Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Sheena Bishop 1966 - 2007

Goodbye to you, my trusted friend,
We've known each other since we were nine or ten


 
1996


Of all the hundreds of people I have met in my life, there are few whose initial impression on me was as acute as Sheena's. Thirty something years ago, at the beginning of a new school term the shrill bell rang, as it did every morning, to beckon us to line up outside our classroom. We filed in one, by one expecting the class room to be empty, but this time it wasn't. Already sitting at one of the desks, her blonde hair catching the sun streaming through the window, was a stranger, a girl I would soon find out was Sheena.

Sheena was sitting quietly colouring in a picture of a heron that came as part of her children's membership package of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, a charity that takes action for wild birds and the environment. She handed me a leaflet about it. In the mid seventies, the young Sheena was the first environmental activist I had ever met.

Our friendship got off to a little bit of a shaky start when the pairings were set for our country dancing class. Benedict Schiller was the hot ticket and I was rooting for him to be chosen as my own dance partner. The teacher, in her wisdom, decided she would match us up alphabetically. She started calling out the girls' names from the top of the alphabet and the boys names from the bottom. With a name like Bishop being so close to Breach it was inevitable for the stars to align so that Sheena beat me by one position to Ben's hand on the dance floor. I confess, now, I was silently seething. I couldn't help thinking evil thoughts to myself "If that stupid new girl hadn't joined the class, then I would have been next in the alphabet and I would have been dancing with Ben."

In the end though, being next to each other in the alphabet is probably what brought us together. We were sat next to each other at the school lunch table. School lunches in Britain in the seventies are not something that you would remember fondly. It was pre-cafeteria system and pupils were forbidden to bring in packed lunches. Basically you had no choice. You would sit at a round table where a large metal tray bearing eight portions of horrific gunk would be plonked down in the centre and you would be expected to eat your share. Even at that early age, such was her love of animals, Sheena was verging on vegetarianism, despite there being no room for such radical behaviour in the school dining system at that time. Whilst suffering through those ghastly lunchtimes was instilled into me as the only possible outcome, Sheena was more creative. Every day she would smuggle in some food, wrapped in tin foil - always a brown sugar sandwich made from heavy, doorstep-sized slices of wholemeal bread and a baby packet of salted peanuts. Hidden on her lap, underneath the table, she would persuade one of the greedier boys to eat her portion of school prescribed sustenance and nibble on her sandwich instead, kindly sharing a few of her peanuts with me. Lucky for her, the idea of sugar in a sandwich grossed me out otherwise I am sure I would have persuaded her to share her entire lunch.

From the little I have told you so far, you have probably already realised that Sheena was something of a unique and special person who was perhaps a little out of the ordinary in our neighbourhood where unquestioningly conforming to the accepted middle class way of life was the done thing. Everyone behaved the same way. We went to ballet classes, we joined the girl guides, we went to Sunday School, we were all well behaved, we watched Blue Peter on television twice a week. We were almost living a real-life version of The Truman show. Lest my mother is reading, and she will be, please do not assume I am complaining, to the contrary I loved my childhood and all of the wonderful opportunities I was given. I was blessed, and even more so for meeting Sheena who gave me the first hint of what life was like outside of my bubble.

Sheena came to Bristol from the Isle of Wight. That in itself was an exotic enough fact to attract me to her. It was almost as if she had moved from abroad. Practically unheard of in our neigbourhood, Sheena's family didn't have a television and her father, an English teacher, even published play called "Bug Eyed Loonies" about the perils of letting your children watch TV. They didn't have a car either. Apart from the chic little French girl with the fluffiest white bomber jacket who served mini Vache qui Rit cheeses at her birthday parties instead of jelly and ice cream, Sheena and her family were simply the most intriguing people I'd met by the time I was aged ten.

From ten through teens we hung out a lot. Here are some favourite memories from the hundreds of good ones available...

- Dressing like twins, aged 10 - we would both ear the tiniest little denim shorts, wear our hair in long bunches tied with red ribbons and pretend we were sisters.

- When left alone at Sheena's house with the parents safely out of the way, we invaded the kitchen to experiment with molecular gastronomy, decades before it was even invented. We carefully dissected Custard Creams, removed the filling, mixed it with pepper, Colman's English mustard powder and other weird stuff we found in the pantry and then used the resulting mixture to re-sandwich the biscuits together. And eat them, of course.

- We had a communal sewing session together where we made identical matching grey checked pinafore dresses and then later wore them at the same time and didn't care what anyone thought.

- At parties we'd pretend we were sisters and boys who didn't know us would think we were telling the truth.

- We both shared a love of marzipan. Instead of stopping at the sweet shop on the way home from school we would stop at the local Co-Op and buy a block of marzipan to share on the way up the hill.

- Our music tastes were quite different in some ways but we both absolutely loved "Safety Dance" by Men without Hats. We'd put flowers in our hair and dance barefoot to it at the local nightclub.


- We'd walk our dogs, Tamsie and Daffy at Coombe Dingle. When we ventured of the beaten track and got stuck on a precarious fallen tree trunk, our dogs saved our lives. At least, that's how we used to like to tell the story.

- Sheena introduced me to Maraschino Cherries, long before we were allowed to try them in cocktails. Every time I pluck one out of fancy drink, to this day, I always think of Sheena.

- We had to dissect locusts for A-Level Biology. We were both uncomfortable doing this and hence decided that if we had to kill the insect, we should respect it by utilising its whole being. Head-to-Tail dissection if you like. We'd pull out their wings and make them into earrings. A girl in the year above told us we were sick but I'm inclined to think we actually did the best we could under the circumstances.

- We drove to Devon in my little green car and we picked up those hitch hikers on the way, even though we didn't really have any space for them.

- Just after I'd passed my driving test we snuck out of school and took it on the motorway to see what it felt like to drive at 70 miles per hour, even though I had been told expressly not to do any such thing.


Sheena's illness descended upon her quickly with devastating effect. In August I grieved when I was told she only had a few days to live. Hopes came and went, became undashed and then dashed all over again. I thought I would never see her again. But she hung on for a while. As soon as I arrived in Bristol, three weeks ago, my dad drove me to Wales to see Sheena for what would be our last ever time together. As soon as I saw her, the years melted away and I felt just as close to her as anyone can feel. She confided in me, I sensed her hurt at the same time as I felt the glowing warmth of her frail body, acutely aware of the precipice on which she was standing. I held her, I squeezed her, I kissed her, I told her I loved her, I wiped the tears away, both hers and mine.

It might sound tacky, but I don't care what you think. 'Our song', (us being Vicky, Rachael, Karen, Sheena and me) was Seasons in the Sun. As recently as 12 years ago you might have found the five of us in a group hug on a dance floor, crying our eyes out together, not because we thought we were going to die anytime soon, but because we were mourning the loss of our wonderful teenage years together. Listen to Nirvana's version which reflects my mood right now a little more accurately than the cheery original...

Together we climbed hills or trees.
Learned of love and ABC's,
skinned our hearts and skinned our knees.


Sheena, whose funeral takes place in a few hours, leaves behind her husband, two sons, a sister, parents and many friends. She will be sorely missed by all of us.




A tribute to Sheena from my mum
A tribute to Sheena from my sister


© 2007 Sam Breach
Sheena Bishop 1966 - 2007

67 Comments:

  • At 10/10/07 00:38, Blogger shuna fish lydon said…

    thank you Sam, and Sheena, for a remarkable friendship and love, and of course for setting part of it down here, for us to share in its warmth.

    wherever you are, I am holding you close. and wiping my own tears.

     
  • At 10/10/07 01:00, Blogger Beccy said…

    I wish I hadn't read it just before I'm due to go out as I bawling here.

    Great post Sam, and I learnt some things I never knew about Sheena.

     
  • At 10/10/07 01:20, Blogger Tea said…

    Oh, my dear--what a loss, and yet what a beautiful tribute to one so dear. I'm sobbing here as well. Please take care of yourself right now--and let us know if you need anything. I'm sending best wishes durring this sorrowful time.

