Saturday, April 25, 2009

Eulogy for Shane

My friend Shane Ahmet died recently from sarcoma (bad cancer). I wrote down some thoughts about him and want to preserve them for posterity so here they are. I didn't deliver the eulogy at his funeral, I did a religious reading instead. This was somewhat amusing since I am about as non-religious as you can get.


I was around 7 years old when Shane and I met and became friends while at school at St. Francesca Cabrini primary school.

One of my first memories of Shane was when we in the school playground.
He directed my attention to the young teacher on playground duty and said "let's go and chat her up".
I thought at the time that "chatting someone up" meant just talking to
them for a while. So we stood awkwardly talking to her for a few minutes until she
finally got suspicious and asked what we were up to. "We're chatting you up, Miss", was my reply.
Some other memories from that period include Shane and I dressed in our grey school shorts shivering
in the middle of winter trying to avoid footballs being
blasted at us by the older children. Another is Shane getting the idea to pass the time by
telling one boy on the playground that another boy on the other side of the playground had called
him a name. Then he kindly offered "and what should I tell him from you?". Intelligence and
a good sense of humor were two of Shane's qualities from the very beginning.

At St. Thomas the Apostle Secondary school in Nunhead Shane and I spent most of our time together.
We had similar interests in maths and science and also shared a healthy disinterest in sports, with
an exception being made for patball in the school playground. When it came time to
run around Peckham Rye Park Shane and I could usually be found at the very back of the line.

Once in science class I sat next to Shane as he conducted an interesting
plastic-pen-in-a-bunsen burner experiment. This was while the teacher
(I think it was Mr. Kajangu) stepped out of the classroom for a few minutes.
Unfortunately Shane was still busy with the experiment when he returned, and his timing was doubly
bad because corporal punishment was allowed back then. I remember that Shane proudly kept the melted pen
as a souvenir for some time afterwards.

At about that time Shane and I were good enough friends that we spent time visiting
each other's houses and staying overnight. A trip to his house in New Cross was a big adventure to me
and sometimes a bit of a headache for Shane's Mum who was the one who
came upstairs to tell us to be quiet and go to sleep.
I recall that Shane introduced me to his parent's whisky once - but don't worry, we both secretly
thought the taste was terrible so neither one of us took much more than a pretend sip or two.

Shane came with my family on holiday to Essex one summer. Shane impressed my Mum and my Great-aunt with
his polite, friendly and good-natured ways, as he did with everyone he met. Some time later we went
travelling around Europe with Jan and we successfully navigated several countries while listening to
Shane's Beatles tapes. Back home, Shane and I also spent quite a few enjoyable days out fishing at various

Shane and I shared notes as we both went through University and stayed in touch as we
entered the working world. At first I received funny letters and later funny emails about Shane's life as a
sixth-form college teacher. They were often filled with the frustrations of everyday life
but it was also clear that Shane was making a positive difference in the lives of many young people.

When I got married, moved to the US and then came back to London for a visit with three young children,
Shane kindly offered to let us stay at his house. He introduced the children
to the Wallace and Grommit series and when the time came to leave he sent them home with
Wallace and Grommit toys. As I write this, coincidentally, my 5 year-old boy is watching
one of those shows and I cannot help but compare the gentle, slightly eccentric Wallace with Shane.
Except Shane wasn't as much a fan of cheese as he was of curry and he leaned more towards cats than dogs.

Despite his illness, Shane never seemed sad or depressed. Amazingly, he remained
positive every time I talked to him on the phone. When I called he would always be the first to ask
how I was doing, which was amazing to me considering what he was going through.

Shane's final email to me that he sent a few months ago on December 12 2008 begins as follows:

"Hi Lou, how are you doing? looking forward to Christmas? Have you fallen foul to the
evils of games consoles or will the boys be getting an old tyre and a stick?"

The ability to crack a joke and see the funny side of things was typical Shane.

It is a privilege and and an honor to have had him as a friend.


No comments: