At the Artful Bean, where 17-year-old Shauna Kaufman had worked part-time for a couple of years, she had been known to customers as “the happy one.” The coffee shop’s owner, Kim Doughty-Cavagnaro, added that Shauna “was always in a good mood,” “was a super-fast learner and so responsible,” and they loved to talk together about art and which art school she might attend after graduating from Sussex Central High School.
“Two years ago, at her funeral, I couldn’t even say her name without crying,” Doughty-Cavagnaro said.
Coastal Point readers might remember that Shauna Kaufman was Amy and Ian Kaufman’s daughter and Holly Kaufman’s older sister, and on June 18, 2009, she was killed in a single-vehicle car crash on a turn in a rain-slicked road, on her way from a friend’s house to work.
If that wasn’t enough unbearable news for the Kaufman family, there was more. Shauna had wanted to be an organ donor. The little red heart symbol was on her driver’s license. The Kaufman’s even pointed it out to officials.
But, somehow, Shauna’s wish got forgotten until it was too late.
Two years ago, there was nothing but grief and loss. Michelle Moses, a childhood friend of Amy and Ian Kaufman, said that even a year ago, “It was as much as they could do to gather a dozen family members and close friends and visit the scene of the accident and her gravesite.”
This year, however, through the process of building Shauna’s Garden, they are able to celebrate who she was, as opposed to focusing on their loss.
“I’m in awe of the three of them, how they have taken a tragedy that affected the core of their beings and allowed Shauna’s spirit to continue to touch so many people,” Moses said.
In her invitation to come together to build a garden in Shauna’s memory, Amy Kaufman, an artisan who works with textiles, said that making stepping stones and prayer flags were part of her family’s tradition.
“Shauna made her first stepping stone when she was just a toddler,” she wrote.
Instead of flowers, the garden would be comprised of a lone bald cypress tree and brightly decorated stepping stones and flags hanging from colored twine attached to posts, indicating the points on a compass.
Shauna’s Garden is an open circular area located next to the large natural pond at the far end of the Kaufman property near Dagsboro. The pond is where Shauna grew up swimming, having fun and reflecting. It was the inspiration for one of her poems, as she wrote in its accompanying narrative. The poem is about noticing the never-stopping ripples of movement on the surface of the water from when she dipped in her feet.
“I still act without thinking sometimes,” Shauna wrote, “and those actions I know will eventually affect the whole world. However everyone’s actions will ripple out, so why can’t mine? Let’s just hope that most of those ripples can be positive.”
The poem was given to the eclectic gathering of a hundred or so people who joined together to commemorate not just Shauna but the important people in all their lives who have died and whose spirit continues to motivate.
Alex Summers and Ashley Gillespie, who attend Sussex Central, are friends of Holly Kaufman but didn’t know Shauna. They hadn’t known what to expect at the event but came out of friendship with Holly and recognition that “the family has been through a lot.”
“I was surprised how moved I was by Shauna’s poem. It was visionary,” said Summers. “I took the idea of life and nature and balance when I painted my flag.”
Gillespie created a flower in the center of her stepping stone, to represent Shauna. “Then I placed random pieces of glass and trinkets around it to reflect the random and unforeseen events of life,” she said.
Ripples of wisdom and beauty, in Sussex County
Shauna was one of approximately 4,000 people who die suddenly and tragically outside the hospital in Delaware each year. These deaths are investigated by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME).
In the year ending Sept. 1, 2009, only three out-of-hospital deaths were referred to Gift of Life (GOL), the region’s organ and tissue transplant network. No families were approached to donate, and thus no people in need received transplants.
The following year, there were 40 referrals from OCME to GOL; 24 families were approached and 12 donors were identified as meeting the strict criteria necessary for a successful transplant. From those 12 individuals came the potential of 469 recipients of corneas, skin, heart valves, saphenous veins and bones.
Equally significant, bereaved families were given the opportunity for their loved ones’ tissue to help someone else.
The huge upsurge in donation is the direct result of the intervention by the Kaufman family (especially Amy) that resulted in a new OCME/GOL policy called “Shauna’s Hope.” Their work flies under the radar. They don’t know who the 12 people were whose tissues have helped the hundreds. But they do know that, any time they read in the paper of a death from a car or workplace accident, or a suicide, or even a murder, that person is now considered to be a candidate for tissue donation.
“No other family in Delaware will have to face what we had to face – a mistake compounding an unimaginable tragedy,” said Amy Kaufman. “The safeguards are now in place here, but we do want the policy adopted in other areas so more families can benefit.”
Ripples of hope and comfort, in Delaware and beyond
This spring, Amy and Holly Kaufman experienced a kind of reawakening. They traveled to Nepal to help at the Samata Skikshaya Niketan School in Bhaktapur. The school’s name means Equality, Education and Peace in Nepali. These are words synonymous with Shauna’s passion, at such a young age, for causes related to social justice. Without the school, most of the children would be homeless beggars or child laborers.
But even at the school, the children had no access to art.
So, as a result of funding through the Shauna Rose Kaufman Foundation, the school now has an art teacher. And on July 1, the name of the winner of the first Shauna Art Competition was announced, with much fanfare, pride and joy.
By chance, Kim Sheridan came with her boyfriend to the creation of Shauna’s Garden. Her daughter attends the Bates Art Magnet School in Annapolis.
“Wouldn’t it be great for our kids to pair up with kids in Nepal?” she wondered aloud as she wrote down all the details.
Ripples of creativity and happiness, abroad and home again
Life in the Kaufman family is getting back to a new normal but in Amy Kaufman’s words, “We’re still not OK.” There are days that are hard to get through, but they manage, and days when solitude is the only option.
Ian Kaufman is an environmental consultant with a home-based business and many contacts in the community. He likes to play his guitar and sing folk songs with old friends. He still can’t talk about Shauna without choking up.
On his Facebook page, the day after Shauna’s memorial garden-building he wrote, “A living tree, the impermanence of prayer flags, the seeming permanence of concrete, a congregation of community, family and friends creating a space together in the memory of a lost child.”
“Ripples of movement, Never stopping, stopping, stopping, Like an echo of actions, Never, never stopping…The rain is never stopping, The tears never stopping, Feelings, Nev-, Er, Stoppinggg, Stopping, Stopping, Stopping…” — by Shauna Kaufman.
For copies of the Shauna’s Hope policy, contact Gift of Life Donor Program at 1-800-DONORS-1, or email cgraham@Donors1.org. To learn more about the work of the Foundation or to contact the Kaufman’s go to www.ShaunaRoseKaufmanfoundation.com.