     
  • At 10/10/07 01:25, Blogger Pille said…

    Dear Sam, I'm so sorry for the loss of your friend Sheena. I took flowers to my first boyfriend's grave this Monday (we were together for 8,5 yrs) to mark his birthday - he passed away 2 years ago at the age of 30 because of cancer as well. I'll never fathom why young and nice people have to face such untimely and unnecessary deaths..
    May she rest in peace..

     
  • At 10/10/07 01:28, Blogger Anita said…

    Sam -- I'm so sorry for your loss and sadness, but how wonderful it is that you were able to see Sheena at the end and rekindle all of those memories. Our thoughts are with you.

     
  • At 10/10/07 01:46, Blogger ChrisB said…

    sam I sobbed all through writing my tribute and now I'm crying reading this. Sheena would have loved these memories mum xx

     
  • At 10/10/07 01:52, Blogger Sally Lomax said…

    This is a fantstic post Sam, and such a lovely and warm tribute to your dear friend.

    I read Chris's and Beccy's tributes too.

    Her family will be so touched and proud and pleased by your feelings and your writings.

     
  • At 10/10/07 02:39, Blogger Deborah said…

    s and your Mums. I'm so sorry for your loss, but grateful you got to see her one last time. I hope she is at peace.

     
  • At 10/10/07 03:43, Anonymous Jane said…

    Sam.... I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry. What else is there to say? So much and yet nothing.
    Sheena was so blessed to have you, and you her. May the many happy memories be those that stay closest to your heart.
    X

     
  • At 10/10/07 03:51, Blogger Sarah Caron said…

    Sam, I am so, so, so, sorry. This was a wonderful, spirited tribute to your friend. I am so glad you got to see her one last time, though I wish it wasn't necessary to say it like that. Take care of yourself, and find peace.

     
  • At 10/10/07 04:35, Anonymous B said…

    Sam,
    I'm back in Canada now, saying goodbye to my grandmother and trying to absorb the shockwaves going through my family, as a 72 year old who has never spent a day in hospital is diagnosed with cancer in july, and soon to be gone 3 months later.
    Its nice to read about others experiences, and to remember that death is a huge part of life.

    B
    Hand to Mouth

     
  • At 10/10/07 05:02, Anonymous matt armendariz said…

    A beautiful tribute and I'm glad you shared. Sheena and her family - and you and yours - are in our thoughts here.

    This week I'm celebrating the birthday of my best friend & sister who has been gone for 12 years. It's through memories and tributes like this that they do live on forever.

    Big hugs, Sam.

     
  • At 10/10/07 05:27, Blogger frannie said…

    I had to stop by to tell you that I am so sorry for your heartbreak. I am so glad that you are able to remember all the wonderful times that you had during this time of great saddness. I wish you peace in the coming days.

     
  • At 10/10/07 06:19, Blogger Anne said…

    Oh Sam, I am so sorry to hear about your loss. I was really moved by this tribute, and I wanted you to know that I'm thinking about you and Sheena, and her family. I'm glad that you have such fond memories of her. Hugs from Sweden!

     
  • At 10/10/07 06:27, Anonymous Lisa said…

    I've been thinking of you since reading Beccy's post.
    I am so sorry for your loss, and as a mother I am thinking of her sons.
    She sounds like she was a most amazing person, and I'm sure they will carry her with them forever.
    My condolences at this very hard time.
    I hope the time will come quickly when you can look at your pictures and have some laughter with the tears.

     
  • At 10/10/07 07:37, Blogger Charlotte said…

    Sam, I am so, so sorry for your loss. What a beautiful, beautiful tribute to your dear friend.

    I am giving you a big hug, and like Shuna, am wiping my own tears.

     
  • At 10/10/07 07:42, Anonymous Shelly said…

    What wonderful memories. I will never understand this world we live in.

