INDIANAPOLIS – In the worst of times – darkness for his family, he called it; a nightmare, he insisted – it simply was time.
The grieving remains for Ryan and Emma Kelly. Their infant daughter, Mary Kate, died on Dec. 17 and was buried four days later.
Wednesday, with a heavy heart and Emma home alone taking care of the couple’s dogs, Ryan Kelly returned to the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.
The Indianapolis Colts’ Pro Bowl center was back.
“It just feels right to be back,’’ Kelly said Thursday in his first meeting with the media since the loss of Mary Kate. “I know that being here is where I need to be right now.
“It doesn’t make it any easier. I’m just taking it a day at a time, man.’’
Kelly opened with an emotional statement. On several occasions during his Zoom conference call with the media, he paused, lowered his head and tried to regain his composure.
The statement, he said, was a way to “thank the people over the last couple of weeks who have made this nightmare a little bit easier to bear.’’
He shared the painful hours he and Emma endured, and loss of their daughter.
“For 24 hours I watched and held my wife’s hand as she labored with our daughter,’’ Kelly said in his statement. “We didn’t get to later where you get to wrap your baby up and take them home. It wasn’t in God’s plan for our sweet girl. We had to say goodbye, the hardest thing that either of us has ever and hopefully will ever have to go through.
“But this is about my wife and the rock star that she is. As I sat in the hospital bed and watched tears roll down her face, she held our daughter with love, a love that I’ve never seen before. The strength that she possesses I know transferred to our daughter who watches over us now.
“I’ve never been more proud to be your husband.’’
Kelly thanked family and friends, the Irsay family, general manager Chris Ballard and coach Frank Reich for their incredible support.
He thanked thousands of strangers who reached out and shared stories of a similar loss. That, Kelly said, let him and Emma know they weren’t alone and “brought us light in all this darkness.’’
And he thanked the doctors and nurses at Community North Hospital “who made us feel like our daughter was the only baby in the world who mattered. Thank you. You’ll forever be in our family.’’
Kelly admitted he dealt with a selfish twinge as he returned to work.
Emma was at home, where memories of what should have been were fresh. Family and friends, the invaluable support group when support was desperately needed, had left.
“That’s the hardest, being in your house,’’ Kelly said. “You’ve made so many memories.’’
But it was time, which wasn’t the case last week as the Colts were preparing for their Christmas Night meeting with the Arizona Cardinals in Glendale.
“We buried our daughter on Tuesday and I knew there was no way that I could be ready,’’ Kelly said. “Wednesday was the first day after that that we hadn’t had any family in town.
“Just knew if I went back to work Thursday that I wouldn’t be ready to go Saturday.’’
More than that, Kelly wouldn’t leave his wife alone on Christmas.
“I just imagined my wife being by herself on Christmas and that was like the hardest thing ever,’’ he said.
Again, he paused and fought back tears.
As the Kellys dealt with their loss, the Colts kept telling one of their most important players to take as long as he needed.
“Chris and Frank couldn’t have been more understanding,’’ Kelly said. “They knew in their hearts that I wasn’t going to be ready to go on Christmas Day to play that game. I mentally wouldn’t be there.’’
But it was time Wednesday. Even so, that first day back was emotional for everyone involved.
“Probably the hardest day, walking back into the office and just seeing people,’’ Kelly said. “They don’t know what to tell you. Unless you’ve been in that situation, you don’t know what to say.’’
Sometimes, words weren’t necessary.
“He came in and I just gave him a hug,’’ wideout T.Y. Hilton said. “A hug does a lot. Just let him know I’m here for him.
“I’m still praying for him. Time heals.’’
On one level, returning to work was part of the healing process for Kelly.
“For me,’’ he said, “this is just healing in itself and selfishly I feel bad because my wife is home. She’s taking care of the dogs and she’s grieving. But I know she’ll get through it, too.
“Certainly just having the support of the Colts and not having to be pressured to go out there and play Christmas Day, I’ll forever be thankful.’’
Players always point to the “family’’ atmosphere regarding the Colts. On many occasions, Irsay and others have done whatever it’s taken to help someone going through tragedy.
“We preach about being a family here and obviously when we heard about Ryan and Emma, it was heartbreaking for all of us,’’ said defensive tackle DeForest Buckner. “For him to come back, just us being the guys that we are, bringing him back with open arms and being there for him, whatever that is.
“Just being there for him. That’s the best thing we can do.’’
Irsay and the team took one step in that regard following the 22-16 win over the Cardinals. Director of Player Engagement David Thornton connected with Kelly on his cell phone. Irsay presented the Kellys a game ball.
Kelly watched the game at home with his wife, brother and sister-in-law. Emma was released from the hospital the previous day.
“That’s a moment I’ll never forget,’’ he said. “We watched the game and it was awesome. To hear Frank’s press conference at the end and to hear him mention our family and he texted me right after that and sent the clip of Irsay and the game ball.
“We watched that clip of Irsay giving us the game ball a hundred times. You can tell when he’s giving that game ball out, there’s a switch that flips in your mind. He’s got three daughters. To do that means more than we can ever imagine.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.