My Dear Shanda
I've put this post off for months now, because writing out the words makes it feel too real, but I promised that I would continue to tell her tale...so here goes nothing. Today, I tell my story about my amazing friend Shanda.
TW: Death, Illness, Loss, Cancer
On June 3, 2021 we said good-bye to one of my oldest and closest friends, Shanda Hahn Kinkade. I have never meet another human like Shanda and want to share at least a glimpse of how incredible she truly was with everyone. I first met Shanda in 2003 in a Yahoo Group that she created called Wiccans in Nebraska. I was an 18-year-old kid from a tiny town who didn't know anything about the world, but knew that I was different than everyone I grew up with. Shanda, and everyone I met through WINEB let me feel like I belonged for one of the first times ever. She built a community of support, connections, and respect that is unparalleled in today's online communities. We shared knowledge and experiences, and no matter your background, age, etc. you were viewed as an equal and important member to the group. I am so grateful for that group and everyone I met in it. We held bi-weekly study groups and bonded quickly through our shared experiences.
As technology advanced (and Yahoo Groups began to die), several of us joined a Meetup group called Rural Nebraska Witches Group (RNWG) and started attending IN PERSON events. It was terrifying, but also exhilarating to be able to finally meet in person the people I had known online for so long...and the bond was immediate. I first met Shanda at a weekend camping trip to a local lake, and it was like we had known each other our whole lives. We laughed so hard I thought I'd be sick, shared so many stories...I knew this was someone I wanted to keep in my life forever.
Through most of our friendship, we lived several hours apart and did most of our interaction online. We would get together for special occasions, like Pagan Pride Day or the local Mystic Fest, but even though we didn't see each other daily, re-connecting each time was like we spoke every day. Through our friendship we saw births and deaths, marriages and divorces, good and bad. Yet, no matter what was happening, I knew I could depend on Shanda to be there. When I hosted my very first protogrove ritual, she was right there by my side. When I lead my first Pagan Pride Day, she was there in the booth with me. And when my heart was broken, she'd listen to me cry, and remind me of who I was and what I wanted to be.
The past few years have been challenging. Shanda ended up moving closer to me, and I was ecstatic to get to see her more and spend more time with her. However, two years ago she was diagnosed with cancer...she fought hard and tried every option available to her, but ultimately her life came to an end far too soon. I regret not getting to see her more in the past two years...with Covid it just didn't feel safe. I regret not getting to hug her good-bye....our last real conversation was us planning to get together, and having to postpone because we had other things come up. But I am also SO grateful that I got to have her in my life. She brought me so many lessons and so much joy. When I was asked to perform her funeral (as informal as possible because that's how she'd want it), I was so honored, and so heart-broken.
Her funeral is an event I will never forget. She didn't want anything stuffy, and she sure as hell didn't want people to be sad. She required that everyone wear bright colors, like turquoise or purple, and had the celebration in a reception hall instead of a stuffy venue. When I showed up, I was given a box of toys and craft supplies for my children that Shanda had left for them, because even as she was fighting her battle she was always thinking of others. Below are the words I spoke as Shanda's Eulogy.....and when I was done...we had a required 1 minute Dance Party because that's how Shanda wanted it. I will never forget sobbing and dancing with our friends, and then laughing at just how absurd we all looked in that moment....and I know Shanda was laughing at us all the whole time.
Long story short...I fucking loved this woman. It's been months and my heart is still broken, and it will be forever. But I am also so lucky that I had the chance to know her and be her friend. My dearest Shanda, I love you now and forever. Thank you for being my friend.
Good afternoon everyone. My name is Amber and I had the pleasure of calling Shanda my friend for nearly 20 years. I would like to begin by thanking everyone for being here today to pay respect to Shanda and help us celebrate the life she lived. She would be thrilled to see so many friends and family gathered together, and would probably give us all grief for making such a big deal out of her. But I also know that each and every one of us is here because of how much she meant to us all.
The world is a sadder place without Shanda in our lives. She touched each and every one of us and has left us with memories we will cherish forever. When I was asked to speak today, I really didn’t know what to say. Shanda was such a magnificent human…someone I was honored to call a friend for my entire adult life. How do you put that into words? How do describe her short 47 years in a few minutes of talking, and do it any sort of justice? I won’t pretend to have the answer to that question, but I promise to do my best.
Shanda loved the people in her life. She loved her family, both blood and chosen, with all of her heart, and would do anything she could to care for them. She was an incredible daughter, sister, and bonus mom. She was always there for her friends, checking in on them even when fighting her own battles. When things got hard, she tried her best to make sure everyone around her was still smiling. She had a deep love for animals, from her beautiful dogs to the majestic panda that will forever represent her spirit to so many of us. She loved the earth just as deeply. She always had time and space in her heart to support the causes important to her, from fundraisers for mental health to support walks for cancer and diseases….she was so giving and precious. And even when she was really tired, she made sure she treated others as though they were precious too. Hers was a life that shined brightly just so the paths of others could be illuminated. Hers was also a life that exemplified brilliance in every capacity.
And she was so dang funny. Her silly jokes, sporadically inappropriate comments, and infectious smile were such a blessing. From playing dress-up in random store aisles, to sitting by a fire staring at the stars...she could find a way to make you laugh, even when it felt like the world was going to fall apart. And even more present than the laughter was her warm heart. She taught us all so much about life and how to really live in the moment. She showed us how to march to the beat of our own drums, and not be afraid to leave the well-worn path in order to find our own way through life. She was a gentle, natural leader. I know she taught me more about life than I can even begin to explain, and I am eternally grateful.
And I know I am not the only one who Shanda shared those gifts with. She was a dedicated member of the Pagan community. She helped organize local groups for people to get together, build relationships, and learn. She was a teacher, and a minister who shared in the joyous moments, and provided guidance when we felt lost. She was a vitally important part of the Nebraska Pagan community, building Pagan Pride events in both Kearney and Omaha, welcoming people to find the faith that is right for them without judgement. She was a role model who provided guidance and loving leadership, as well as a listening ear. I see members of those communities represented here today, and I am honored to know that she touched your lives enough to bring you here.
When life hit her hard, Shanda faced it with bravery and strength that surpassed any of our expectations. That doesn’t mean that there weren’t times where her battle was hard, but that she faced each fight with a courage that many of us will never know. And throughout it all, she gave us all someone we knew we could rely on. When we wanted to try something new and intimidating, she was there standing by our side supporting us and cheering us on. In those moments in life when you could really use a nudge from someone who cares and sees in you in ways you cannot see for yourself….Shanda has gave us those nudges and the support that went along with them. When the first snow graced each winter, we knew we’d find her sitting outside, loving each and every snowflake. And when life got hard, we knew she was there to help us get through it, and pick up the pieces.
Shanda was an incredible woman. No matter what I say, it will never be enough. What I do know is that the world will never be the same. Shanda, we love you so much. You taught us more about life than I can ever put into words. You loved us unconditionally, and taught us to be ourselves and have fun along the way. You will live on in all of our hearts and through our stories forever.
In closing, I’d like to share a few words from Margaret Mead:
To the living, I am gone, and to the sorrowful I will never return.
To the angry, I was cheated, but to the happy, I am at peace.
And to the faithful, I have never left. I cannot speak, but I can listen.
I cannot be seen, but I can be heard.
So as you stand upon the shore gazing at a beautiful sea,
as you look upon a flower and admire its simplicity,
as you watch the snow fall from grey winter skies, remember me.
Remember me in your heart:
Your thoughts and your memories,
of times we loved, of times we cried,
the times we fought, and the times we laughed.
For if you always think of me, I will never have gone.