Me: “Love you very much.”

Shannon: “What??”

Me: “Umm…I love you?”

Shannon: “Oh, I thought you said ‘onward march’.”

And thus began our catchphrase – onward march, sometime over the years shortened to one simple word. Onward.

For years this one word ended all of our letters, emails and text messages.  The week prior to Shannon’s passing, when she knew the cancer had spread to her liver and she was getting ready to meet Jesus, I knew that this word needed to remain.  I sat with this idea for a few days and then finally texted her “hey, I’m thinking about getting ‘onward’ tattooed… whatcha think?”  The last text I ever got from Shan went something like this: “Awesome!!!!! I love it. Where would you get it?  How big?  So cool!”  She passed away a few days later.

Exactly 7 months later on April 17th I walked into the tattoo parlor with two dear friends at my side, sat down in the chair, and made “onward” a part of me forever.

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It took seven months for me to come to grips with this, to think about what this would mean, to have something that so strongly reminds me of Shannon permanently inked into my forearm.  Seven months to come up with a design, to have it screened by my parents and a few close friends.  Seven months to get to a place where I was ready for this, needed it even.

I never knew one word could have so much meaning.

I miss Shannon.  I miss texting her.  I miss getting her letters signed, “onward.”

But she is just that.  Onward.

It’s no platitude to say she’s in Heaven.  She is.  I bet her Easter was pretty spectacular – Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty who was and is and is to come.

Onward.  Movement.  From here to there.  For all eternity.

But with the death of any loved one, we are left here.  Not there.  Here.  And I’m comforted by the fact that she is onward, that she is healed.  I genuinely am.  But I struggle with the fact that in some ways she is no longer known here.  That she is such an integral part of who I am, but that I don’t know how to share that with people. Because, quite frankly, no one wants to talk about death.  No one knows how to.

But maybe, maybe, I don’t need to talk about death.  Maybe I need to talk about life.  About Shannon’s life.  About her strength, her resiliency, her stalwart faith, her motivation, her deep thinking, her security, her compassion, her breakfast recipes, her desire to glorify God in all circumstances, her laugh, her extreme March Madness bracket competitiveness, her mad Ticket to Ride skills and yes, even the cool way she peeled a banana.  About the truth that I am who I am in large part because of her.  Because of what I’ve learned from her, because of the ways God chose to teach us so much through each other.

I don’t have the answers.  Sometimes I don’t even know the questions.  But I do know that Shannon was incredible, is incredible.  That I miss her like crazy.  That I always will.  And that I wish more people had the chance to know her.  I wish she could have made that trip out to Seattle we always talked about.

I don’t know how, but I want to share Shannon’s story.

For now, that means getting inked and telling people about it.  So, those of you reading this, don’t be afraid to ask me about it.  I promise I won’t break down on you.  But I will, if you’ll let me, tell you about my best friend Shannon, about her cancer and her death, yes, but mostly, mostly, about her strength, her courage, and her life.

And I know I’m not the only one out there with unknown stories.  Stories of value.  Of struggle.  Of redemption.  As much as I do love to share stories, I also really love to listen to them.  How might you share yours?

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