I awoke this morning with a crushing pain in my chest. Gasping for breath as another anxiety attack pulled me back to the realization that the alcohol and sleeping pill must have worn off.

The memory of the phone call hours earlier telling me that my daughter had a few days, maybe weeks to live, pulled my heart and head back to the horrible reality our family and close friends were living. We all rushed to Fayetteville from all points of the globe where her big sister Paisley was inspired to write this …

Shalon Leigh Shafer Hays, a bright light whose straight-talk, humour, beauty and love touched people around the world, died Sunday after a long battle with breast cancer. She was 33.

Despite her prognosis, Shalon lived life to the fullest and found true love in June 2009 with her husband-to-be, John Middleton Hays, an Army Special Forces medic. The pair, who met at a rockabilly barbeque in North Carolina, married in July 2010. John stayed by her side until the very end.

A jack-of-all -trades and a scholar in the school of life, Shalon grew up in Ladner, British Columbia, where she had an early career as a hair dresser. Years after, she moved to Seattle where she bartended at some of the city’s most popular watering holes, but she yearned for a more creative trade.

Talented, tenacious and artistic, Shalon obtained her welding certificate training that allowed her to forge beautiful works of art that included furniture and sculptures. But then, in a Eureka moment during a visit to Paris, she decided on another calling that had long been a part of her life tattooing. Those vibrant pieces of art that now adorn the bodies of the lucky few are part of her artistic legacy.

Shalon’s many talents and ability to do anything was best summed up in a word she coined “ingenuitive,” a state of being combining ingenuity and intuition.

Wherever she went Barcelona, Ladner, Vancouver, Sturgis, Bellingham, Seattle, London, San Juan, Paris, Kelowna, Southport, Fayetteville, Kyoto or Montego Bay Shalon held court. People were captivated by her vibrant spirit.

Her many loves included dogs Augie, Cleo and Hank, motorcycle riding, guns, rockabilly music, vintage fashion, clothes, sunshine, traveling, creating, Dia de Los Muertos artwork, pirates and her family. After her step-mother was diagnosed with leukemia, she dropped everything to spend years helping with her family and setting an example for her younger sister’s one of her many selfless and generous acts that spoke to her integrity and character.

She will forever be remembered for her wit, bravery, generosity, laughter, her ability to rock the boat and a wicked ability to be both naughty and nice in tandem.

Survivors include her husband John Middleton Hays, mother and step-father Renee and Kevin McCluskey, father Don Shafer, brother and sister-in-law Heath and Sarah Shafer, nephew Oliver Shafer, sisters Paisley Shafer-Dodds, Allyn and Evan Shafer, mother-in-law Patricia Quinn, father-in-law Sam Hays, mother-in-law Ronalda Hays, sister-in-law Meg Hays, her dog Hank, family friend Dawnie-Jack Scheck, friends Kirstin Briefs, Elizabeth Raab, Liz Doolittle and a legion of others who were touched by her.

She will be missed by all.

As we celebrated her life on the beach in Southport North Carolina, the pastor read a requested passage for her mum from Gibran …

“Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.”

As the sun came out and the dolphins swam by John spoke …

“A very long time ago a man, infinitely wiser than myself, defined love.

He said that without love, “I am nothing.

Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is not envious or boastful. Love is not arrogant or rude. Love doesn’t insist on its own way. Love is not irritable or resentful. Love does not rejoice in wrong doing but rejoices in truth. Love bears all things. Love believes all things. Love hopes all things. Love endures all things. Love never ends.”

What I take from this is that love is more than mere feeling or emotion. Love is behaviour and action.

In the short time that I shared with Shalon, I was privileged to receive such a true love. As was I blessed with the opportunity to give it.

In a letter that I wrote her from across the sea, I told her that she was why the sun rose and set, why the moon pulled the tide back and forth. Why flowers bloomed in spring and why autumn painted the trees.

She inspired and challenged me. She lent me comfort and peace. And it is a vast understatement to say that I am sad that she is gone.

I consider myself abundantly fortunate to have been her husband, her friend and partner. Her ability to love still amazes me and I will forever be a better man because of my love for her.

I will miss her smile and laughter. But I am incredibly grateful that I was the cause of a fraction of it.

I love you Shalon, now and always. ”

You can learn more about Shalon on FB @ Shalon Hays