Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane stepped slowly, mindful of her broken heart, as she ascended Sunday afternoon to the microphone on the stage of the packed Jackson Theater at Sonoma Country Day School. The first sound she made was an inadvertent sigh.
Zane then spoke affectionately and with great humor and sorrow about her departed husband, Peter Kingston. The hundreds of people in the hall laughed and wept with her as she recalled their annual adventures in the Lake District of northern England and elsewhere and his boundless love of his children, hilarious parlor games, history, hiking, daffodils, costumes and on and on.
She’d said a good deal about her family’s loss when she took a breath and told the crowd of family members, fellow supervisors, associates and friends, “I want to say something about that loss that needs to be said.”
“We need to learn to talk about suicide,” Zane told the hushed crowd. “We cannot be ashamed of the pain in our lives.”
Often at funerals of people who take their own lives, suicide is not spoken of, though it’s on everybody’s mind. Zane was courageous in not allowing that to happen at the community’s farewell to her husband, a brilliant and vibrant Cambridge alum who apparently was depressed recently and whose depression may have been deepened by the impending closure of Ursuline High School, at which he worked as Director of Finance & Operations.
His widow could have sidestepped the issue of suicide. Instead, Zane asked that the people who cared for her husband honor him and his big yet fragile heart by reaching out to others who are in pain.
In choosing to speak out about something often left unsaid, she created the possibility that someone somewhere might be led back from the bewildering act that took the remarkable man of her life. It’s hard to imagine a more powerful tribute.