Wednesday, March 24, 2010

In Memoriam

Our son and his cousin Shanti were born a month apart. In a family with lots of cousins layered severally in time, they were pretty close. Today is the anniversary of the day Shanti died, in her twenty-fourth year, nine years ago.

As we often do (usually on her birthday), my wife and I went to the small community park on Bainbridge Island where there's a circular teak bench in her name. Shanti's dad made it, then took it apart and sent the pieces to everyone in the family, and some friends. We stained them, oiled them, sanded and polished them, then put it together and mounted it there, in the park, planted a cherry tree in the middle. The tree has grown impressively, and the trinkets we've hung on it over the years remain. Overlooking a pond where there are ducks and geese, paths for running and wheeling kids on strollers, it's in a lovely spot.

Shanti forced you to love her. Well, it was so easy and universal I can't say there was any coercion involved. But no matter who you were, she wanted to know you. Even me, who, for most of her life, was absent from many family gatherings, working; and when I was there, tired and sometimes distant. Not allowed. Shanti came over, sat down, and wanted to talk. She was beautiful.

A few years earlier, my brother's daughter died, at age twenty, in her junior year at Grinnell. Slyly humorous, smart and with warmth that radiated as if from a glowing briquet, she was considered their best friend by everyone she knew. Lori and Shanti didn't know each other, but they were remarkably alike, in physical beauty (one blond and fair, the other dark and shining) and in their genuine and active interest in and love for the people in their lives, reciprocated as if an essential part of your life. You couldn't not want to be in their presence. It was too much fun; there was too much light and joy to ignore.

Time heals not much, fractured, ambivalently. The acuity of the pain is diminished, I guess, but it seems with each passing year, the sense of loss is greater, the feeling of having been robbed of something really precious. At the time of their deaths, each had serious boyfriends. Each would have wanted to marry and have kids, and they'd have been spectacular moms, their kids lucky as kids can be. Both had spent lots of time working with children, and their love was obviously mutual. Pictures show it. Letters show it. What a loss, doubly, of tragic proportions. Their parents and siblings will always be in pain, the worst. But my wife and I, increasingly it seems, feel their absence, as presumed step stones of life are passed, untrod.

Today, at the bench, it felt all too immediate, the presence of absence was everywhere.

Om, Shanti. Shalom, Lori. How I wish to know you as you'd have been now. The world needs you both. We all do.


  1. Thank you Sid for this moving tribute which encompasses every parent's love for the child who died too young. Many of us have been there, and we always wonder why. Why it could happen. But it does and we go on, looking for strength and hope ahead, and perhaps, even, a life after this one.

  2. Dr S - I am so sorry you and your family lost your beautiful and precious nieces. This was a beautiful tribute to them. And they were beautiful girls. Your son is obviously very handsome too.

    It hurts to lose our older relatives ..but seems so wrong ..unfair when someone is so young.

    The bench is such a terrific idea. I've never heard of doing anything like that and in a public place too. Very special.

    I adored my uncles and no doubt you and your wife were special to them.

  3. Such a beautifully written tribute to your lovely niece.

    "Shanti forced you to love her.." - Wow. I just love that particular line! So much energy and power behind those words for the reader. And in such a short sentence!

    And, I just love the photo of the 2 cousins beaming brightly together there when they were younger. I really admire how her father and family members chose to go about physically crafting, creating and planting things that will only bring more everlasting tenderness and beauty to the memory of a life that ended so early. As the reader above wrote in his comment, indeed, it is a very "moving tribute" to a cherished loved one. Moved me to tears, actually...

    March 14th marked the third month since my family lost our dearest golden girl cousin, Laura, in December. She was 25 years-old and was just 1 month past celebrating her first wedding anniversary. She'd been diagnosed with a relentless and particularly vicious form of ovarian cancer just weeks prior to her wedding day in November of 2008. It's just all so very bittersweet & painful for all of us still right now...her Dad chose to similarly honor her memory as Shanti's Father did, by creating something with his hands and hard work. In his case, it's a charitable foundation that will (hopefully!) help us honor Laura's memory in the future--when no more fathers and husbands will face losing their beloved daughters and wives to such a stealthy form of cancer. (I'm not including the url to the foundation's site here though because I'm not sure if that's considered a commercial site?)

