Thursday, April 22, 2004
Today I'd like to tell y'all a tale about a guy I once knew, named Shane. It's a story about a happy-go-lucky guy who overcame some tough stuff in his life to come out on top. A guy who taught me that friendship absolutely can make all the difference in the world, and maybe even save your life. This is a journey about a guy with a heart of gold.

Shane grew up as what many would call a "bad" or "troubled" kid. He got into fights, he got into all sorts of trouble and he got into drugs and alcohol. By age 13 he was addicted to everything from cocaine to booze, and was even selling cocaine to pay for his own habits. He was out of control by anyone's measure, and his parents didn't know what to do with him. Several overdoses later he had decided it was time to make some changes. At age 15 he decided to check into a rehab in Texas.

When he was done his time there he came back to Toronto with a new and driven will to live. He threw himself into the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) program and got involved in every aspect. He went to conventions all over North America, he joined the board for the home group in his area, he sponsored countless addicts (in the program you get a sponsor, someone you mentor under and go to for help, questions, and someone to speak to in confidence), he helped at treatment centres and the head office for AA in Toronto and he travelled to highschools to speak to students about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. Speaking to kids was a particularly important part of his life, for he felt he could really help other kids by telling them his story in the hopes that they wouldn't make the same mistakes he did. His influence worked well, as the kids identified well with him, because of his young age. Shane lived, breathed and ate AA, and it became his salvation from his addiction. It would also be instrumental in him maintaining his sobriety when his mother died of cancer. He is an inspiration to me and many others.

I met Shane in January 2000 when I walked into the rooms of AA looking to make some changes in my own life (there's something new you just learned about me! but today isn't about me, so perhaps I'll tell MY story another day); after nearly a year on my own I couldn't go on without help. He was an angel, and I was thrilled to find someone my age in a sea of middle aged men and women. I latched onto him immediately and we quickly became fast friends (no, it never went beyond that). We spent endless hours in coffee shops talking, or walking around, or at meetings together. Sometimes I would take him to see his mom's grave. At one time he even lived on my living room floor when he was "between homes". Shane was happy despite having no money, no job and often no home (his home life was broken because of his past, never to be repaired). He had his sobriety and that's all he needed. And when it came time for me to celebrate my first year of sobriety I chose him to host my evening with our AA group and to give me my medallion. We had a bond that transcended your average friendship...we were friends born out of a need to find someone who understood us for the addicted misfits that we were. We were friends in the best of times, and partners in the worst. Shane was my friend, my support system and my lifeline.

Three years ago today Shane was killed by a drunk driver on his way home from an AA meeting. It was a Sunday night, about 9:30pm, when a 19 year old girl plowed her dad's car into the side of the car carrying Shane and our friend Andy, who was giving him a ride home. The girl who ran the red light got out without so much as a scratch and blew far beyond the legal limits for drinking (something absurd, like 4x the amount). She and her friend didn't even know what had happened. Meanwhile, Andy had sustained life threatening injuries and Shane was killed instantly (unfortunately I saw the wreck on the news that morning, a sight I will never forget). The irony was not lost on us.....killed on his way home from an AA meeting, by a drunk driver? Unbelievable. By a girl, about the age he often talks to at these schools (and likely DID talk at her school)? Unreal.
And tragic, to be sure.

I got the call the next morning from my sponsor. I don't remember much after that, it was all a terrible blur. My mother came from work after I called her in a completely hysterical state. Soon after I went to my sponsor's house, as did more than 50 others, as we all converged and tried to understand what happened. One woman, one of the "moms" of the group who knew Shane for over 10 years, gave me a big hug and said "You know that Shane had a terrible crush on you, don't you?". No actually, I had no idea. I broke down. I called a friend on a trip overseas to break the news, something I never want to have to do again. My sponsor and I met with Shane's family and the Rabbi that afternoon to make funeral arrangements (don't even get me started on his family). It's amazing how much you can accomplish when you are in shock.

His funeral was the next day, and I can safely say it was the biggest funeral I have ever attended in my life. It was packed and eventually became standing room only. People squeezed in wherever they could, and those who couldn't fit inside stood outside. And the reason the funeral was so packed despite having next to no family in attendance, was because his AA family was there, and there were MANY. But what made me absolutely break down was the sight of all the kids that showed up, hundreds of them, to pay their respects to the guy who came into their schools to tell them that they didn't have to take the path he did. Kids of all ages came, one after another, to show their love. If Shane only knew how many lives he touched....oh, if he only knew.
At his gravesite, as the Rabbi read his eulogy and prayers and earth was thrown on top of his grave, I tossed in my one year medallion on top of his coffin. Without him, I could not have accomplished it, and I wanted him to know I owed my success, in great part, to him.

Shane was just 26 years old when he died, and months away from celebrating 10 years of sobriety. He was buried just steps away from his mom, just like he wanted.

Meanwhile Andy, the driver, had a long struggle of his own. He had to fight long and hard for his life, and he was not expected to live. It would be days before he would regain consciousness, and weeks before he could move. He had extensive damage to his brain, kidneys, lungs and just about everything else. This of course, is only half the damage. The emotional toll it has taken has yet to heal, and probably never will. He rarely comes to meetings anymore.

I, for one, think of Shane each and every day. I miss his goofy laugh and most of all I miss his hugs; whenever he hugged me his arms would envelop me and I would get swallowed in his embrace. His hugs were the best, they always made me feel safe and warm. And I too struggled with going back to the meetings, since they were never the same without him. I expected to see him around the corner, or to get up and say something that reminded me of why I needed to stay focused in my own life. Not a day goes by that he doesn't cross my mind, and I wouldn't have it any other way. I will not forget him. If you wish to see his tribute page on the website for Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) click here. For an article written about him in the paper (his story made many of the local papers) click here.

Do I really need to remind everyone why drinking and driving is bad? It ruins lives. It has a ripple effect, and affects hundreds of people. If you need help or know someone who does, then DO something. And if you see someone who is about to drive when they shouldn't, do whatever you have to in order to stop them. Please.

Below I have included a quote I put near Shane's grave, as I felt it was eerily appropriate. The picture you see in this post is of us outside an AA meeting about a month before he died (yes, you can have fun at those meetings!). In the picture you can see me yelling at him for having a cigarette hanging out of his mouth (unlit) for the picture when I was trying to get a nice pic of us together (that's his smoke in my hand, as I pulled it out and yelled at him). Behold the shit-disturbing grin on his face while I nag him. The picture after that one, the less-than-candid one where we posed just like I wanted, did not turn out. Those would be the only pictures I ever got of us together, and the last ones ever taken of him.).

Now if you'll excuse me, I am going to put flowers on his grave, and light a candle for him.

"It may be that he is not famous. It may be that he never will be. It may be that when his life at last comes to an end he will leave no more trace of his sojourn on earth than a stone thrown into a river leaves on the surface of the water......

But it may be that the way of life that he has chosen for himself and the strength and sweetness of his character may have an ever growing influence over his fellow men so that, long after his death perhaps, it may be realized that there lived in this age a very remarkable creature."
- W. Somerset Maugham "The Razor's Edge"