“My daughter, my heart.”
Arlene Meara wears a heart-shaped silver pendant on a chain around her neck. On the front: a picture of her daughter, Shannon Lee. On the back: the words, “My daughter, my heart.”
Pictures of Shannon cascade down one side of Arlene’s fridge. One is of Shannon and Arlene, captioned, by Shannon, “My beautiful mother n me.”
Three years ago, Arlene’s daughter was “shot in the head with a 350 magnum by an ex-boyfriend,” Arlene recounted. Shannon was 24 when she died.
Now Arlene has made it her mission to raise awareness about dating and domestic violence and help prevent it.
In the wake of her daughter’s death, Arlene founded the Shannon Lee Meara Educational Foundation.
The organization is funding a series of projects:
- a special program at the high school, Shannon’s alma mater, to promote healthy dating relationships:
- a support group for girls there;
- a on how to recognize dating violence and abuse, talk about it and where to get help; and
- a scholarship for a student who has made a difference in her or his life or the life of someone else in connection with dating violence.
The foundation also funded a protective suit for the police Rape Aggression Defense program.
"(Shannon) loved to help people,” Arlene said. “I wanted to keep her spirit alive.”
“Doing this keeps her with me and keeps me alive,” the mother added.
This coming Saturday night, the foundation will hold its in Shannon’s memory.
After Shannon died, Arlene, an operating room nurse at Mass General Hospital, made some phone calls to see where she could pour her energy.
"I knew we had to do something to stop this,” Arlene said. “Together we will make a difference.”
She hopes to break the silence and “take away the stigma” around the subject of dating and domestic violence. People need to talk about these things, she said firmly.
Arlene approached the high school principal. She did research, found an organization that offered programs for students.
Through Jane Doe, Inc., a statewide coalition against sexual assault and domestic violence, Arlene found the REACH Beyond Domestic Violence group.
REACH stands for refuge, education, advocacy and change, youth education specialist Colleen Armstrong explained Monday at the high school. REACH also offers shelter and advocates in court and certain police departments, she said.
This is the second year REACH has offered classes in high school students’ health classes and child development classes, twice a school year, courtesy of Shannon’s foundation. REACH offers a program in schools in Burlington and Stoneham, according to Armstrong. The program aims to empower, not blame, she said.
The program reaches more than 500 Woburn Memorial High School students each school year, according to high school adjustment counselor Loren Baccari. She coordinates the Dating Violence Task Team that was formed at the high school in 2009. The group includes six members of the high school wellness department, eight student peer leaders and Woburn Memorial High School Resource Officer .
Last month, REACH began a six-week support group for high school girls. Next year, that group will meet for between 12 and 14 weeks, Baccari said Monday.
REACH also held training sessions for all high school staff and counseling staff, Baccari noted, and peer leaders.
Even before the programs started at the high school, Arlene held a special run in her daughter’s memory. Arlene rides a motorcycle, a Harley Davidson. That had embarrassed her daughter, she recalled.
“She was very strict with me,” Arlene said.
Nevertheless, members of Mass. Moose on Bikes held its first annual run, in June 2008, to help the foundation raise money to help stop dating and domestic violence. Arlene wears a purple ribbon decal with her daughter’s name on it on her helmet when she rides. This coming June 4, the bikers will hold their fourth run in Shannon’s memory.
will include food, music and raffles. Tickets are $20 each. For more information, contact Arlene at firstname.lastname@example.org or Jennifer at email@example.com. Checks may be made out to the foundation and mailed to P.O. Box 136, Woburn, MA, 01801.
Arlene’s house is full of items for the fundraiser: baskets of raffle items, tablecloths in pink—light pink was Shannon’s favorite color—and purple, the color of anti-dating and domestic violence efforts, Arlene said.
In her kitchen, Arlene pointed to hummingbirds—Shannon loved to buy hummingbird feeders, her mother said—that people have given her since Shannon died. A hummingbird is a sign of peace, Arlene explained, a symbol to “embrace all that life has to offer and to celebrate the joy of every day.” Shannon had one tattooed on her back, according to her mother. It has become the foundation’s symbol.
“Anything that reminds me of her is good,” Arlene said.
Sitting at her kitchen table Friday afternoon, Arlene recounted how, after work on a Friday afternoon in January of 2008, she tried to call Shannon and failed to reach her. She went to Shannon’s ex-boyfriend’s apartment, she said. Shannon’s car was there. Arlene said she called the police. By the time they arrived, Arlene said, the apartment was dark.
She went online and tracked Shannon’s cell phone calls. She wasn’t using her phone, Arlene said. That was very unusual.
By Sunday, still unable to reach her daughter, Arlene said she was “a wreck.” Then the police called her, she said, and asked if Shannon had a tattoo. To Arlene, that meant that Shannon probably was not at a hospital.
“I fell on the floor, fell apart,” Arlene said. “I screamed, ‘No! No!' (then) I shut down.”
Listening to the graphic descriptions of what happened to Shannon in court was “unbelievable,” she said.
And Shannon is gone.
“No family,” Arlene concluded, ”should ever have to go through this.”