Dec 142008
Authors: J. David McSwane

Growing up, my mother and I often fought with fervor only rivaled by the passion with which we loved one another. In retrospect, we bickered most often because of my uncompromising desire to be the independent one, the one who didn’t need her as much as much as others.

But now that she has passed, I realize it was I who needed her most.

My mother, Jacquelyn Michelle “Shelly” Hansen, was killed last Sunday in Colorado Springs after an 18-year-old who was street racing struck the motorcycle on which she was passenger. She died instantaneously, I am told, as did the driver, her new boyfriend, Charles “Chuck” Coggins.

She was 47, and she was in love.

Amid the plethora of sympathy letters, Facebook messages and phone calls, only one thing brings me comfort — the knowledge that she died happy, instantly and without pain.

In her final year, she managed to alleviate many of the tensions that weighed on her throughout her life and my childhood.

She was near the end of a much-needed divorce, she had reconnected with many old friends, my bond with her was stronger than ever, she was learning to play guitar, and she was going back to school to become a nurse.

I’m heartbroken to realize that it was only up from there, that the rising action after her first steps toward her own personal joy was stripped away.

But the memory of her love leaves a legacy great enough to, in time, overshadow the pain and hopes for what could have been.

My mother came from an abusive, broken home. Running away at the age of 14 to live with her aunt in Lakewood, she dreamed of one day having a big family with children who would never experience the suffering of a shattered family system.

But as an adult, she fell into the ’80s drug culture. It was there where she met my natural father, who upon the knowledge of her pregnancy with me, neglected us and never escaped the vortex of drugs and alcohol abuse that my mom swiftly abandoned.

Not only did she leave the drugs behind for her son, she later became a narcotics investigator in Northglenn, where she won awards for the most busts in city history. Later, she worked investigations for the Internal Revenue Service, which she eventually sued for overtime pay and won. The story ran front page in The Denver Post.

While working investigations for the U.S. Postal Service, she met Bret, my sister’s father, married and eventually left the exciting lifestyle to care for her two children.

But the simple homemaker gig never really caught her fancy. Soon after my sister was born — I was about seven — she became a foster parent, first caring for just two and, eventually, up to about eight at a time. By the time she died, she had welcomed more than 200 children into her home and her loving, yet stern, embrace.

Her children were her life, and she never hesitated to sacrifice her own happiness for us or even the strays she had a penchant for taking in.

A big loving family — with that desire she gathered the shrapnel of blown families to create her own mosaic semblance of what she thought family could be for the most desperate of souls. And we were a motley crew, something of a Brady Bunch from hell, I think. And boy, could she be a disciplinarian.

Now that’s she’s gone I — and the 30 or so kids and adults who kept in touch and visited during the holidays — are without our anchor, our shining star, our mother and our protector.

That 18-year-old speed-racing punk who took her away from us — well, she would have taken him in for Christmas. I’m certain of it. It’s difficult to be angry when all I can think about is her love and how she always supported her kids. Always.

Without the warm comfort of my mother and her giant heart, the world seems just a little bit colder, and the path ahead seems darker, muddled with uncertainty and sadness.

She did too many awesome and great things to put into this. She was a bit of prankster, too, and always loved a good joke. There is no doubt I am my mother’s son, so now you all know whom to blame for J. David McSwane.

And in her own stubborn and final sort of way, she got the last word, the closing joke, as usual: Chuck, the man with whom she shared a teenage blissful, flirtatious love in her final moments — he was an engineering major in college.

Funny how the joke’s on you in the end.

J. David McSwane is a senior journalism and technical communication major. His column appears Mondays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to

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