    Thoughts to you and Hugs

     
  • At 10/10/07 07:59, Anonymous Catherine said…

    hugs and kisses, sam. xoxo

     
  • At 10/10/07 08:13, Anonymous la cubana gringa said…

    That Sheena obviously affected you all so deeply means that she had the very richest of lives. You and Sheena are in my thoughts today. xx

     
  • At 10/10/07 08:13, Anonymous C(h)ristine said…

    too young, too young, too soon--my sympathies to you and your family and all the people who love/d Sheena. it is never easy, but you have a lot of support out here.

    thank you for sharing, and i wanted to also let you know this was such a beautiful tribute.

     
  • At 10/10/07 08:16, Blogger One Food Guy said…

    Hi Sam, I'm so very sorry to hear of Sheena's passing. I have a close friend like Sheena was to you, and I can't imagine what it would be like to lose them. Although I don't know you, Sheena or Sheena's family, my thoughts will be with you.

     
  • At 10/10/07 08:20, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I'm so sorry for your loss, Sam. You've written a lovely tribute, as have your sister and mum. Warm thoughts and wishes coming your way from us here...

     
  • At 10/10/07 08:50, Anonymous Jennifer Jeffrey said…

    This is beautiful, Sam. You were lucky to have found each other, and I'm so glad you got to see her last month. My thoughts are with you.

     
  • At 10/10/07 09:13, Blogger muffintop said…

    Nobody could have a better friend than you, Sam.
    Weeping, weeping.

     
  • At 10/10/07 09:14, Anonymous Fatemeh said…

    I love you, Sam.

     
  • At 10/10/07 09:54, Anonymous alison said…

    so very sorry for your loss sam - what a lovely tribute.

     
  • At 10/10/07 10:07, Blogger brian said…

    I'm sorry you are suffering, Sam. Sheena sounds like a wonderful person. What fortune to have known her.

     
  • At 10/10/07 11:30, Blogger nicole said…

    so very sorry to hear of your loss - and thank you for sharing your stories of your friend. xx

     
  • At 10/10/07 12:27, Blogger Colin Cheesman said…

    I cried all the way to and from the funeral today. I suppose I was still in shock as I couldn't believe that one of the warmest and funniest people I've ever met had gone. Sheila had been my first ever student placement when she was at Hatfield Polytechnic and I was working for Hertfordshire County Council. We hit it off straight away especially as we were both veggies and had remained in touch over the last 25 years. Sheila was great fun to be with and passionate about her love of people and the environment. A very hard time for her family and close friends - my love to you all.

     
  • At 10/10/07 13:40, Blogger A Few Reservations said…

    Prayers and love going out to Sheena's family and yours.

     
  • At 10/10/07 15:50, Blogger Owen said…

    All my sympathy and thoughts to you and Sheena's family. That was a truly lovely post and thank you for sharing. I'm glad you saw her and I hope it helps us all to see all those old friends a bit more often.

     
  • At 10/10/07 16:07, Blogger shauna said…

    This is so, so beautiful, Sam. I have my Sharon, the one who has been my friend since we were teenagers. (Oh, the pictures all look familiar.) I can't even imagine the devastation. I wish I could give you a big hug.

     
  • At 10/10/07 16:35, Blogger ellie said…

    Sam-- Reading your words about Sheena and listening to the Nirvana version of "Seasons in the Sun" moved me to tears. Thank you for sharing this beautiful and touching tribute with us all. I know you and all those who loved Sheena will keep her close in your hearts; while you grieve, you will be in mine.

     
  • At 10/10/07 19:16, Blogger Jennifer Maiser said…

    My heart hurts for you. I love Sheena for helping you become the person you are today, and I'm just so sorry that she's gone. She sounds like she was a very bright star who shone for much too short a time. xx

     
  • At 10/10/07 19:16, Blogger Kevin Kossowan said…

    Sorry to hear about your loss. Best wishes.

     
  • At 11/10/07 06:40, Blogger perec. said…

    I'll light a candle for you and your friend. all my prayers.

     
  • At 11/10/07 08:00, Anonymous Luisa said…

    What an amazing tribute - I've got goosebumps, Sam. A big, big hug to you from over here. I've got a friend like Sheena back home and I cannot imagine losing her. My thoughts are with you. xo

     
  • At 11/10/07 10:10, Blogger Del4yo said…

    I'm so sorry for you dear.
    My thoughts are going to her family now, and I'm sobbing and sobbing...
    I have hidden the tissue paper somewhere because your filleul tried to eat it and I can't rememeber where.

