Monday, June 12, 2006


We lost a dear friend last week, and the world isn’t quite as nice a place as it was with her in it. Shae was the person who just lit up a room, who made you feel special, who never criticized or questioned, who was always there with a smile. She was so happy to be here in Italy, at long last, and now she’ll be here forever, in this place she loved.

Some of the best times we’ve had were with Shae. When we gathered, eight of us, for dinner last Christmas, we all thought it would be the first of many such celebrations. We all promised ourselves that by next Christmas we’d speak in nothing but Italian and Shae was probably the most fluent among us.

The reason Shae had become so fluent was because she was out in the community, speaking with Italians every day. She became the choir director of her town church when they had all but given up on finding someone to lead them. She loved working not only with the music, but also with this group of people, most over the age of seventy, who all loved to sing. And sing they did!

We were fortunate enough to be invited to a party that Shae gave last December to thank the members of the choir for their hard work and dedication. The table in the dining was filled with beautiful platters of food, there was plenty of wine, and Shae’s grand piano sat in the corner, just waiting.

Once everyone had arrived, Shae took her place at the keyboard, and the group sang with joy. They sang mostly in Italian, but also in English. Some of the songs were seasonal, some not. Everyone in the room sang with such enthusiasm and fervor, and it was easy to see why Shae enjoyed her job as choirmaster so much.

When the pastor (who was in his eighties!) arrived, he gave short speech in which he said that Shae had been sent from heaven to save the choir. Truth be told, I think she loved the choir as much as they loved her.

When she returned from a visit to the states last January, we put off meeting for lunch because she had the flu. She kept fighting it off, and eventually we agreed to meet for lunch in Orvieto, even though she still wasn’t feeling up to par.

After fighting what she thought was the flu, she eventually went to the doctor. When nothing seemed to be helping, and when her stomach pains were so intense she could stand it no longer, she went to the hospital for tests.

The worst thing about finding out that someone has pancreatic cancer is knowing that it’s probably already too late. This cancer seems to be able to hide itself quite well, and usually by the time it’s diagnosed, it’s well into stage four, which was the case with Shae. The cancer had spread to her liver and her stomach, and the only thing left was to make her as comfortable as possible.

The outpouring from her small community was unbelievable. People bought her food, gifts such as new nightgowns for the hospital, and visited regularly. Once she was back home, I doubt there was a day when food wasn’t delivered to her home.

Whatever Shae was given seemed to do a good job of keeping her pain at bay, and when we spoke to her she was always cheerful and positive. When she told me that she’d like me to make her some brownies once we returned from our visit to the states, I knew I shouldn’t wait that long. I baked up the gooey-est, chocolatey-est, most decadent batch of brownies and mailed them off to her immediately. I wanted her to be able to enjoy them while she could, and her email letting me know they’d arrived and were delicious reassured me that she had.

Shae’s sister told me that Shae’s pain was managed effectively until the end, and that she died peacefully at home, surrounded by her family. Her friends from the village took care of the funeral arrangements, and she was buried the next day, here in Italy, the place she loved. We won’t say goodbye, simple “ci vediamo”….”see you later”. We feel privileged to have known Shae, even though our time together was much too short.


At 6/16/2006 07:32:00 PM , Blogger Farmwife said...

As I was reading, once I got to the part about stomach pain, I knew what was next. My mom was diagnosed March 31. Her only symptoms were loss of appetite, being tired, and depressed. She was 86 and had just packed up a house and moved 3000 miles. No red flags. Until that she was healthy, active, and seemed at least 10 years younger.
She passed away on April 21, eight days after her 87th birthday. I keep wondering why we don't hear about Pancreatic Cancer in the media. The cancers we do hear about have a good survival rate. By the time you know you have Pancreatic Cancer, it's too late. By the way, in my research I found that not only did Michael Landon die from it, but also Marcello Mastroianni. Dear Marcello, I fell in love with him when I was 10, ah, but I digress.
I just wish that more information about it would get into the media...


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