At the request of my parents, I am posting the text of my eulogy, delivered on Sunday night.
On behalf of my parents and Jeff, thank you for being here as we prepare to say goodbye to someone we all love very much. This is such an overwhelming turnout, which is a testament to the breadth of Shannon’s interests and experiences and we have found some comfort these past few days in the thoughts, prayers and memories shared by all of you who represent the various categories of people in her life.
Shannon and I were as close growing up as your typical siblings would be. Like any big brother, I pushed her around, tried to get away with some things I shouldn’t have, and even was responsible for her front teeth being knocked out prematurely (we were racing and she fell in the driveway). We naturally shared in many of the same interests, enjoyed our times together on vacation in New England or Virginia or Pennsylvania, and loved following the Mets and Giants. We actually got into it pretty often about who was more important to the Mets, Darryl Strawberry (my favorite) or Keith Hernandez (hers). She loved Keith Hernandez, loved him, it was his flair for the dramatic as much as his mustache that did it for her. Looking back, I was just glad to have a little sister who could knowledgably argue with me about baseball, how great is that?
We also loved Christmastime. It was natural, both of our birthdays fall close to Christmas, and growing up we shared the celebration of our birthdays. Throughout her life, Shannon took particular delight in the details of preparation for the big day. Anyone who had been to her apartments at Juniata or UVA knows this as well. At home, getting the tree with Dad, decorating it in just the right way, and as she got older, taking on some of the baking duties gave her such joy. I loved these candy cane cookies (they didn’t taste like them just looked like them) that my mom made when I was young and, knowing how much I loved them as a kid, out of nowhere a few years ago Shannon began making them herself and had made them every year since. She could bake the hell out of a cheesecake too. My mom’s is loved by all but some may not be aware that my sister’s was actually the featured cake at Easter these past few years.
During our teen years we were a little distant and we struggled to find common ground until Shannon was in college. I vividly remember the turning point. Can’t remember what year it was but Shannon was going to spend the summer at Juniata, maybe it was after her sophomore year, so maybe 1999. I drove her there on July 4th. On the long ride we listened to music, shared college stories that we’d never share in front of our parents, laughed and talked and connected in a way that we had not done before. Out to dinner, over a beer or two, we joked that we had become adults and were entering a new phase of our relationship. Ever since that day we shared in the knowledge that we were there for each other as needed. After graduating Juniata, Shannon moved on to her PhD program at the University of Virginia and I was fortunate to be able to visit her at least once a year. Those times in Charlottesville are particularly special to me because its not only where we strengthened our bond over beers and trips to visit local wineries and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, but, once I started dating Erin, its where Shannon was able to bond with her. Although not sisters by blood, they shared a special relationship and I know they had more than a few conversations that the details of which have never been shared with me. Believe me, I tried.
So Shannon held quite a few titles in her lifetime – daughter, little sister, cousin, significant other, good friend, lab partner, Valedictorian, Doctor…and, very soon, I expected that she would add two more: aunt and godmother to my children.
Of course, I’m forgetting one big one – Brewmaster! Not only did this little girl accumulate tremendous science knowledge, she used it for a wonderful purpose: brewing beer. She and Jeff worked hard for years at tinkering with various recipes. And she had no shortage of people on quality control duty, that’s for sure. She’d regularly update me on whatever brew they were working on and I’d wait impatiently for a few months and then would devour the six or twelve pack she’d prepare for me. Her beer and its high alcohol content has gotten me through some tough Giants end of season collapses these past few years, believe me. The Giants have been so bad in December the past couple of seasons that last year she moved from giving me 12 oz bottles to full bombers. A few years ago, I told her of my latest bright idea – I’d come up with some money and buy a small, local brewery. She and Jeff would then come in with their recipes and know-how and run the place. She appeased me and said, “Sure we’ll do that.” I know she thought I was crazy but it was a foolproof idea and I am sure it would not have failed. Because she never failed.
And that’s what I’ve realized these past few days. Whatever Shannon did, whether it was school, baking cookies, brewing beer or anything else she put her mind to – she was just good at everything. She had only been at her new job a couple of months, but from what the folks at MedErgy have shared with me, even they knew this.
I think what made Shannon so successful were two main qualities. She was stubborn and she was independent. These drove my parents crazy more than a few times but ultimately led to her achieving everything she wanted. I should mention that helping her along the way were a great sense of humor and a love of the simple things in this life.
I was just proud to be able to latch on to her coattails, whether at her high school graduation where I was the proudest older brother in the room or at UVA where she found her ultimate academic success. She’d send me her papers which, of course, were written in another language. But it didn’t matter to me – I couldn’t wait to share them with some of the people I work with who have similar backgrounds as her and could actually read and understand what was written.
Finally, Jeff, I don’t pretend to know what your plans together might have been. I am just so glad that she had/has you. Our family has been fortunate to get to know you and have you as part of our own. And that does not end tomorrow.
I’d like to close by sharing something that has provided some comfort to me this week. Sitting around, wallowing in sorrow and faith shaken, I was struck by a poem that was posted on facebook and gave me some much needed perspective. It’s fairly well known and you may have heard it before, but I’d like to share it. It’s called “The Little Ship.”
I STOOD WATCHING AS THE LITTLE SHIP SAILED OUT TO SEA. THE SETTING SUN TINTED HER WHITE SAILS WITH A GOLDEN LIGHT, AND AS SHE DISAPPEARED FROM SIGHT A VOICE AT MY SIDE WHISPERED, “SHE IS GONE.”
BUT THE SEA WAS A NARROW ONE. ON THE FARTHER SHORE A LITTLE BAND OF FRIENDS HAD GATHERED TO WATCH AND WAIT IN HAPPY EXPECTATION. SUDDENLY THEY CAUGHT SIGHT OF THE TINY SAIL AND, AT THE VERY MOMENT WHEN MY COMPANION HAD WHISPERED, “SHE IS GONE” A GLAD SHOUT WENT UP IN JOYOUS WELCOME, “HERE SHE COMES!”
In our sorrow, perhaps we can take some comfort that others who have left us are realizing a bittersweet joy.
We love you, Shannon.
This was featured at the viewing and my parents have requested that it be posted and shared.
Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush.
Of quiet birds in circling flight
I am the soft starlight at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry…
I am not there, I did not die.