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Shelley Spear

1960 - 2009, Santa Barbara

An Obituary for Shelley Spear
By her son, Max Sosna-Spear

Shelley Spear was born on August 11, 1960, in Tooele, Utah, to Gayle Dossey (ne Nielsen), an administrative professional, and Bill Spear, a mine inspector, and raised in Pinehurst, Idaho. A Midwestern girl who liked her meat country-fried and who was always game to go "hunting" for "critters", i.e. catching lizards and pollywogs, she was also a Californian, a doctor of English Literature, who spent the last twenty years of her life in Santa Barbara. She was brilliant, beautiful, charming, and disarmingly modest, and she swept every man and woman she met off their feet.

She grew up in a modest, working-class home but found a way to put herself through college at Boise State. After several years teaching high school, she went on to complete her Ph.D. at Washington State in department record-breaking time. It was there she met Todd Sosna, the man who would become her third husband (third time's the charm), and, in 1989, gave birth to her son, Max. Shortly thereafter, they moved to California where Shelley began teaching at UCSB and, in 1992, had a daughter, Quinn. On Halloween of 1993, she and Todd were finally married. They were vampires.

Throughout her adult life she suffered from bipolar disorder. Mental illness, as those who suffer from it and their families know, is the most insidious of diseases. It affects the behavior, the minds, the very essences the people we know and love, and Shelley was no exception. As a result of her disorder she committed thefts, drove drunk, took a fall which shattered her wrist and multiple vertebrae, found herself in jail, and was left homeless. While it is hard for those of us who have not undergone similar experiences to even imagine the toll of such a downward spiral, Shelley did not give up.

For her children and for herself, she regained everything she had lost and more: she regained her driver's license; she relearned to walk and write; she got a job, now employing her peerless writing skills as an advocate for children with mental health issues; and, most importantly to her, she regained custody of her children, her most prized possessions, and imparted on them all manner of wonderful gifts, not the least of which being a love of language; she would live to see her daughter win the California Young Playwrights Festival and her son study literature at Stanford University.

In the early morning of November 28th, she committed suicide; she died of bipolar disorder. The battle to simply live, though we try to hide or ignore the struggle, is taking place within and all around us. More than 30,000 people will have committed suicide this year, nearly twice the number of people who were murdered, and yet it seems we do relatively little to staunch this wound of society.

She is survived by her mother, her siblings; Charlie, Callie, and Amy; her children, and untold numbers of other friends and family who will remember and celebrate her every day. She loved "to frustrate a cat's dignity," and she studied George Eliot at Cambridge. She was, in the words of one of her favorite songwriters, "a little black cloud in a dress." She was a woman of inherent contradiction, a walking oxymoron, and yet, for Shelley, there was no contradiction.

Some of her friends and family will be gathering on January 30th of the new year at the Mosher Alumni House at UCSB from 2-5 and we welcome anyone who knew her to come.

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Her enduring legacy will be the sense of compassion and empathy she gave you, her son. This is a beautiful requiem full of honesty and love.
Thank you.

Kristina (anonymous profile)
January 5, 2010 at 4:21 p.m. (Suggest removal)

What a beautiful picture of Shelley!
My sister-in-law was a beautiful, classy, witty, talented, briliant, loving person who I miss dearly. She was a great friend to me as well. She always made me feel so good about myself, and I always enjoyed talking to her, and reading what she wrote. She was a wonderful writer. I am cretain she would be so proud of what her son has written here.
This was absolutely inspirational, and I am still wiping away the tears after reading Max's words about Shelley's life. Thank you so much for sharing this. I truly hope Shelley is resting in peace.

Mitchell (anonymous profile)
January 5, 2010 at 5:14 p.m. (Suggest removal)

It's bad timing and me
We find a lot of things out this way
And there's you
A little black cloud in a dress
The temptation
To take the precious things we have apart
To see how they work
Must be resisted for they never fit together again
If this is rain let it fall on me and drown me
If these are tears let them fall . . .
(Must I Paint You A Picture by Billy Bragg)

I am so very sorry this happened. A tender remembrance for an exceptional woman.

I did not know her, but we did communicate few times a couple of years ago via e-mail. I offer my condolences to you and your family.

Draxor (anonymous profile)
January 6, 2010 at 9:54 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I too am sorry and saddened by the passing of Shelley. Max you have done a fantastic job in giving others a glimpse of a wonderful mother, a soft-mannered and caring individual. She will always be remembered.

jjb (anonymous profile)
January 8, 2010 at 6:32 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I can not think of a more beautiful or acurate way to describe your mom.
she was always such a wonderful woman. And so quick to hide her own pain. and eager to get rid of someone elses.
Such a loving soul and such a loss.
I miss her very much.

jessesgm (anonymous profile)
January 16, 2010 at 4:28 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I just googled Shelley because I've had a hunch that this had occurred for a while. I am a Buddhist lama now, but Max knew me as the Wolverine many years ago. I am so very sorry. And I am also a "bipolar I", a mani(a)c. Perhaps if the insurance companies would recognise that death from depression is called suicide, others would follow suit.

nyungnelama (anonymous profile)
May 13, 2010 at 4:24 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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