His Life

A Tribute to Matt - from Mom

The name Matthew means .."gift of God"....
When  Phil and I chose this name for our son...we could never have
imagined how our Matt and his life would come to exemplify his name,,,,
Matt  was a gift that kept on giving....,to family,
friends and new acquaintances alike,,,

A word that has come up a lot in conversations with people who knew
Matt is "goodness"...a goodness that could be dis-arming when one
realised that what they experienced with Matt was genuine,,,,and  then,
as some described..."you wanted to be a better person"

Matt was "a good sharer"..  A gift  evident
 from  his earliest years and one that continued throughout his
life...... .Matt lived gently, compassionately,  and with huge amounts
of courage,  humor, and most of all...LOVE.. 
I  will forever be grateful for the gift from God that Matt was...
Matt, Thanks for sharing your gifts...  with me...and with
so many others..
Love, mom

Prayers of the Faithful

1. For all those afflicted with cancer, especially Matt's buddies at Children's Hospital and the Jimmy Fund Clinic.... We pray to the Lord......." Lord hear our prayer" 

2. For more people like Matt, whose life and humor inspire us to be better people. ......"We pray.... 
3. For the poor, especially those impoverished by illness..."We pray.. 
4. For our many friends and members of our families who have gone before us, especially Philip Shea, Jim Shea and John O'Neill..." We pray..... 
5. For all those who mourn, especially the family and friends of  Matt.   Heal their pain and dispel the darkness and doubt that come from grief.  " We pray.... 
6. For all runners like Matt, who endured thru many heartbreak hills   but finished the race,  and especially for  this year's Boston Marathon runners.    We pray... 
7. Finally, for all the nurses and doctors,  like Annette and Carlos (to name just a few.) who,  like Jesus the healer, heal their patients in body, mind and spirit...   and with special recognition to Children's Hospital's Reiki practicing nurses..... We Pray...

Matthew Shea: Eulogy and Tribute:

We thank all of you for being here today.  We also want to thank all of you who in so many ways supported us since Matthew first became ill a little over ten years ago.  Thanks to all of you who provided us with friendship, help and support, all of you who were there during difficult days and the many good days we have had with Matthew over the past ten years.  So many of you were there for us with love, encouragement and understanding.  You made this journey with Matthew not only infinitely more bearable, but enriching.  Thank you.  Thank you is hardly enough.  But thank you.

We especially thank Matt’s treaters and caregivers, those people who were his champions and who became our family.  Your care was always extraordinary.  We thank you for your candor, always accompanied by such caring and compassion.  We thank you for your wisdom, always accompanied by a willingness to reach beyond the conventions of current medicine to give Matthew the benefit of everything current knowledge had to offer.  We thank you for your determination to find hope, always preserving Matthew’s dignity and respecting his choices.  You embraced our family and remained connected through every phase and stage of his illness and death.  We are grateful beyond expression.

 I am humbled by the opportunity to speak to you for a few minutes about my son.  For those of you who knew Matt, I hope you find that these comments resonate with the person you knew.  For those who did not know Matt well, I hope I can give you an authentic glimpse of the person he was.

 Last Sunday morning, I spent several hours with Matthew.  He was sedated and in some discomfort.  Nevertheless we walked the corridors at Children’s Hospital and then sat in his room and talked.  At one point in the conversation, as he was reflecting upon important aspects of his life, he quoted Henry David Thoreau from memory.  I later looked up the quote.  In spite of his illness and the drugs clouding his thinking, he got it spot on.  I’d like to share it with you.

     “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

I think Matthew was telling me how he looked at a how he looked at his life and how he lived his last few years.  Thoreau sought the solitude of Walden Pond to learn what is essential in life materially and spiritually.  Matthew’s Walden was Rockport.  It was there that he seemed to find the most peace and a place to read and learn and think and ponder.  Not unlike Thoreau’s limited amenities at Walden, Matthew would stay in Rockport long after the water was turned off and it seemed too cold to be anywhere without central heat.  I think he loved the solitude and raw beauty of the ocean and harbor far more than he loved comforts like heat and running water.

