3 On Your Side Special Report: Turning Pain To Purpose

Dr. Alyssa Killebrew suffered unimaginable losses back-to-back and is using her experiences to help others.
Published: Dec. 1, 2022 at 5:53 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Many people are preparing for a holiday devoted to giving thanks and celebrating with friends and family. For a Madison clinical psychologist who has suffered unimaginable losses including her best friend, her daughter and then her husband all within a year, she shares with us how she is Turning her Pain into Purpose. Her message is inspirational and filled with hope and healing.

Dr. Killebrew says she is using her pain to provide treatment for her patients. Dr. Killebrew...
Dr. Killebrew says she is using her pain to provide treatment for her patients. Dr. Killebrew is shown here with her 3 year old daughter and late husband Keath.(FAMILY)

We first met Dr. Alyssa Killebrew in March of 2021. She shared the pain of losing her second child, Sarah Elizabeth to COVID-19. Dr. Killebrew and her husband Keath used IVF after two miscarriages. Her daughter Vivian was the first miracle. And then a second pregnancy with daughter Sarah Elizabeth. After the traumatic and devastating loss, she and her husband went to a grief retreat run by Ted Wiard.

“He lost his wife to cancer. And then not even a year later, his mother-in-law was driving his two children to school. And she was in a car accident that ended her life and the life of his two daughters. And he was a minister at the time. And he said he went through the darkest night of his soul. And he went from retreat to retreat to retreat, trying to find hope. And he said it he couldn’t find a place. So, he created it. And the place is called the Golden Willow. And Keath and I spent a week there and I plan to go back one day. I’m not ready to go back quite yet,” Dr. Killebrew said.

Dr. Killebrew is not ready to go back because this time she will have to make the trip without her husband. Keath Killebrew was killed in a plane crash in Paraguay December 3rd of last year. Dr. Killebrew was 8 months pregnant with their son.

Dr. Killebrew said, “It’s a magical place in the Monte Cristo Mountains, which means the blood of Christ. And it’s a place to go and talk about the hard things in your life, the things that have hurt you in your life, what are your traumas, and then to start looking into the future. Keath and I even wrote our own eulogies there. And it was incredible. When I lost Keath, that was the first thing I thought about I said Keath, he knew that he was going to die in the Chaco; he had written it in his eulogy. He knew that we were going to have our son Keith Jr. He had written about it. He knew that he was going to go and build this farm in Paraguay. You know, Keath didn’t die a man who had dreams, Keath died a man who fulfilled dreams.”

To keep her husband’s dreams and help her deal with his loss Dr. Killebrew shares some of the steps she’s taking to honor his memory.

“It’s never been taken off my heart the things that Keath and I had dreamed for. And so I went to Paraguay, we put a monument up. It’s a beautiful cross that says, ‘A man on a mission for humanity.’ And it’s in the field where his plane went down. I went and met with the people that he met, I saw the lands that he was looking at and made a decision that I’m going to continue to pursue it. And my husband’s twin Heath would like to pursue it as well. So, we’re gonna take it slow and see what happens next, but I’m really, really just [falling] in love with the people of Paraguay. And, so, we decided that we would start a foundation, the Killebrew Foundation to keep Keath’s legacy alive,” said Killebrew.

With so many people experiencing grief, anger, anxiety and depression, Dr. Killebrew says what she has endured has helped her provide treatment for her patients.

“I feel like God has trusted me with this inordinate amount of pain, honestly, and I cannot become bitter. I can’t do that. I want my children to see me turn this incredible pain into a beautiful mosaic. You know, it’s just, I feel like I owe that to our children that we fought so hard for,” said Killebrew.

Dr. Killebrew is so dedicated to helping her patients she spent extra years on her education.

“I went back to school, and I spent 10 extra years at Jackson State, and I became a clinical psychologist because I wanted to be able to figure out diagnostically what was going on with my patients. And so, I’m able to diagnose them and build a treatment plan based on their diagnosis. I think that’s the missing link because talk therapy doesn’t work for everybody. And there are, for every mental health disorder, there are five to 15 different modalities that are evidence-based treatment protocols that actually work.”

We met in Newton County in Lawrence, Mississippi at the Tanglewood Retreat. It is here Dr. Killebrew will carry on the work she and her husband were dedicated to. Bringing children, families and adults to a grief camp SEK named for the daughter they lost to COVID.

“I feel very called to this work. I feel like, almost like [it’s] a life assignment for me, you know, that I wouldn’t really understand what my patients were going through if I hadn’t been through it myself. And so, we don’t get to choose the cards that were dealt, but we can choose to play them or not play them, and I choose to play the cards I’ve been dealt. It has been very, very painful to lose my soulmate, to lose my little girl, to lose my best friend,” Killebrew said.

She has chosen to deal with the pain and grief step….

Killebrew said, “I have been given so many beautiful things. And... those are my children. I have Vivian who my husband and I fought so hard for and she’s three years old, and she’s going to school. Now I have my beautiful little Keith. He was born three weeks after Keath went to Heaven.”

By step…

“I’m focused on the things that I have and not on the things that I don’t. I will say I have moments that are just... You know, I long for Keath, he was my soulmate. Moving forward, my future is, is I have so much hope. You know, I had the love of my life for 30 years. And there’s some people that don’t ever get that a day I had 30 years, Maggie. And so I feel more grateful than I do hurt most days. Keath made me strong. He made me independent. I mean, we practically raised each other. I was 14 when I met him, and I’ve loved him forever. And so, my future is going to be to do the things that we had had planned to do. I’m just going to be doing it as a single person with him in my heart.”

The Killebrew’s had set up the SEK camp on some property in Flora. They had built camp sites and a ropes course but due to excessive flooding she has now moved the camp to Tanglewood. The camp focuses on children 13 to 17 years old. She has already worked with children and families from across the state.

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