    XOXO

     
  • At 11/10/07 12:20, Anonymous Jackie said…

    Sam,

    What a wonderful tribute to your friend. I am so sorry for your loss.

    Jackie

     
  • At 11/10/07 12:57, Anonymous petehutch said…

    Thank you Sam for your account of your friendship. I have only known Sheena for a few years but it was clear when I first met her that she was a very special person. I shall miss her too.

     
  • At 11/10/07 14:36, Blogger linda said…

    I am so sorry for the loss of your friend. Your tribute to her made me choke (you know, that horrible ache in your throat that wants to turn into a full blown sob?). My thoughts are with you.

     
  • At 11/10/07 14:39, Anonymous Vicki said…

    as i read this I thought about my friend Carrie and how I would feel if I were to never see her again.

    Your tribute to your friend is perfect, heart felt and has touched me for the better. I thank you personally for sharing it with me today.

     
  • At 11/10/07 16:13, Blogger hyb said…

    I'm a new visitor to your blog, but I wanted to say that I am truly sorry about your loss. That was a beautiful, moving tribute from a loving friend.

     
  • At 11/10/07 17:59, Anonymous foodiedani said…

    So sorry for your loss.

     
  • At 11/10/07 18:01, Blogger Kimmie said…

    Sam, thank you so much for sharing...I'm sending you and everyone in your life and the lives of your dear friend Sheena, all of my love...take comfort in knowing that Sheena is in a better place of peace...xo

     
  • At 11/10/07 20:41, Blogger Tartelette said…

    This is a great tribute to your friend, love and friendship. Thank you for sharing this with us, allowing us to hold you a little closer in your time of sadness.

     
  • At 11/10/07 22:51, Blogger Barbara said…

    They are lovely memories Sam. Thank you for sharing them with us.

     
  • At 12/10/07 06:12, Blogger Silent One ~D~ said…

    What a beautiful tribute to your friend! Hold tight to the memories... the tighter you hold... the closer she shall be to you.

     
  • At 12/10/07 08:25, Anonymous jeanne bee said…

    thank you for sharing this personal tribute--and may you find comfort in the coming days in the beautiful memories and times you shared.

     
  • At 12/10/07 09:54, Blogger Rachael said…

    Oh my, I am so sorry for your loss. Your tribute was beautiful and moving.

    Take care.

     
  • At 12/10/07 18:55, Blogger Alice Q. said…

    Oh, Sam. I am so sorry. It must be hard not to be there for the funeral - but I'm glad you got to see her recently. You were lucky to have such a wonderful friend, and she was lucky to have you too. I'm blinking back tears and will be thinking about you.

     
  • At 12/10/07 22:38, Anonymous Tana said…

    Sam, I was just checking blog posts while waiting for the clothes to dry, and the next thing I know, I'm crying my eyes out.

    I am so sorry the world lost Sheena's light—and life. I pray you all find comfort in her memory, and that, in the midst of your own tears, you get to laugh that ridiculous laugh that only teenaged girls who grew up together share. (That golden laugh is one of the only prizes for having been an adolescent, if you ask me.)

    Your heart and humor do well as the flashlight that illuminates her spirit and soul.

    And may her sons find their way through the dark forest, with your sprinkling of breadcrumbs.

    God bless.

     
  • At 13/10/07 01:38, Anonymous Neil Duckett said…

    I know and knew neither of you Sam but i was touched by your story. I feel for you for you loss.

     
  • At 13/10/07 07:50, Blogger Zoomie said…

    I'm so sorry for your loss, Sam. Thank heavens you had time to see Sheena once again and to remember the good times with her.

     
  • At 13/10/07 11:40, Blogger Blue Momma said…

    I'm so sorry for your lost. I read both your Mom and sisters's posts and cried reading all three.

    Sheena obviously was a very special lady to have had such an impact on the three of you.

    The world will be a little less bright without her in it.

