When a friend dies, grieving is private. All the cards and letters and flowers go to the family of the deceased. the friends cook and clean and help prop up the partner and the parents and the children . We weep quietly alone at home, or in the spice aisle of the grocery store when the grief washes over us, or we scream our sorrow into the wind while riding down a steep hill.
I see her, my friend Shannon, I see her sometimes still. There she is now, in fact, sitting in the bus across the street, looking out the window. She doesn’t see me. It is not her. there’s another one, look, the way she is walking as she turns the corner, it’s her–
no it’s not.
Shannon died in 2007. She died in pain and alone. I was awake, probably the moment she gave up the ghost, about 2 or 3 in the morning. I’m often awake at that time, i get up and have a glass of water and read a paragraph of one of the books by my bed or I stand at my window and look for the moon.
that night, i was troubled. i try to remember if I thought of her, I don’t know if I did. She had just got out of the hospital the evening before. She’d been there for 5 weeks. and was let out not because she was better but because her bed was needed.
god. how i miss her.
and sharper now because an extraordinary thing happened.
I met her sister. A sister that she never met. Here’s the story:
in 1961, Shannon’s mom had a baby. She couldn’t have an abortion, she couldn’t marry the man she was dating–(not then, she eventually did, but not for a few years). She gave the baby for adoption and did the best she could. what to do? birth control was obviously ineffective, abortion was inaccessible (and unthinkable at the time, for her), and she just … capitulated.
Fast forward, Shannon’s mom and dad had a whole bumch more children. One of them, the one born shortly after their marriage, was in and out of foster care and addiction–his father took it out on him–the reason for this dreadful marriage, he figured. it was never Daddy’s fault, he never considered that had he kept his pecker in his pants, he would not have had to take care of all those children. it was the oldest boy’s fault that he had to get married, it was his wife’s fault that they had to get married, it was anything but his own behaviour. He blamed his wife, he blamed his kids, and is wife, this bright beautiful sensitive girl, she blamed herself, too.
Shannon was born in 1970. Into this tragic family.
oh, she was a gift. the only girl in that family–she was her mother’s pride and joy. Smart, beautiful, athletic, stubborn, willful. She was a handful. I don’t know the half of it.
I met Shannon in the late 1990s, we worked together in a mental health drop-in, a place for people who’ve been involved in the psychiatric system to come–whether they were ‘patients’ ‘survivors’ or ‘consumers’–didn’t matter. C’mon in, have a cup of coffee, wanna game of crib? want to sign up for lunch? There’s walking group in an hour, you in? these things, this place, we were a family. After a while, we were a family. I loved working there.
Shannon was finishing her master’s degree. Anthropology? Sociology? i think the former, but i’m not sure now. She was living with a man, (but she broke up with him after a while)–she had a daughter, she was always laughing and joking and cleaning at work. We took a shine to one another.
And we started drinking together. I don’t even know how it happened, that partying thing. but we’d get together every week for a while there to drink. Sometimes I’d babysit her daughter while she was off working or something, but not often. Her daughter used to like me, when we first met, but I drank too hard, and was not good for her mom, she could see that, and it made her really mad. Then she hated me.
Oh, alcohol. How I wish I had never met Johnny Walker and his ilk.
But then again, in some ways, he brought me to Shannon.
We sobered up together finally, after burning a few bridges and damaging a few more. Can two drowning people save each other? Yes. we could. for a while.
This is hard to write. My friend was bi-polar. I’m sure it was because her father was a brute, and she was not safe from his anger her whole childhood. She loved her dad, oh, yes–but she was so mad at him. and she had a lot of trouble holding that anger and that love for him in her heart. She had a hard time.
We loved each other, Shannon and I. she was a good friend to me, generous and funny and kind and volatile and troubled and belligerent and tender and all of it all of it. We went through some hard times and then we went through some better times and I couldn’t see that she was losing her grip. She loved life. LOVED life, with that big heart, all of it, she loved–but she couldn’t find a way to be in life. She couldn’t find a way out of the depression that caught her time and time again over and over and darkened the way forward and hid her friends in shadows and stifled the spark she had.
I know i’ve written of her here before somewhere. early on. I will always know her. Always love her.
and her oldest sister, the one she only spoke with a few times, the one she never met but always knew and understood, she contacted me. She wrote me a letter…”I am S___, Shannon’s older sister…” she wrote. And i leaned back in my chair as all the air left my body with a ‘whoomp’.
Shannon. Shannon, she’s here, I’ll send her your love.
So I wrote her a letter too, and I told her as much as I could remember and some of it was hard to write and probably hard to read. But we met and she read it and she said, at one point, “it’s okay. I want to know everything” and she looked at me with eyes so like Shannon’s, and she gave me a gift of cookies and a photograph in a nice frame (Shannon loved to cook and bake, too, when she was well–she was always feeding people she loved). She was gracious and a bit nervous, my friends sister. And she was her own woman, a totally different woman than my friend had been, but so much alike. The way her hair fell over her forehead, the way her voice sounded, that one gesture she made as she was ordering tea at the shop in the Quay there. I feel like we have begun something.
She looked for me. She looked for me because I was an important friend–among many many important friends–I didn’t know Shannon for long, we didn’t grow up together, we were not related, we only worked together for a couple of years, really. But we were kin. We knew each other, deep and sure.
I hope that I will be able to share my memories of and my love for Shannon with her sister. We are in a way grieving her loss on the peripheries of Shannon’s life–She is family, but they never met–she grieved alone, far from anyone who ever knew her sister, or even knew of her. To find and then lose such a bright spark–almost too much to bear. Maybe we can be something to each other that can ease that lonesomeness a little.