When you love an entire family, you can’t imagine them any different than they have always been, because it’s the way you’ve always loved them. But life winds and turns, and sometimes hurts like nothing you’ve imagined.
I was traveling up Highway 32 toward Susanville—my hometown—when my childhood friend Tenley called. She told me to pull over. I knew it was bad. When she told me that Luke Sheehy was killed fighting a fire, I couldn’t believe it. Tears poured. My hands went numb. I shook like crazy and couldn’t stand still. I screamed into the canyon, like being mad at the air would somehow change it… could somehow bring him back. Strained wails burst from my mouth like, “Luke fucking Sheehy! No! But they (his family) are going to hurt so bad!”
I was mad at the trees. How could one of them drop a branch on our Luke and take him like that? I was mad at Deer Creek for being so absurdly beautiful. Asinine creek; cruel wilderness, who the hell do you think you are? Don’t you know what he means to us?!
My best friend Kate and her sister Meg lost their brother. Doug, the philosopher and musician, lost his son. Lynn, with Luke’s matching smile and dancing eyes, lost her boy. And I lost a piece of the family that made me who I am—the one I got all my love, all my music, all my art, and all my sense of wonder from. I am privileged to have grown up part-Sheehy.
Luke’s grandpa asked me, “How do you get your arms around a thing like that? How do you get your arms around our Luke leaving us like that?”
You don’t. You absolutely cannot. You can’t grab it. It’s too bulky and large and fucked up for us to ever get our arms around. We lost our Luke. Nobody has that nose. Nobody has that freckle-faced, boyish grin; that laugh, that appetite for life, that beautiful heart that was contained within, as Doug Sheehy put it, “the outer trappings of strength.”
But, Luke wouldn’t want us to quit living. He was strong, handsome, capable, helpful, wise and kind. He was an absolute crack-up, and a fantastic friend. He shoveled snow from elderly people’s driveways. He gave people shit. He outran his strongest counterparts. He played guitar and loved music. He was a beautiful man. My brother, who was both Luke’s childhood friend and fellow firefighter called him “the best guy I know.” Luke used to call me “Money Jenny.”
When there’s nothing else to do, you can try to sustain; try to eat something healing. Lynn asked for soup, so that’s what I could give. Here’s the recipe that Mick and I pieced together from things my mom and I had on hand. You would likely do the same, under the circumstances: just use what you have, do what you can, and put it all together with your best, and most aching, effort.
3 to 4 chicken breasts
Lundberg Weehani Rice
Spices (we used oregano, sage, garlic, and thyme because it was in my mom’s pantry)
Mirepoix (one part chopped celery to 2 parts chopped onion and carrot)
2 quarts chicken stock
Sea salt, black pepper
Coat the chicken breasts in olive oil, and sprinkle generously with sea salt and spices. Roast at 450 degrees F until cooked through but still juicy. Let cool, cut into cubes.
Bring 2 1/2 cups Weehani Rice (or any brown rice) to a boil with five cups of water. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, about 25 minutes or until the rice is cooked through.
Chop your celery (a couple ribs) and onion (one should suffice) and carrots (three or four) and sauté them over medium heat until tender. Add sea salt and spices to taste. Pour in the chicken stock and bring it all to a simmer. When heated through, add the rice and the chicken breast.
Try to eat. Know you’re doing all you can. Love one another. Really, really well.