Positive Psychology and Grief ~ Celebrating the Life of A Great Man

Kelly Nelson

Walking on broken glass…A hurricane of hurt…twisted gut grief.

Kelly Nelson was my best Puerta Vallarta buddy. He was the brother of my heart, the kind of brother I had wished for when I was a kid. His unexpected death on Valentine’s Day at age 58 steam-rolled my psyche.

I wrote this poem to honor him. After you read it, please come back. Learn how you can reclaim your own journey back to resilience when life fills you with heartache. How to climb out of the depths of despair when grief tries to blacken your whole world like thick drops of ink in the crystal clear waters of your mind.

I need to practice what I preach. Kind, gentle Kelly would love to know his death also helped you find more peace and acceptance in yours. Positive psychology gifts you with sweet and wise solace for your wounded heart and soul.


I know positive psychology is here to help me to once again gaze at the stars and be happy. I am grateful I know to always look for the good. Gratitude, an extremely potent character strength, first comes to mind. I am utterly grateful I was with Kelly in hospitals in those torturous hours before he died. What a gift in life, to be with the person you love, before they leave this earthly plain. Those last cherished hand-held moments, priceless memory treasures.

Kelly and I go back almost 10 years.

He was my beloved husband, Ken, and my personal condo administrator at La Cima III.

Kelly and I soon became fast friends. He was a sweetheart of a guy. We spent every SAT together at the local craft and food markets, drank coffee, and watched the local Vallarta scene walk by at the “Taste of Italy” restaurant. Of course, we never made a “creative” comment nor raised our eyebrows at some of the, shall we say, “colorful” folks who passed us by on their way to the beach. You gotta love Vallarta’s local color. Delightful diversity!

We shopped for groceries every week. We made the Costco, Walmart, and fruit/vegetable market run. He tirelessly helped me pick out the ton of plants and hand-painted pots that add so much vibrant color to our condo terraces.

For years, Kelly was my taxi driver, my navigator through Vallarta, and the one who would listen, understand, and advise.

He noticed if I wore anything new or had a new haircut and offered genuine compliments. He always put me first and asked, “Ok, lovely lady, what would you like to do today?” Kelly was generous, kind, super sensitive, and a true blue, exceptional friend.

With raucous fun, he teased and joked with me. We laughed our butts off. He encouraged me to cuss and fuss and rip and rare, when life got too damned much to bare. He was my most trusted confidant. He jested and told me he was lucky to have his own private shrink on speed dial. I reminded him that worked both ways.

It was a precious honor for me to be asked to be the MC at his “Celebration of Life” hosted at their stunning casa by his dearest guy friends, Ivan Sherman and Mark Ledet along with his sister, Jane Neilsen, and his two best friends from the States, Alan Chiet and Al Poulen. I have been to many events, but never have I met so many genuine people in one place at the same time. Kelly was one uniquely special man.

Grief is a sword that cuts two ways.

It tears your heart apart, but it reminds you the gift of life is a brilliant, rare gem.

Even though loss feels like someone took a roto-router to your beautiful garden of life, looking at the tenets of positive psychology can help. Let’s pile on the wellness “fertilizer” (Kelly might use another choice word here!) of PERMA:

Positive Emotions ~ Love is the grand daddy that combines all the other positive emotions.

Kelly was a lover. Yes, grief is intense, but loves its train. I feel like someone plowed through my gloriously lovely hibiscus pots that Kelly so loved. There are holes in my garden of life. But soon the optimism of spring will blossom.

Though grief cuts me to my core, I remember Kelly’s positive emotions like humor, awe, pride, and joy. Happy Kelly memories add beauty to my life. I know more positive emotions will sprout again. Though now I feel wretchedly sad, down the road, happy memories will once again transform the pain into beauty.

I remind myself, “Be willing to accept the negative emotions, too. Express them and then ask them to go sit in the back row of my theater of life.” Yes, this necessitates putting my courage strength to the test.

Engagement ~ Kelly loved life.

Despite recent gigantic stress and health concerns, he told me, “You know, Judy, I don’t regret one bit of my life. I have lived luxury and poverty. But you know what? I am one lucky man. I have seen the world. I have hope, a new job, and I WILL make my way back again.”

Kelly worked to find resilience, and he did. He focused on the gifts of his strengths and embraced the grit to forge ahead. Now it is my turn to strap on my Super Girl cape and fly, knowing he is in Heaven nearby. I will pay forward his talents, gifts, and virtues. As “Sting” would say, “What doesn’t kill you makes you tougher.” But this will take awhile for softy me.

Relationships ~ Kelly and I were help-mates.

He knew the ropes. He loved to help me soar. I was never alone. He knew every answer to every question I needed to know living here in Mexico. And there was always a new inquiry popping up! “I’ll ask Kelly…” was my frequent thought. We rode a tandem-life bike. We shared and cared. That wonderful song, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” comes to mind.

I thank God for my husband, Ken, and other family and dear friends for sharing my grief. Hugs are so very healing. I am grateful for the love I feel from social media buddies. They help diffuse the heart-wretch. I am a better giver than taker, so I remember Adam Grant’s book, Give and Take, and know it is my time to allow others to step in to help me. This is quite a lesson in humility. I’m still learning.

Meaning ~ It’s hard for me to wrap my brain around the meaning of death.

Kelly was too young to die. No way to figure that out. Instead, I focus on what we shared and how we often philosophized about life and what we had gleaned. We talked about our friends and family. How messy life could get, but we both savored it. “Chicken one day, feathers, the next!” he would cajole.

Kelly lived positive psychology legend Dr. Chris Peterson’s mantra, “Other people matter.” Many don’t know that in his heyday years, Kelly financially helped support many people. He never asked for anything in return nor did he toot his own horn. Emotionally, he was a rock upon which many of us stood. He was always there smiling.

Accomplishment ~ Kelly earned a double Master’s Degree in Interior Design and Industrial Design from the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design.

He practiced for many years in his own design firm and later obtained his real estate license in Toronto, Canada, selling luxury properties.

After his move to Puerto Vallarta, he continued his real estate career and later became a luxury condo building administrator. Most recently, he was proudly a real estate associate with respected David Pullen Properties. Kelly was an accomplished artist, and his culinary skills were legend. He savored cooking vacations throughout the world. He was a terrific brother to his beloved sister, Jane Neilsen. He was also a super dad to his coddled canine family, Doris and Lupita. I am sure they have greeted him in Heaven.

To me, Kelly’s greatest accomplishment was his ability to love, nurture, and be open to life’s vicissitudes. Humor was always in his backpack. He was a classy, down-to-earth, authentic man. Kelly’s resilience and optimism bring to mind a great quote from Dostoyevesky, “The darker the night, the brighter the stars…”

To Kelly and you all with love today on St. Patrick’s Day and everyday,


Flowers for Kelly

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