Hundreds of people flocked to funeral mass of Shannon Lawrence at St. Michael the Archangel Roman Catholic Church in Woodstock earlier today. The vestibule was filled with poster-size photos of Lawrence and numerous floral arrangements. As the service began, it also held friends who could no longer find a seat in the 700-seat church.
People arrived an hour early while church staff and volunteers quickly prepared for the mass by vacuuming up remnants of today’s Vacation Bible School and dispensing boxes of tissues. Mourners greeted one another with hugs and tears and shared stories about Shannon. Many arrived long after the ceremony began.
Among those in attendance were Marine Corps League (MCL) members, there to support Karen Lawrence, stepmother of the deceased, a U.S. Marine. In addition, Bobby Burn, a member of the Warriors' Watch Riders was a presence in support of the MCL.
Family members served as paul bearers and Father Larry Niese was the celebrant. Megan Dehner, godmother to Lawrence’s children, gave the first Bible reading. Her husband, Chris, gave the second.
Father Larry, as he is known to parishioners, reflected on Shannon’s life and helped mourners to understand her tragic death.
“In all my years as a priest, I’ve never known anything as horrific as this,” he began. “No words can express our deep sadness for the tragic loss of Shannon.”
Niese addressed the question running through the minds of many: “Why did God allow this to happen?” and “Where was God when this happened?” He offered the explanation that “there are no simple answers” but comforted the gathered with the thought that God “was there within her [Lawrence].”
“Shannon was beautiful both physically and spiritually. She had had her struggles, yet, by the grace of God, she began to blossom,” said Niese. His comments were closed with “today we say ‘goodbye for now because we love you, oh, so very much.”
Muffled sobs could be heard throughout the church.
Justin Lawrence, brother of the deceased, stood at the pulpit and addressed the crowd.
“In times of tragedy,” he began, “the first question we ask is ‘what happened?’"
He continued with halted speech, “the second question we ask is to make sense of the senseless and we ask 'why?'” After pausing for composure, he reflected on the question, “Who is this wonderful woman?”
Between sobs and supported by family, he painfully shared, “I know that Shannon is the kindest, gentlest soul I know. Her compassion is mystifyingly endless. Everything she did, she did for others.”
He added that his sister once wanted to be a teacher. Their mother, Diana Macksey, interjected that she’d talked her daughter out of it. Justin added that her choice to enter the field of nursing “was a perfect fit” because she “loved helping people.”
“She lies her today because of hate. She lives in our hearts because of love. Embrace love because only love can heal the hurt we feel today. She is my sister and I love her,” he sobbed.
He was embraced by family as his mother whispered to him, “that was amazing.”
Lawrence leaves behind her daughter, Emma Catherine Marie Erdman, who turns three on June 25 and her son, Peter, who turned one the day before his mother’s funeral. The Shannon Lawrence Fund for Emma and Peter in trust by Randy and Karen Lawrence has been established at Regions Bank.