    I hope in the years to come, that our family is as successful at honoring our dearly beloved cousin as your family has been with Shanti's memory.

  4. These are the times that the human heart/"soul" of those of us that are not believers in a beyond cannot settle. Sickness, and loss. YOUNG loss. The hardest. Those silly emails that ask "What do you fear the most (accompanied by What's your favorite movie?)my answer is always Death. And it's death of anyone close and dear, young, a child, a neighbor's teen, a violent death to a young person. And myself. Because, if we don't see a beyond, it's the final silence of a lovely, moving, intelligent human that will never again grace our world. Just with their breath.

    I read this with sorrow, Dr. So sorry for your pain.

  5. Forgot to also include - "...the presence of absence is everywhere.." - another standout statement that really caught my eye and heart when reading this post.

    Lori and Shanti would be so pleased with how you chose to honor their memories today.

  6. What a wonderful tribute to these two young women. Fortunately they still live in you.''
    Gary L

  7. It's hard not to wonder what they would have done, isn't it. I think about my older brother who died at 28 and wonder if we would have grown closer with age, what he would have gone on to do, etc.

    Anyway, hug the ones who remain. Enjoy them while you can.


  8. Hey Sid. Thanks for posting that. JGC's car accident the other day brought all those memories flooding back. How quickly live can change. I feel blessed to have known her.


  9. Sid:
    What a beautiful tribute to two beautiful young women. Sadly the feelings are all too familiar and Adam's tree and memorial stone in Tompkins Square in Manhattan is our version of your Bainbridge Island.

  10. A beautiful memorial. Thank you for sharing it with us.


  11. Dear Sid-

    Thank you for the beautiful words and loving tribute to our daughter Shanti Dawn. It means so much to us. The oceans of love and support that our family has radiated have enabled us to keep our boat afloat for the past nine years.
    Grieving is nebulous at best and there is no manual to consult or Wikipedia page to learn from. It seems that we all have to go it alone and do as good as we can.
    Over the years the anguish has changed somehow but not diminished in the least. Those who speak of 'closure' and other such catch phrases concerning the loss of a child, well they just haven't been there. There is no closure and frankly I have never even remotely considered that as an option. I don't want closure, somehow it just feels right to suffer sometimes.
    So another March 24th goes by and I have to admit that this year, the ninth 'March 24th' that we have experienced, was the toughest one I can remember; another testament to the ambiguous nature of catastrophic loss. Now with the Ides of March in the rear view mirror and the promises of the spring equinox in our front seat, we continue on down the road of life.
    I am so thankful that you are cruising with us!
    Love, Shanti's Dad

  12. Sid,

    So sorry for the loss to you and your family. I am relatively young yet, so I've not directly experienced very many losses like this. I did, however, lose a friend, far too young, when we were sophomores in college.

    We were good friends in high school, even went to senior prom together, and worked together for the parks department for a couple of years. We later went to different schools, but kept in relatively good touch.

    She suffered from Primary Pulmonary Hypertension and ultimately passed away from complications only hours after lung transplant surgery.
    She was beautiful, intensely intelligent, and irrepressibly positive. In the face of her illness she displayed tremendous courage and optimism, never letting it get her, or anyone around her, down.

    Such promise and potential, never realized, is tragedy in itself. The loss of this particular friend, at such a young age, was devastating. I agonized over her death for a long time, wishing against reality that it just wasn't so. You're absolutely right that time cannot completely heal the wounds, as the scars are still evident. It's been 19 years, but if I think about it for too long I get upset and a little weepy. I still miss her.

    Thank you, Sid, for the wonderfully written tribute to your nieces, and by my selfish extension, to my friend. It's a nice reminder that any immortality that we might have exists in the memories of loved ones and the mark we might leave on the world.

  13. Honor to the love and kindness you give us. Honor for the loss you carry. Honor to Shanti's sprit.


Comments back, moderated. Preference given for those who stay on topic.

Popular posts