Live Your Legacy – Colleen Stine
In this episode of You Fit Here, CB interviews CS all about the loss of her sister, Shannon. How she lived her legacy every day and inspires all of us to do the same. So even though it’s not an easy story to tell or to hear, we hope that CS and Shannon’s story is one that can inspire you.
***TRIGGER WARNING: We have done our best to identify content in our writing that might be triggering or emotional. This blog post goes into description about murder, suicide, and the grief that accompanies it. We feel that sharing our life experiences is one of the ways we can help others cope with their lives, but we feel it is fair to warn you in case this might be close to home or troublesome for you. Thanks so much for being a part of the EVERYKIND family!***
Beginning it all, we thought it was important for you to hear some events that preceded Shannon’s death in July of 2014. CS’s younger cousin, Zachary, had passed away on July 19th because of a drug overdose. She heard about it from her sister Shannon, and was both shocked and saddened by the news. His mom called and asked CS to give the eulogy at his funeral, and she honored that request for her cousin whom she loved. Later her parents, sisters, Maddie, and CS got to go to dinner, which was special because although they were all grieving over the loss of their little cousin, it was a rare treat that CS, her parents, and her sisters (and Maddie) got to go out. CS says that she is thankful that is something that they decided to do, because she had no idea that it would be the last time all five of them would sit down together. CS compares these moments to “flowers in the sidewalk” which end up being little things you hold dear when you didn’t know that you would need to. During this time Shannon and her boys were living with her parents after having finalized her divorce in early July, and because CS was staying with her parents for the funeral, they were all together. During the week, Shannon got some really hurtful texts from he ex-husband, David, and was crying, resulting in one of the boys asking her “why?”. As CS puts it, in her “goodness” she responded with “daddy is just hurting and so is mommy, you don’t need to worry”. Her kind words in this moment serve as an encouragement to CS, because even though it would have been so easy to become angry, she chose not to be. Having witnessed this, Colleen knows Shannon would never want her to curse David’s name despite having taken Shannon’s and his own life. In fact, Zachary’s funeral was the last time CS saw Shannon in person. She remembers that at the peace meal, her sister came and swooped up little Maddie to play with her and just love on her, leaving CS grateful to have a little room to breathe. CS says “I don’t specifically remember my last goodbye, but I was thankful for her”. In her last encounter with Shannon CS was feeling was gratitude for her kindness and love, attributes that she’ll always remember her for. According to CS, Shannon was “her person”.
The next event CS talks about is July 27, when they spent the weekend with her in-laws at the Lake of the Ozarks. It was beautiful and also her father in law’s birthday. On the way back from the trip she was able to call her sister who was busy setting up her second grade classroom for the upcoming school year, something she was happy to be doing and something that made CS wish she was with her. During this call Shannon talked about watching the movie Heaven is for Real with her boys, which was something special for the three of them, and something that CS truly hopes that Shannon believed. She says “I hope that she believed that she would go to heaven, makes the load a little lighter”
Coming back from this trip seemed like it would be a return to normal life. “You get home, and do what you do, and don’t imagine that [something bad] could happen” -CS. In fact, when the news came about Shannon, CS was giving her babies, Maddie and Ryan a bath. She was not on her phone and happy to be spending time with her kids, when she thought about taking a picture. When she picked up her phone she had 4 missed phone calls from her parents, which was unusual and concerning. However, nothing could have prepared her to hear her mother say “she’s gone”. Struggling through his mental illness, Shannon’s ex-husband killed her and then himself in front of their two boys and Shannon’s parents.
“Imagine hearing that about your person” – CS
Once it all sunk in CS was screaming and feeling like she lost her mind. Once her husband had the kids CS, for lack of a better word, had a “temper tantrum”, pounding on the floor, feeling out-of-mind, just not knowing what to do. Soon after, she called her best friend Colleen, and she and her mother in law came over, and very quickly CS and Doug packed up their bags and went to Indiana.
