‘She meant the world to me’: How Ravens CB Chris Westry is finding gratitude after grief

She’d arrived in his life like a guardian angel and left just as quickly. That was what made it so hard. As Chris Westry stood up to speak at the memorial service, he didn’t want to believe she was gone.

Kim Brody was supposed to see him the day before. That was the plan. She would leave her Jacksonville-area home and head to South Florida for the Ravens’ Nov. 11 game against the Miami Dolphins. Westry was excited; his godmother had never been to one of his NFL games. He wanted to see her. He wanted to thank her. He never imagined that weekend being the one when he would have to say goodbye.

“What hits you when somebody’s passed is, they’re not coming back,” Westry, a third-year cornerback, said in an interview Friday. It had been a week since he’d celebrated Brody’s life with friends and family in Jacksonville. Brody died Oct. 30 after suffering a massive stroke. She was 48. Now the holidays were approaching. It would be Westry’s first without her in his adult life.

“It meant the world that I can go out there and express, really, how I feel about her and our relationship,” he said. “And I thought I was tough. Man, I thought I was tough. You’re not tough until you’ve encountered something like this.”

Westry was 14 or so when he met Brody. At Oakleaf High, the school in the Jacksonville suburbs where Westry would star at defensive back, she was not quite a team mom, he said, because “she did it all.” Brody was a natural caretaker, an elementary school teacher who also volunteered to handle equipment for Oakleaf’s football team.

In Westry, she could sense a sadness. His father, absent for most of his life, had died when he was young. Westry’s home life was difficult. One day, she invited him over for dinner with her family.

“I don’t even know how we clicked, but we ended up clicking,” he said. “I don’t even know if it’s like a mother’s intuition or something, but she just figured I was struggling. We were struggling as far as with a lot of things with me, personally. I’m from a single-parent home. I feel like she just picked up on that. She just offered to help, and I’m forever grateful for her. I could never repay her for everything she has done for me.”

“K.B.,” as Westry called her, became a safety net, a driver, a provider. She took Westry to local football camps, where he proved himself as a Southeastern Conference-level recruit. She put him up in her home. She helped feed him and clothe him.

Before long, Brody had become his godmother. “Very rarely do I ever ask for help,” said Westry, a self-described introvert. “And I figured I could trust her. … It was like, what’s understood ain’t need to be explained. With us, our relationship, you could say that off Day 1, because I don’t go out of my way to ask people for help. And when I did, she came through.”

When Westry signed with Kentucky and moved to Lexington, Brody kept him focused on the path ahead. It was the little gestures that mattered the most, Westry said — her reminders to complete his homework assignment before a midnight deadline, the 11-hour drives from Jacksonville to see him every so often.

“Things that nobody would ever do,” Westry said, “she did them for me.”

When his college career ended after 51 games and 34 starts for the Wildcats, Westry found a new home in the NFL. Signed as an undrafted free agent by the Cowboys in 2019, he sat out his rookie season with Dallas before appearing in two games in 2020.

Westry joined the Ravens this offseason, starred in training camp and made the team’s season-opening 53-man roster. A knee injury has limited him to just three games so far, but coach John Harbaugh on Monday called him a “great young man.” Westry’s skill set — a 6-foot-4 frame with good speed — is unique for a cornerback. Defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale joked earlier this season that “just coming off the bus,” Westry is “just unbelievable.”

“A guy that’s that big and that long and that fast,” Martindale said, “I don’t know how we got him here, but God bless [general manager] Eric [DeCosta] for doing it.”

Westry’s past month has been one of sudden changes. Brody’s stroke last month was so unexpected, he said, that he couldn’t visit her at her hospice facility. “That’s what hurt the most,” he said.

Less than two weeks later, Westry was active for the first time in almost two months, playing in the Ravens’ prime-time loss to the Dolphins. On Sunday, he earned his first career start, getting a career-high 56 defensive snaps in an up-and-down afternoon against the Chicago Bears.

Now more than ever, it is difficult for Westry to separate her life from his. His voice quavered at times as he explained what she meant to him.

“She meant the world to me, man,” he said. “She did damn near everything that she could in her power to help me be successful. And I honestly could say, like, if it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be in this position. There’s just so many things that I couldn’t even tell you that she’s done for me. … I’m just forever thankful for her.”

Westry still finds himself scrolling through their old text messages, staring at photos on his phone, reminders of his grief but also of others’. Brody left behind a devoted husband, Jon, and loving family members. Another godson of hers is raising his own family in Florida. It would be a tough Thanksgiving for them all, Westry knows.

He imagines what she would say to console him, and it is a message from the heavens blending love and pragmatism: “Hey, it’s part of life. You’ve got to keep going.” Wherever Westry’s life leads, he will make room for her legacy, for her spirit. At the end of a practice last week, he pointed to a necklace he wore. Hanging just over his heart was a small locket. Inside, he said, were Brody’s ashes.

“I’ll never take this off,” he said. “It’s just — it’s K.B., for sure.”

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