T.S. Eliot penned the sentence “April is the Cruellest Month.” My friend Lisa Keys undoubtedly agrees with this as it was four years ago today that she lost her beloved son William Keys at the age of twenty-two. Will survived a tour of duty in Afghanistan and died in a tragic car accident upon his return home. Losing a child is a devastating tragedy that no parent should ever have to endure. But Lisa knew her William very well. She knew William would want her to move on with life and Lisa eventually discovered how she would be able to do so while honoring Will’s memory at the same time. Lisa described Will as a “bad ass,” an enduring term for her tough and brave, yet sweet and kind boy. Will used to say to Lisa, “Mom, you are a bad ass in the kitchen!” Lisa took those words to heart and honors Will, who was so proud of Lisa’s competitive cooking skills, and literally cooks for him and everyone else who has suffered through the tragedy of losing a child. Food is comforting, it brings family together, and it reminds the family of times spent together. Lisa began writing the most incredible blog, “Good Grief Cook,” not only to deal with her own pain through cooking but to help others. And that she has.
We need to go back to when Will was a little boy and Lisa was just beginning her competitive cooking because it changed both of their lives forever. Lisa was a contestant in the Pillsbury Bake-Off contest that was held one year in San Diego. While there, Lisa and her family toured some of Naval ships in the area and Will became wide-eyed and excited. Lisa said it was then that Will announced at age five that he was going to join the Navy; and after that particular Bake-Off, Lisa also knew she was hooked on competitive cooking.
I remember Lisa telling me she always loved this photo because her curious little boy decided it would be fun to step on the toes of the Jolly Green Giant! And so it began. Will grew up and joined the Navy. Lisa continued to win contest after contest, and thank goodness, at another Pillsbury Bake-Off many years ago, we met and have been friends ever since.
Whenever Will was home on leave from Afghanistan, Lisa would cook up a storm with all of Will’s favorite foods. Lisa happened to win a contest sponsored by a winery and they even provided the wine to celebrate his return. When Will would return to his barracks and was very busy with his military life, Lisa would worry that he wasn’t always eating well since all he had was a microwave oven. Lisa decided that was better than fast food, so she bought him this cookbook, filled with easy recipes that could be made in minutes.
Lisa gave Will the cookbook for Christmas with the following inscription.
It was Will’s last Christmas.
Not very long ago, I received a package from Lisa. It was the cookbook. Inside was a letter from Lisa where she said, “I just can’t think of a better place for this book to live than in your sacred culinary cellar. It will enjoy a long life there. Thank you for keeping it safe.” I was speechless and beyond honored to be the keeper of the cookbook. It will be safe and loved always. And strangely enough, the author of the cookbook turned out to be a judge at future Bake-Off contests.
Lisa continues to soar in her culinary career. Those of you who are familiar with the Food Network undoubtedly know the popular show, Chopped. Lisa went through a grueling interview process to be selected as a contestant for the show, but she made it. The show begins with four contestants who are given a series of boxes with a mix of strange ingredients and must cook them into something creative. Lisa came out on top every time.
First there were four, then three, then two, then just the winner… Lisa. And by the way, she didn’t just win the coveted title of “Chopped Champion,” she also won $10,000!
Host Ted Allen had asked each contestant why they were there, why they wanted to compete. Lisa explained, “My son said, mom you are a bad ass in the kitchen. So I’m here to try and follow in his light and focus my bad-assness!”
I keep this episode of Chopped on my DVR because it’s inspirational to look at the strength and determination on Lisa’s face. I am still in awe of my dear friend who is such a good soldier. She carries on for Will, for her family and is an example to the rest of the world how to move on and honor our departed loved ones. Please never forget William Keys, how he bravely fought for our country, how he loved his family, and how he loved his mom’s bad-assness in the kitchen. And let me tell you, Lisa is not done yet. Not by a long shot.
Thank you for this, Debbie! I will never forget Will or Lisa!
as they say in my world, “there are no words”…thank you dear friend
What a beautiful tribute to a good friend and her amazing son. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree – both incredible human beings. Thanks to you as well, Debbie!
Thank you so much for sharing these beautiful people. The cookbook story is so touching.
Beautiful, Debbie. A wonderful tribute for a wonderful friend.
This literally gave me a lump in my throat. What a wonderful tribute!
Beautiful post, Debbie.
Beautifully written, Debbie. Lisa’s strength and family love should serve as an inspiration for us all.
Beautifully written, Debbie.
I watched Lisa on Chopped and rooted for her to win. She is most definitely a bad ass in the kitchen.
Lisa, if you read this message, I am so sorry for your loss but I’m also sure your son is proud of you continuing to be a bad ass in the kitchen.
Thank you Madonna
So very moving and beautifully written! Glad you are the keeper of William’s book, Debbie. It’s a treasure, for sure!
Such a beautiful story to share. Words written from the heart. Blessings to Lisa.
I’m deeply touched
When I saw Lisa tonight it gave me hope. My son died in November of 2016 at the age of 26. He developed schizophrenia at the age of 20, and then in 2015 ( August) he developed AML. The chemo and bone marrow transplant were horrible. It left his mind in such a bad place. He saw psychiatrists and therapists but ended up taking his own life. It continues to leave me with such grief ! I am reminded to be happy and carry on. I also love to bake and cook. Thank you Lisa !
Laura, I cannot even imagine your pain and am very sorry for the loss of your beloved son. Lisa has helped so many people through the grief process, and your first sentence expresses this too, because you said she gave you hope. Lisa has given of herself to help others make it through each day. I have never met anyone as strong as Lisa. She is an inspiration to many and very much loved. If you haven’t read through all her past blogs, I think you will find hope in every one. Thank you so much for writing. Many readers will be very touched by your words and they will say a prayer for you tonight to find peace and comfort. Blessings to you always.
Just seeing this now. I think grief has a beginning but no end when it comes to losing our children. I wish you peace dear lady.