     
  • At 13/10/07 11:55, Blogger my4kids said…

    I to am sorry for your loss. I have a friend like you describe and I couldn't imagine if anything ever happened to her. Sheena was obviously a special person and a special friend.

     
  • At 14/10/07 18:24, Blogger Sam said…

    Thank you to everyone who left such thoughtful comments on this post. I am still finding it tough to come to terms with, but I must soldier on with life, Sheena wouldn't want it any other way. Missing her funeral was the hardest part, as I found out afterwards I felt even more bereft for not being able to find that closure I might have found together with the 250 strong community that are Sheena's friends who were there. That's what becomes of being the one who flew farthest from the nest. But it was my choice and I just have to deal with it. I found comfort in the following description of the day I missed and am forever thankful I actually did spend time with her during her last days:

    "It was a beautiful day in Wales - Sunny and calm - very serene. It was all just so Sheena with beautiful folk type music in the church - lovely natural garden flowers - and so very, very sad. She is buried under an oak tree which I am sure will grow strong and tall"

    Thank you so much, every one

     
  • At 15/10/07 12:46, Blogger Curt McAdams said…

    I'm a bit late, it seems, and was going to pass on commenting, but felt like doing it anyway... I have just started reading here, somehow missing it before, but this is a really nice introduction for me. I appreciate the history you had with Sheena, and you put it down very nicely. I'm mourning the loss of a childhood friendship, and this made me remember a lot of those times that I don't often take the time to think on.

     
  • At 15/10/07 13:10, Anonymous Julie said…

    Oh Sam, I'm coming a bit late to commenting on this -- playing catch-up with your blog. How I wept on reading this -- as much for the beauty of the way you expressed this friendship, as for sorrow at your loss.

     
  • At 16/10/07 10:55, Anonymous shalimar said…

    HI sam I just passed by your page.. sorry about the loss.. beautiful piece of tribute.
    x hugs

     
  • At 18/10/07 03:31, Blogger stickyfingers said…

    As tears fall on the keyboard I thank you for a fitting tribute to an obviously special person and for the love in your heart for someone so unique. It reminds us all how we must treasure every minute of our time and of those shared with the ones we love.

     
  • At 18/10/07 10:10, Anonymous enidd said…

    sam, how sad to lose a friend so young. enidd's thoughts are with you all.

     
  • At 19/10/07 13:18, Blogger ParisBreakfasts said…

    Dear Sam,
    Thank you for sharing Sheena with us and your wonderful friendship.
    I'm facing the loss of a cousin I hold dear..this helps.
    carolg

     
  • At 19/10/07 16:23, Blogger foodette said…

    Reading this brought tears to my eyes. I am so sorry for your loss.

     
  • At 20/10/07 05:41, Anonymous startcooking said…

    Today is the first time I’ve ever visited your site. Your loving tribute to your friend was the first thing I read. My heart aches for you. In this world full of strangers, you have made us all feel closer by sharing your joy and your sorrow. I would like to extend my sincerest sympathy to you and your family.

     
  • At 19/4/08 14:10, Anonymous petehutch said…

    Today on a dull afternoon later to turn wet a number of the Gower Society Committee and a larger number of the Gower Society Youth Action group gathered to dedicate a bench in the Ilston Quarry Nature Reserve to Sheena's memory. It is a very nice bench in a very nice spot that Sheena took us to now and again. I have some pictures but I don't know how to post them to a blog. I will perhaps send them to your email address and you can do what you will with them.

    Sheena was a magical youth leader and the children adored her. I have a few pictures I could send. My favourite memory is of her dancing by King Arthur's Stone (a local cromlech) in a frock that purported to be an imitation of a very old design.

    I have never met anyone like her and we miss her at our GSYA meetings. To the children I think it was "Sheena's Club" She had an assistant who has taken over. Dawn is very good at the job but not as charismatic as Sheena.

    Peter Hutchison

     
  • At 19/4/08 14:15, Blogger Sam said…

    Peter - thank you - please could you email me? becksDOTposhATgmailDOTcom

    thanks so much

    Sam

     

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