A Year Later, Family And Friends Keep Teen’s Memory Alive
By: Christopher Kazarian
On this same day last year, sometime in the early evening, 16-year-old Shannon M. Thompson, then a sophomore at Falmouth High School, ran down the stairs of her father’s Waquoit home to the front door, turning around to look up to her father, Kevin D. Thompson, before she said the following words: “Hey, Dad, I love you.”
“I said, ‘I love you, too, honey’ and then she went out the door,” Mr. Thompson said. “She was leaving to go with her boyfriend to give him a rose. It was his birthday present.”
Those were the last words Shannon would ever say to her father. A little while later, while a passenger in her boyfriend’s car, Shannon lost her life in a single-car accident on Currier Road in East Falmouth after the vehicle she was in struck a utility pole near the intersection of Route 151.
The day before, Shannon and her mother, Patricia A. Heywood of East Falmouth, had been discussing the future, but in an instant those dreams were erased.
“I remember a conversation we had that she had just struck up out of the blue,” Ms. Heywood said, her voice cracking with emotion. “She asked me when I wanted to be a grandmother and I told her about 12 to 15 years after she goes to all her colleges, finds a nice man, has a house, and then I said, ‘I’ll be retired by then and watch your kids.’ She said, ‘You would do that for me?’ and I said, ‘Absolutely.’ And she said the same thing, ‘I love you, momma.’ That was our last conversation.”
A year later the pain of the past year has yet to subside for Mr. Thompson and Ms. Heywood.
The news of Shannon’s death was delivered by two Falmouth police officers who first knocked on Mr. Thompson’s door shortly after 9 PM. “It was the worst nightmare any parent could ever expect to have,” Mr. Thompson said.
A little over an hour later that same knock came to Ms. Heywood’s door when she and her husband, Timothy W. Heywood, were both in bed, recuperating from a winter cold.
Ms. Heywood’s reaction was one of denial. “I didn’t believe she was killed. I thought she was just hurt,” she said. “They wouldn’t let me see her. I didn’t sleep for about two weeks. Life has never been the same. It is like the rug is pulled out from under you and all your hopes and dreams vanish in a second.”
Those hopes and dreams were embodied in a teenager whom her two parents, who had been married for 13 years, described as happy, helpful and intelligent.
Shannon was a leader, her mother said, the type of person who “if she saw someone get lost in the shadows would bring them out.”
In school she excelled as a student, an A-plus student who got upset “if she got anything below an A,” Ms. Heywood said.
She was on the math team, a member of Model UN and a musician who played the guitar, saxophone, xylophone, and marimba. She used her musical talents as a member of the symphony and marching bands at Falmouth High School as well as the winter percussion.
And she balanced her free time between volunteering to teach 4th graders at the Mullen-Hall School the saxophone and work at Ben & Bill’s Chocolate Emporium on Main Street.
She had aspirations of attending Brown University and was planning, on the weekend she was buried at St. Joseph’s Cemetery, to visit the college “to make sure she would get everything on their lists so there would be no way they could refuse her,” Ms. Heywood said. “Her senior friends thought she was crazy.”
She had even gone so far, as part of a school project, to photoshop a picture of her face on one of the members of the Brown University Marching Band.
To say the past year has been difficult for the two is an understatement. The weeks following Shannon’s death were like a blur. Mr. Thompson described it as sleepwalking, “this surreal sensation that still exists now. It still feels like it hasn’t really happened. I still wait to wake up and see her.
“No child is living and breathing one second with all these dreams and goals and then gone in another second,” Ms. Heywood said. “You don’t know how to think. You don’t know how to exist. You don’t know how to breathe. You have to learn to live again. Your life is forever changed.”
Mr. Thompson, a plant supervisor at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, has had days when he has not been able to go into work.
