My last post of the year is usually about accomplishments, goals not yet met and hopes for the days after the calendar flips over. But this year was dominated by an unexpected occurrence in May. The inexplicable loss of our young friend, Lauren Davis Shirakawa, and how her passing has forever changed the lives of our dear friends, her parents, and therefore our lives as well.
The morning of Lauren’s death was the day after Mother’s Day. I had signed on to my computer at work, and opened the usual pages including Facebook, where the top post for me was a photo of Lauren, her husband Phil, and their son Colin. Lauren was wearing a beautiful necklace whose pendant was a half coconut – their nickname for the baby. I smiled at how she beamed on her first Mother’s Day, and went about the business of preparing the news.
When my phone rang around 7 am and I saw that it was Erin’s number, I assumed it was a butt dial. Erin, Rob and her crew were on a listener trip. I couldn’t imagine why she would call me from an island paradise. Someone connected to the show was battling a serious illness, so her name flashed across my brain, but she was doing better lately so I hoped that wasn’t the reason for the call. When we connected a few minutes later, the shock was overwhelming. I was all at once grateful that Erin thought to let me know before the rumour mill got to me, and absolutely devastated for her. When someone tells you something so unexpected about someone young, who didn’t have so much as a head cold, the first thought is – it’s a terrible joke. I knew it wasn’t, but I think it’s the mind’s way of trying to protect you from the shock that’s about to set in.
I thought I could carry on until the end of my shift but it quickly became apparent that it wasn’t possible, and I went home after arrangements were made for someone to cover my newscasts. Even today, when I think of Lauren as I do at least once a day, a little part of me still doesn’t believe it’s true. A young Mom, happy, full of excitement for her future and completely in love with her husband Phil and their little boy, died in her sleep. Her last words to her husband before turning in for the night: I love you. Her budding broadcasting career was on its way to limitless heights. She literally had everything going for her. There wasn’t even an obvious cause. Her heart was strong. She didn’t have a seizure or aneurysm. Her heart simply stopped beating. It’s rare, but it happens. Still, that doesn’t make it any easier to accept.
The Lauren we knew was confident and not afraid to speak her mind. At her Toronto memorial, Phil told the story of how he first noticed Lauren when she spoke up in their college class to directly contradict something the professor had just said! How very “Lauren”, we all thought, as we laughed through our tears. When she decided on something, she did it. She was self reliant and smart. Her family was her everything and once Coco was born, she became super-Mom. She researched baby nutrition and development like a forensic scientist and after she was gone, Phil discovered even more lists she had made that even he didn’t know about. She was well organized and loving, and as her Mom so often said – in a hurry. “Why the rush?” was the question, when Lauren married and gave birth in quick succession. She was anxious to get out there and prove herself to the world and she was doing so in Ottawa radio. Why the rush. Maybe a part of her knew she didn’t have all the time in the world?
Although I first met Lauren when she was about 10, she and I didn’t have any really good bonding moments, just the two of us, until the final months of her life. When she, Phil, Erin and Rob were at our house last February, I felt Lauren really got the connection between her Mom and me for the first time. Erin is the most clever woman I’ve ever known, but I hold my own, and we can riff on a subject and laugh like idiots and then seconds later turn to something deep and secret we need to get each others’ take on. You know, like close friends do. And I recall Lauren saying something like, “You two are out of your minds”, and feeling pride at her summation! Derek had just started to get to know Lauren. They first met at her wedding to Phil and Derek remarked at the time how delightful she was. You’ve never seen a happier bride or one that was more in-the-moment than Lauren. After the quartet left our home, Derek remarked again about Lauren’s sparkle. He got her, too.
We last communicated on her birthday, in March. Despite taking part in her beautiful memorial in Toronto, and talking about her as often as possible with her Mom and Dad, I was reluctant to share my own feelings about her while being so close to her devastated family. It was my own interpretation of the situation that led me to diminish my reaction, because their loss is so much bigger. It’s everything. But I’m allowing myself to grieve now, and say that I miss her, and my heart is broken that Colin will grow up without her to guide and love him. Not in person, anyway. Her presence will be kept alive by Phil and by her parents. There are photos and video and other proof for Colin that Lauren didn’t want to be anywhere else but with them.
After my nearly fatal illness in 2011, I changed. I became more open about my feelings and really care a lot less about what other people think of me. But after Lauren’s death, I changed again. Any hesitation about doing something to make someone smile, or be a better person, evaporated. Any part of me that wondered if it was the right thing, or if I might look foolish by making myself vulnerable, no longer mattered. Because although we all know it on an intellectual level, my emotional self will now never forget that you can be happy and healthy and have the world at your feet, and die in your sleep for no good reason at all. That’s 2015, to me. And it’s going to propel me to make 2016 as productive and positive as possible, in part, to honour my friend Lauren, whose opportunity to do so was cruelly snatched away.