On this trip Colleen remembers 3 things
- One was that she had so many texts from so many people that were just an outpouring of love
- She also remembers stopping at a gas station and being so pissed off at everyone because all she could think was that her life was over but everyone just was going on living their normal lives
- And the last thing is that she remembers saying to Doug “you know we’re moving to Indiana”
Once in Indiana, CS and her family were all able to stay in Shannon’s friend Chrissy’s house. The house was huge, and CS says “I’m so thankful for their huge house, that’s why they had it”-CS. The house was able to hold everyone, which in the grieving, was really important.
Another significant moment once she was Indiana was when Colleen went to check on her sister’s boys who were watching The Incredibles. She doesn’t exactly remember it for herself, but Danny tells her that she told them “I’m going to take care of you”.
What is your grieving like?
CS explains her grieving first by addressing how she had to think about David’s mindset before he acted. CS had loved him in the years prior, but what happened was David was feeling very angry with Shannon. When they were married, Shannon had started to adopt a healthier lifestyle, but instead of being supportive of her, David became resentful of the positive change in her life. CS says he was a good guy, but he struggled with depression. She wishes she could understand better, but all she knows is that when it got the worst point, when he killed Shannon and himself, he was not in his right mind.
Another reminder in her grieving is that in reality, he could have taken them all. Her parents, Danny and Connor were there, but he didn’t shoot them, and now CS can’t imagine doing life without the four of them. She says, “We are literally an everyday team”.
In the immediate process of grieving, right after Shannon’s death, Colleen says that she got really busy which took up some grieving space. They moved and got the boys which took up the time she would’ve had to think. CS’s first real “breakdown” didn’t happen until her first date with her husband after they moved to Indiana. The moment itself was hard, but once they got back it was really something her mother needed to see because she was worried about her. As for everyone who knew and loved Shannon though, CS says “I don’t even know what they’re going through… everybody is a different capacity”
For CS, to this day, her sister and all that happened is still the first thing she thinks about in the morning., Her grief is sporadic, and occurs, sometimes when she’s angry.
“My grief goes like waves”-CS
However, something that she learned from a card from sweet friends is that grief is the price of love, and in regards to loss CS says that the answer is not to be angry or try to go back in time to change what happened.
How do the boys handle what happened?
When considering the boys’ grief Colleen doesn’t entirely know herself, and they are also very different. Pretty soon after their parents died, CS’s cousin Laura asked her friend, who helps kids who experience domestic violence, to come be with the boys. So she came and stayed with them and was a counselor for the boys. At the time, Danny who was 8 lashed out a lot and missed mom and dad a lot. With his grief, his emotions were intense. Connor on the other hand has always been more quiet and also more of a challenge. For CS, the biggest challenge was that she knew them as nephews and did not know the little details about them.
Now that the boys have gotten older, Danny talks very openly to CS about his parents. Connor hasn’t really opened up but he values the fact that there is no bashing of his father. Some advice that Collen received from a counsellor pretty early on about the boys is that “You can just take one day at a time” “just be there and love them, and that’s the best you can do”
How did getting pregnant after losing Shannon make you guys feel as a family?
Very shortly after Shannon’s death, once they moved and took on the boys, CS ended up being pregnant. She would say that yes the experience helped them feel more like a family. While pregnant, CS decided that they weren’t going to find out the gender of the baby. One day Danny said,” if it’s a girl we should name her Shannon”. The idea was something that CS wasn’t sure about at first. She talked to her mom about it, wanting to know if that would be good for the boys. Together they decided to talk to a counselor and bring the boys in, and when asked about it, the boys both loved the idea of naming her Shannon.
When it came time to deliver the baby, the doctor who delivered her (yes, it was a girl) knew their story, and CS says it was emotional and beautiful. Baby Shannon kind of united their family, and once she was born it was natural for CS for the boys to go from being nephews to sons, she just worried about how they felt. Today, Connor still calls CS Aunt Coco, but Danny mainly calls her mom. CS thinks this has a lot to do with the fact that Danny needed a mom in his life at his age. All in all, baby Shannon helped make the boys feel more included, and even CS’s kids don’t necessarily know that Connor and Danny aren’t their biological brothers.