After recovering from an injury and coping with her daughter’s death, Ms. Heywood, a teacher’s assistant in a preschool program at the East Falmouth Elementary School, returned to school in September. There are times when students ask how many children she has. Those are the difficult moments, she said, and her answer is always the same: two. “I still talk about her in the present,” Ms. Heywood said. “I can’t tell a 4-year-old I have one, and one died. I can’t.”
Her other son, Seth P. Heywood, 13, also has difficulties coping with the loss. Just a month earlier at Christmas they had received a Wii and were playing it together all the time. “Now he won’t play it anymore,” Ms. Heywood said.
The entire experience has brought to the forefront life’s deeper questions: Why are we here? What is our purpose in life?
To be honest, they said, they do not have those answers. “I leave it in God’s hands,” Mr. Thompson said.
For Ms. Heywood, there is more of a bitterness and an anger. “People are not meant to bury their children. They are so energetic and full of life,” she said. “I still hear people reassure me she is in a better place. If she is in a better place, then why don’t we all die?”
There are times when she cries upon hearing a certain song or looking at a picture. “You never know when it is going to hit you,” she said. “Some people say it will get better, but it hasn’t for me. I still miss her. I look at her bed every day. I keep her toothbrush next to mine because I don’t like the empty hole. Her hairbrush and everything is still there, as if she is ready to pick it up again.”
But despite struggling through the toughest year of their lives, the two have benefited from the kindness of family, friends, and strangers, all of whom have been touched in some way by Shannon.
A granite memorial bench and maple tree were donated anonymously and placed at the rear of Falmouth High School leading into the band room, in honor of Shannon.
A scholarship fund was started in Shannon’s memory last year, targeted to Falmouth High School music students. The first recipient was Elizabeth Leader who graduated last June and is now attending Taylor University in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Money for the scholarship has been raised in a variety of ways, from car washes organized by the National Honor Society to a spring fundraiser by the Cape Cod British Car Club, of which Mr. Thompson is a member.
Some of Shannon’s friends created grayish-blue memorial bracelets with proceeds from the sales going toward the scholarship. The top reads Shannon Mary Thompson while underneath is one of Shannon’s favorite sayings: “The World Is My Playground.”
Musician Aston Wright of Falmouth donates the Monday lesson that Shannon once had, 4 to 4:30 PM, to a local student in need as a way to honor her memory. He has also produced a CD of songs he wrote in her memory.
Yesterday afternoon, as a light rain fell on Falmouth, many of those who have helped preserve Shannon’s legacy met at the memorial bench at Falmouth High School before heading to the Falmouth Elks Club on Palmer Avenue for a celebration of her life.
They remembered the small things that made Shannon special. Junior Sara Fredd, 17, talked about lunchtime discussions with Shannon when the topic was usually their favorite author, Chuck Paluhniuk.
Junior Amanda Gay, 16, mentioned playing games like Snood and Sims on the computer with Shannon, while her classmate Lexy Poulos, 16, laughed about a friend’s birthday party when she and Shannon were wrestling in an inflatable Moon Bounce and it collapsed. “We argued to this day about who won that wrestling match,” Lexy said.
One of her closest friends, Maile Kolton, 18, a freshman at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth said today, and this entire week, will be difficult for her. “I’m planning to spend time with my friends, so I’m not alone,” she said. “I don’t want to be alone by myself. It doesn’t feel like it’s been a year, but at the same time it feels like it’s been a million years.”
Mr. Wright who performed at yesterday’s memorial gathering with Jaden Black, 16, said the past year was a blur for him. “I don’t remember the person I was before this,” he said. “It is hard to put into words what her death means. All of us here are all a family now.”
Jaden said Shannon was “one of the best persons I have ever met in my life. She was one of my closest friends.”
For all who knew Shannon there is a sense of denial, refusing to believe she is gone.
“It has been really hard to see all her close friends go through so much pain,” junior Leslie Ress, 16, said. “Sometimes I feel like it is just a dream.
“We all miss her,” Ms. Heywood’s husband said. “Not a day goes by that you don’t feel like she is going to walk through the door. We are missing a little something in our household, actually a lot of something.”
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