  More than a few of us here tried hard to reach Matthew by phone, voicemail, email or text message at times over the past couple of years without success.  It could be a pretty frustrating experience until or unless you realized that he was a man who sought and found solitude even in this age of instant and incessant connection.  On more than a couple of occasions, I drove to Rockport after not hearing from Matthew for a week - or two - or more.  I would beat on his door.  He would emerge from his room to answer the door with a smile - “Hey Dad.  What’s up?” as though I had seen him earlier in the day. I would learn he was reading or re-reading Rousseau, Montaigne, Augustine, Shakespeare or de Toqueville or some other theorist, philosopher or political satirist – like Jon Stewart or Steven Colbert.  I believe this part of his journey became both intellectual and spiritual.  Matthew didn’t go to the woods – he went to Rockport. 

 Though valuing solitude, Thoreau was not a recluse and neither was Matt.  Both were very social people.  Thoreau kept two empty chairs in his small one room shelter – always ready for visitors from nearby Concord for the news, conversation and friendship they would bring.  Matt also always had chairs, along with a great view of the harbor, ready for visitors.  Matt welcomed family, friends from college and abroad to Rockport or wherever he was.  Even during his last hospitalization at Children’s Hospital, he hosted a pizza party for his family, friends and caregivers.  You could not help but feel welcomed, engaged and entertained in his presence.

There are several things that I think of as descriptive of the essence of Matt - he loved children, had great compassion, enormous courage and he found humor and joy in life. 

Matt was first diagnosed with cancer in 2003.  He graduated from high school in 2004 and enrolled at Tufts.  He had a recurrence in 2006.  At that time, he was scheduled to make a trip to the Dominican Republic.  He had become an Emergency Medical Technician and the trip was with a group of physicians and students bringing medical care and supplies to rural areas..  The trip followed surgery to remove a tumor in his lung.  His treatment team delayed the start of chemotherapy so that he could make this trip that was so important to him.  My favorite picture of Matthew is from this trip.  It is on his casket.  In the picture, there are four young children climbing on him and his smile reflects pure joy.  He was doing one of the things he loved most – bringing care, affection and laughter to children.

 His compassion and generosity extended to nearly everyone he encountered.  Trips to the Jimmy Fund for chemotherapy were seldom possible without Matt asking to stop at the corner of the Jamaica way and Brookline Avenue to give money to the homeless.

During Matt’s last hospitalization, Meghan sent an email to friends and family requesting stories about Matthew.  I would like to read one that I think illustrates his compassion.  It is from a friend of the family who had experienced serious medical and personal challenges. 

She wrote:

            “Dear Matt

            It’s 3:30 in the morning and I can’t sleep.  I’m thinking about you a lot.  Someone quoted Maya Angelou to me last week – “people don’t remember what you say or do – they remember how you made them feel.”  I want you to know that when I came to Rockport in shambles last October, you made me feel at home when I needed it most.  You made me coffee in the mornings, preheated my bedroom by plugging in the heater before bedtime, listened to my crazy soul-searching ramblings, and made sure that I never felt lonely.  You made me feel like family, Matt.  Which is what I needed.  You took care of me.  You made me feel welcome, when I felt like a stranger even to myself.  I wish I could return the favors.  I love you, Matt.”

 Matthew faced the circumstances presented by his illness with grace, humility and courage.  Though surely shaped by his illness, it never came to define him.  He lived with it as far in the background as he could.  He never stopped affirming life and never stopped affirming what was good in others.  Like with most things, Matt didn’t see it as being about him.  “My cancer story isn’t really about me,” Matt commented in an interview.  “I don’t deserve credit for how I’ve done.  I’m a reflection of the good people around me: my family, friends and caregivers.  I couldn’t do this without them.”  That was Matt throughout.  He was grateful to so many of you and especially to all of his caregivers.  He was surrounded by a team of providers that brought all that medicine could bring to bear to treat his illness, slow its progress, minimize his suffering, and permit him to enjoy life as he chose to live it. 

 His medical team mirrored his courage.  Given Matt’s strengths and his affirmation of life, his surgeon and oncologist pursued an aggressive course of treatment that was questioned by some of their colleagues.  Their skill and courage in treating Matt likely extended Matt’s life by several years and led to what I understand has come to be known as “aggressive palliative care,” the result of which is that others now have access to treatments that extend life and instill hope.

 Matthew always had the courage to ask the hard questions of his physicians – after asking his parents to leave the room – and face the reality of his circumstances – however difficult.

Someone very close to Matt recently suggested that “Matthew has been given the gift of living in the present.”  I think in many ways this is probably true.  I believe he came to be quite comfortable in the present – in Rockport – reading the literature of political theory and economics, assisting Meghan and Mike in their film productions, learning to cook, and spending time with friends and family.

