she was so optimistic, excitable, and lived for the little things in life.” 

Loretta sat curled up in an armchair, with her fingers laced around a warm mug of tea while she shared the many stories of the life and times of her mother. 

Loretta and her three brothers; Steve, Ryan, and JJ, moved to the Minden region in 1998 when their parents, Bill and Lisa Kerr bought a cottage that they transformed into a warm and loving family home. 

Bill and Lisa met when they attended the University of Toronto, and Loretta shared that Bill always told them that he knew Lisa was “the one” at first sight. The two started dating, and eventually went to Western University; Bill to study dental and Lisa to focus on law. Within no time, the two were married, and started a family; having four kids over five and a half years. 

While Bill balanced being a young dad and a full time dentist, Lisa dove into the role of motherhood. “We all took turns being homeschooled,” said Loretta, “we were a lot younger, and that was just added time we got to spend with her. We had a great time.” 

On top of being a mother to four growing children, Lisa also became steadily involved with the community as a whole. She was an active member of the hospital board, 100 Women Who Care, Those Other Movies, the Highlands Summer Festival, and the Heritage Ballet Nutcracker performances every year, to name a few.

When asked what Lisa would be most proud of, Loretta didn’t hesitate to share her pride in the volunteer dental outreach clinic in Haliburton, which offers support to county residents who may struggle financially with the cost of dental work. “She always worked hard to solve any problem that may come up,” Loretta smiled, “if someone would call and say they couldn’t make it to the clinic because they didn’t have a ride, she would say ‘okay, I’ll come pick you up.’ She did all the behind-the-scenes things.” 

Lisa was diagnosed with cancer in June of 2022. What started as a presumed concussion from a minor vehicular accident escalated quickly as doctors completed MRI’s, and noted two tumours on her brain. One was removed for the biopsy, while the other was identified as malignant, stage four cancer. Lisa completed six weeks of chemotherapy and radiation in an attempt to lessen the impacts of the tumour, but the family was aware of what the future would hold. “We knew what was coming,” said Loretta, “but we didn’t really let that slow us down. We were just trying to make every day the best it could be.”

Loretta shared that she knew her mom wouldn’t have wanted any of them to feel stagnantly sad with the prognosis, so they carried on with the zest for life that they had all inherited from Lisa. This included going to plays in Toronto, attending an Elton John concert, and traveling to Turks and Caicos as a family in November of 2022. 

“My parents went to Turks and Caicos before mom’s diagnosis,” Loretta said, “and when they came back, they went on about how we should all do it together, and of course, we all kind of rolled our eyes at the chances that we could all take time off work at the same time, but as soon as we found out about her diagnosis, we all said, ‘okay, let’s go.’”

After getting back from their family holiday, Lisa looked eagerly towards Christmas, wanting to make it a special memory for everyone. The family had a happy Christmas morning, filled with laughter and warmth, before Lisa’s health began to decline in early January. At that point, she was admitted to palliative care, but returned to their family home shortly after to live out her days. “We all sensed what was happening, but it was never explicitly stated,” said Loretta, “everybody pulled together, and we focused on making those days the best they could be.” 

Lisa died in her sleep during the early morning hours of Feb. 15. On Valentine’s Day, her and Bill had fallen asleep together, holding hands in front of the crackling fire in their family home. 

“Given the hand we were dealt, I don’t regret anything,” shared Loretta. “We said everything we wanted to say, she heard everything we were saying, and we wouldn’t have done anything differently.” 

The family hosted a celebration of life at the Pinestone Resort on Feb.18. Hundreds attended, either in-person or virtually, to laugh, share, and celebrate the memories of Lisa. “After the celebration of life, we all had a feeling of euphoria,” said Loretta, “we gave her the celebration she deserved.”

As her tea began to cool, Loretta reflected on the little things her mom did that really made the world sparkle. Buying matching pajamas for the kids every Christmas, getting the whole family “Camp Kerr” sweaters to make them feel welcome, custom party gifts and little gestures that would make everyone feel seen, heard, and loved. “She always had little cute ideas to just take things, and make them feel that much more special,” smiled Loretta. 

She noted that the community has been overwhelmingly supportive during this trying time, with locals reaching out to her and sharing memories they had of Lisa, and offering stories of grief that make Loretta feel not so alone. “I feel like I understand grief so much more now,” she said, “when people tell me their own stories and experiences, it means so much to me.” Loretta hopes to utilize her own personal experiences to connect with others about grief, and offer support to those who may be navigating similar challenges.  

As Loretta placed her now-empty tea mug on the side-table, she reached and grabbed her phone. In the photos file, she typed in one word: “mom”. The screen flooded with images of Lisa. Lisa laughing. Lisa sitting on the dock in the sunshine. Lisa wearing matching sweaters with the family. Lisa with a tiny puppy. Lisa going in for an operation. Lisa with her arms around her kids. Lisa smiling through chemo. Lisa getting a kiss from Bill on the cheek. Lisa looking happy, her eyes filled to the brim with joy. 

The little things add up over a lifetime, even if that lifetime was unfairly cut short. The gifts, the energy, the enthusiasm for the community, the support for her family, the little details that become big memories, the zest for life, the love, through and through. All those little things added up to Lisa Kerr, and a life that was beautifully lived.