Moving on After Grief: Shannon Varley Part 6

This is the final installment of Shannon’s story. You can read the earlier posts here: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5.

After Shannon’s house was destroyed by fire, she said they received so many donations of clothes and household items that she needed help to go through them all. She said she now owned nicer clothes than she ever had before. I saw her about five weeks after the fire, and she said she felt deflated, ungrounded and untethered (and who wouldn’t?). But she also seemed philosophical and balanced about the experience.

She said that she felt the path was being laid out for them, yet she wasn’t sure yet where that path would lead. What they needed first, of course, was a place to live. After ten days staying with family, they moved to a fully furnished rental. After going back and forth with ideas of rebuilding (some days BJ wanted to, some days she wanted to), they made the decision not to rebuild, but to move on.

They listed the farm for sale (the house was gone, but the barn and fencing remained), and it sold within a week to a family excited about farming. They bought another dilapidated house (this one had been a crack house) right outside of Brunswick, MD, and BJ set to work renovating the house.

They still owned their small place in Vermont, which they had been renting out since moving to Maryland in 2010. Their tenant moved out quite suddenly, and so the idea of moving back to Vermont entered the conversation. Over time they decided that once BJ had finished the renovation of the house in Brunswick, they would sell it, make a profit, and return to Vermont.

I asked her if she could see herself being happy if she weren’t farming, and she said that no matter what, she would always have animals and a garden, but the scale of the plan was up for grabs. She felt jaded about farming, and resentful. “We have worked harder than most people in their whole lives for this dream.”

“Fate is a weird thing. You don’t have profound things happen like this without something coming out of it. But is this how the story ends? A two-acre little house? It has got to have a better ending.”

Dramatic sky looms over a rural Marlyand farm landscape

Moving on

Shannon ended up taking the kids up to Vermont in October of 2015, while BJ stayed behind to get the Brunswick house sold and finish a large barn project for a client. He will join the family when all of that is settled. (In typical BJ fashion, the renovation on the former crack house was stunning.)

She wrote me that she and the kids jumped right in and hit the ground running. The kids’ school “is amazing, and has been the best thing for both kids.” Shannon is coaching the school’s 5/6th grade girls’ basketball team, and both kids are taking part in the school’s ski program this winter. They love their community and have a good group of friends.

And the dream of a farm? “We have looked at a few farms up here but nothing has quite fit the bill yet. That feels discouraging. But, it will work out. I hope. I will fling myself on the ground of the farm when we land and kiss the ground.”

Shannon was back in Maryland recently for the Future Harvest CASA conference, this year as a Future Harvest employee and not an attending farmer (she’s been working as a program assistant for them and helped organize the conference). It was momentarily disorienting to see her in a professional skirt, working at a conference. At one point I asked her if being at a farmer conference was difficult for her, now that she didn’t have a farm. She flashed a smile at me and, with a twinkle in her eye, said “It’s okay, because I know it’s coming.”

A farmer's workboots sit outside the door.

Let’s hope that soon these boots will rest outside a new farmhouse for Shannon.

Next week, we’ll meet a 7th generation farmer who had no intention of spending her life on a farm. You can link to that post here.

It turns out that this is not herethe final post on Shannon. Click for an update that just might renew your faith in goodness.

14 Comments / Add your own comment below

  1. Gosh, I love how this was done and can’t wait for the next one!

  2. Very moving story. And inspiring. And the photos are just so beautiful. So much texture in them. So rich!

    1. I’m really glad you are liking this, Mike.

  3. Beautiful story and photos. A big thanks to Shannon for allowing you to share her amazing story. What an inspiration she is to every woman and mother and wife!

    1. Emily, she certainly has been an inspiration to me; glad you feel the same way!

      1. I was Shannon’s sixth grade teacher and worked with her mom. She remains one of my favorite students of all time. I have to tell you that her spirt and character was evident even as a twelve year old. All the best to her and B. J.

        1. Lise Metzger

          Wow I love reading this! How interesting that she showed the same spirit at 12, although I guess I’m not surprised. She’s one of a kind. What is it like for you to read about a former student, especially such a special one? When you taught her did you ever think she’d become a farmer? Thanks for sharing this, Gary.

  4. What an inspirational story! Love reading about farming life.

    1. Lise Metzger

      Thank you, Jill! I hope you’ll subscribe to the blog so you don’t miss each new post. So many inspiring stories!

  5. I am in awe of Shannon’s drive to keep moving– in spite of all the HARD WORK AND TRAGEDY. Many of us– & our spirit– would have been crippled or paralyzed (nevermind, exhausted), from rejection from such a loss. I read this, and although I know Shannon pretty well… I hadn’t realized that through all of the struggles– she still hasn’t ever given up on that dream– or letting tragedy step in the way of creating that life she believes is best fitting for hwr and hwr family. I love you Shannon– you are so earnest, sweet and loving. It is a blessing to be around you, to have your opinion as a friend, and to know you. This is such a wonderful blog– so inspirational! ! Great work, Lise. 🙂

    1. Lise Metzger

      Thank you, Melani, for such a nice compliment to the blog, and to such moving words about our friend Shannon. It has made me so satisfied to be able to share her incredible story and spirit with so many readers.

  6. You evocative photography is amazing!

    1. Lise Metzger

      Thank you, Cheryl!

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