 To the extent that Matt felt any discomfort with this, it probably had to do with figuring out how to respond to the social pressures trying to move him into some future for which he was not ready nor which, as it turns out, he would reach.  For all the clichés and affirmations about living in the present, perhaps Matthew has a lesson to teach us about the preciousness of the moment, especially with regard to our contact and connection with one another.  (Note: the other)

 Not unlike Thoreau’s travels to Merrimac and Cape Cod, Matt also traveled and it was an essential part of his learning.  He ventured a bit farther than Cape Cod – although he did love it there.  His travels included Ireland, Bermuda, Italy, France, Costa Rica, California, the mid-West and Singapore.  In recent years, I do not think I saw Matthew more fully alive than last summer when he traveled to Singapore to visit Meghan and Mike.  Matthew often could not be found in Rockport via email, text or cell phone.  But from Singapore, he would send lengthy emails describing in entertaining detail the culture, history, food and people he found there.

 One cannot have a picture of Matt Shea without knowing the joy he experienced laughing and making others laugh.  He made everyone laugh – children, friends, family, his nurses, his doctors – everyone and everywhere, including on stage at open mike night at the Comedy Connection.  I think he lived for it.  Even during his last hospital stay - during his last weekend, he spent from 2 AM until 4 AM Saturday and Sunday mornings at the nurses’ station exchanging stories and laughter. 

On the subjed of humor Hugh Sidey, an American journalist said:  “A sense of humor…is needed armor.  Joy in one’s heart and some laughter on one’s lips is a sign that the person down deep has a pretty good grasp of life.” 

 Compassion, putting others before himself, a commitment to learning, courage and a well developed sense of humor – I think Matthew had a pretty good grasp of life.

I could not imagine a finer son.

Thank you.

Delivered April 23, 2013 by Philip Shea

 “What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”   Thoreau


Matt's Obituary

SHEA, Matthew H. Philosophical thinker, family comedian, and Jimmy Fund Clinic patient, died in Children's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts on Wednesday, April 17, 2013. At 27 years old, he had the life perspective of someone well beyond his years.

Born in Boston on May 20, 1985, he was raised in Walpole, Massachusetts and graduated from Walpole High School with the class of 2004. Before his first battle with cancer, running track and putting to use his long strides was one of his greatest pleasures.

Matt went on to graduate from Tufts University with the class of 2008. It was at Tufts that he was introduced to his other great love, political theory. He excelled at his studies and the discussions around political science.  He was  the recipient of the The Ellen C. Myers Memorial Prize for Academic Achievement; a prize given to students who acheive high scholarship standards in the face of adverse circumstances. Matt lived valiantly with cancer for over ten years. Throughout this time, and his five recurrences, Matt was strong and gracious, and fought these battles using humor and laughter as his most powerful weapons. Finding deep support and strength in his 'Jimmy Fund Family', Matt went on to volunteer at the Jimmy Fund Clinic during one of his all too brief remissions.

Inspired by the medical community that supported him he became a certified EMT and while at Tufts went with the Timmy Fund to the Dominican Republic to deliver medical care just 2 weeks after one of his cancer surgeries. Matt has been a resident of Rockport, Massachusetts for the past 4 years, moving there from Walpole. Matt enjoyed learning and world travel immensely, quickly making friends around the globe on his visits to Italy, France, Ireland, California, North Dakota, Costa Rica, The Domincan Republic, Bermuda and mostly recently Singapore.

Devoted son of Philip Shea of Bridgewater and Kathleen O'Neill of Rockport. Loving brother of Meghan Shea and Mike Rogers of Rockport. Cherished grandson of Gertrude (Legge) Shea of Stoneham and the late Philip Shea and Gertrude (Howard) O'Neill of Malden and the late John O'Neill. Also survived by many loving aunts, uncles, cousins and his namesake Matthew O'Neill (age 2).

Funeral from the James H. Delaney & Son Funeral Home, 48 Common Street, WALPOLE, on Tuesday, April 23, 2013 at 9:30 AM. A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated in Blessed Sacrament Church, East Street (Route 27) at Diamond Street Walpole at 10:30 AM. Relatives and friends are kindly invited. Visiting hours are Monday, April 22, 2013 from 4-8 PM. Interment will be private. In lieu of flowers memorial donations may be made to the Jimmy Fund c/o Dana-Farber Cancer Institute P.O. Box 849168 Boston, MA 02284.