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May 21
Scene and Heard
Warrior Tribute to Susan Shaw

Susan Shaw, Born September 4, 1947,  Died May 6, 2012

Susan Shaw, Born September 4, 1947, Died May 6, 2013

The Passing of Susan Shaw:
A Gift to the Community

by Cara Thornley

On the last weekend in March, Merle Thompson, Head of Health and Well Being of the St. Johnsbury Shambhala Center in northern Vermont convened a meeting of a core care group at Susan Shaw’s home. Susan, with dignity and presence, told us she had been diagnosed with the terminal stage of cancer which had been in remission since 2010 and that she had months, maybe weeks, to live.

She wanted to die at home and was asking community support for that process. Ultimately, however, she chose to go to Vermont Respite House in Williston, VT.

Sharon Keegan, old friend and fellow 1996 graduate of the first three year retreat at Sopa Choling, Gampo Abbey, serves as the administrator there. Sharon told us that when they were in retreat together, she and Susan had promised that one of them would take care of whoever died first. And so it happened that Susan was first.

Before going to Respite House on April 23, Susan was surrounded by the sangha and local St. Johnsbury community members who held her dear.

Susan made time and space in her living room for a board meeting of the Good Living Senior Center of St. Johnsbury which she had directed for 9 years. Initiating many innovative activities, she made the center a vibrant hub of creativity for area elders. (Susan received numerous awards for her accomplishments at the center, including, most recently a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition from Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders.)

Along the way, Susan formed a board of directors to insure the continuity of the Good Living Center, which prior to her leadership had ebbed and waned in its community influence. This last meeting, convened in her home, was concerned with finding a new director.

On Monday evening, April 8, members of the Scorpion Seal IV Salon held one of their regular discussions in Susan’s living room. Listening from her adjacent bedroom, she appeared later in the evening to softly and radiantly join the group.

Susan had local sangha around her 24-hours a day until she left for Respite House. Sara Demetry, the Regimental Desung Officer, coordinated the daily visitor and care schedule.

Arthur Jennings, a sangha member and hospice nurse with Caledonia Home Health, was her primary home medical support.

Everyone attending Susan was inspired by her humor and unflagging care and curiosity about the stream of persons who came to visit or help. The reason for her Shambhala name, Auspicious Radiance, was clearly evident.

Even after she moved to Respite House people were still scheduled to visit her. In addition to Sharon Keegan, two other sangha persons were present when Susan died on the morning of May 6. They helped bathe her body in saffron and lavender water according to instructions sent by Lindy King of the Boulder sangha.

Susan in her meticulous manner had laid the groundwork for the details of her death and funeral, leaving no loose ends.

Vicki Giella, an old and dear sangha friend, and executor of the estate had been charged with approving all financial and legal decisions around Susan’s dying, death, funeral and disposition of her worldly goods – the proceeds from which are going to the St. Johnsbury Shambhala Center and Karme Choling Meditation Center in Barnet, VT.

Gerry Haase who was in charge of funeral arrangements was passionate about the sangha being able to take care of their dead without relying on traditional funeral services. Susan’s view was: “Great! With the money saved you can have a big party!”

Gerry obtained a casket, wholesale, which thanks to the generosity of Susan’s estate, can be re-used in the future. He also learned how a death certificate is filed (without which cremation cannot occur) and arranged other necessary funeral and cremation details.

Using his Subaru, in lieu of costly traditional vehicles, he transported Susan’s body from Respite House to the Pavilion at Karme Choling (KCL) and then to the crematorium. If you are interested in more details about community-managed funerals, you can contact Mr. Haase at [email protected]

Susan’s body was in the Pavilion for three days before the funeral service. During that time local and KCL sangha practiced around her and KCL’s Iron Wolf Squad provided overnight kasung shifts.

On Thursday afternoon, May 8, the Shing Kam Pure Realm of Shambhala Ceremony, was performed for her in the Pavilion which was filled with sangha and community friends, and was vibrating with warrior energy. (At Susan’s request, I, Cara, was the preceptor.) Sangha members set up the shrine and pavilion seating, provided flowers, music and amplification, handed out programs and were pall bearers. Michael Taney coordinated the event.

Her “big party,” both joyful and sad, prepared and served entirely by sangha, was held in KCL’s main building after the service.

Her brave dying process was an opportunity for a host of Northeast Kingdom sangha, far too numerous to mention, to come together and manifest their extraordinary heart felt generosity, exertion, creativity and basic goodness altogether. Without doubt Susan’s life and passing was a gift to the community.

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2 responses to “ Warrior Tribute to Susan Shaw ”
  1. Mery Miguez
    May 27, 2013

    Dear Cara, thank you so much for this article, this is really Enlightened Society, caring for one another in every single detail. I am glad for all of you that went through this experience and for all of us that got to hear about it. I only met Susan a few times in my time in KCL but now I feel I have a very good sense of her life and death, a real gift to all of us. Very inspiring!

  2. Linda V. Lewis
    May 27, 2013

    Thank you Cara for sharing so much of Susan’s last years and dying–she was very inspiring, and the way sangha rallied around her is so inspiring.

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