Do Connor and Danny ask/talk about their parents?
When it comes to their parents, CS says that Connor does not talk about them. However, Danny does, and she thinks he likes to feel like he’s a part of the memories and stories. Something that has been special for the boys started when a woman reached out to MST (now EVERYKIND) who had a friend in a similar situation to CS. This lady told them about a nonprofit organization called Family Lives On, which is a program for kids who lose a parent, to help them celebrate by continuing traditions with their family now. Through this organization, the boys get a package twice a year, one celebrating Shannon and another celebrating David. This has been a good way for the boys to still feel connected to their parents. As for CS, she usually has a Shannon story ready for them, especially on special occasions.
How do you get to the place where you can see positives and be grateful?
Now, in the years after Shannon’s death, CS says that the only way that Shannon can still be in her life, is if she honors her, which she has done in many ways and will continue to do. A big part of being able to see the positives has been through her husband who has indeed been there “for better or worse”. Another idea that has helped Colleen are some inside jokes that CS and Shannon used to share. The two of them used to tell each other to “look at the gold” and “have a glass half full”.
A reminder for Colleen to keep a positive mindset is to think about what legacy she wants to have. CS say “I want to be remembered for being a person who turned something really bad into a new normal”. She also feels that lots of little signs have been a big help to her along the way. She says that she has brown eyes because Connor and Danny do (along with the rest of her kids), it connects them. She also says that “Doug and Colleen reflect Connor and Danny like a mirror”. It’s really the little things that make a difference. One other thing that has been extremely helpful to CS has been having a very strong faith.
Whether or not Shannon thought about what her legacy was, do you believe she was living it?
CS says “I 100% believe she was living it”. She says that she has no regrets about her relationship with Shannon because they were the best sisters they could be for each other. Having no regrets about their relationship also allows what CS calls “casual grieving”
Does it help you not take things for granted/have regrets?
CS says that it does help to have no regrets, but sometimes CS has to take time to remember things because she’s only human. Sometimes it’s helpful for her to remember all she’s lost and remember that anyone could be taken away at anytime. She says that between that and getting a dog, she’s a more compassionate person
Most people would think that crazy things would never happen to them -CB
CS says that she has always had a fascination with crazy things that happen to people. She wasn’t happy those things happened, but she couldn’t relate. She never expected anything like it to happen to her family.
“I’m here to tell you it could happen… You just never know”- CS
Now CS says that she is a part of a group of people who have experienced loss, and that loss could be anything, but they’re all connected afterwards.
CS also says that she and Shannon’s loved ones can find some peace in the fact that her death was not a painful one, she was gone immediately.
Do you feel like in this terrible situation, you have been an inspiration in a reverse way? To live every moment and leave their own legacy behind?
CS hopes that she can inspire others through her and CB’s shared goal of helping people feel less alone. She says that loneliness and cruelty and all those things devastate her, and even if you can’t relate to her story, you have your own stuff. You wouldn’t know that CS has thought she couldn’t get out of bed in the morning, but she has along with many others. Now, a goal of hers is to try to be as kind of a person as she can be, and spread that message as part of her legacy.
What is the legacy you are going to leave behind?
“I want to be remembered for the same things Shannon is remembered for”
- I was happy and tried to make other people happy
- I loved my family
- There’s no such thing as having too much passion for something
- Live the life that makes you feel the most alive
- I lost my person, but she lived such a beautiful life and inspired me to want to do that for both me and her
- I’m living God’s purpose for me and for the people that count on me
Think about the legacy you want to leave behind, and if you are living your life in that way.
Look at the glass half full and love people, and let them know that you love them.
We are 2 Colleens who share a passion to make the world a kinder place. We’re so happy you’re here!
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