December 2016 marked one of the darkest months in the life of Sherry Ann Lopez. Her only daughter, Shannon Banfield went missing on December 5. Three days later, on December 8, the decomposing body of the 20-year-old bank employee was found under some boxes at IAM and Company on Charlotte Street in Port of Spain. She was given an emotional send off on December 13.
One year later, life goes on for Lopez but the wounds, still raw in some places, tell the tale of a woman who has been through an emotional hurricane and has willed herself to live to tell the story.
“No mother can cope with the loss of a child. There will always be the ‘what if?’ The ‘why?’ The ‘if I could I would and should.’ At the end of the day when reality hits we realise we do not design our own destiny. Almighty God determines what he will and will not allow. The same God who has been giving me the strength to wake up each and every day, remembering the good times and sometimes too weak to face what has happened to my beautiful daughter. On those weak days I know he loves me because he always sends a word through a friend, family member, work colleagues.”
Sitting in her office at Pan American Life Insurance on St Vincent Street, Port of Spain, Lopez hardly looks like the woman in the images carried by the media in the days following her daughter’s disappearance and murder. Her then gaunt, sallow look now replaced by a plumper, well-made up face, and well-groomed hair.
“I never thought I would have been at this point today. Able to smile, laugh,” she tells Newsday. Her daughter’s death has changed her life in every possible way and getting to where she is now has taken time and great effort.
It was months before she was able to do something as simple as enter Shannon’s room, and she has not been able to return to Charlotte Street since the harrowing experience.
“I used to be called the queen of Charlotte Street,” she smiles. “Now I can’t even venture near,” the smile fades. But amid her grief and pain she has had no choice but to lace up her maternal boots and soldier on.
“I also had to keep in mind that I have a son, who is also grieving. So, I have to keep the balance to show him that I love him as much as I love his sister. And now, I am extremely overprotective. I keep him with me as much as humanly possible.”
Over the past few months Lopez says she has used a number of avenues to help her deal with her loss and keep her sane, among them turning to family and friends, her faith in God, therapy, going to work, exercise, reading and allowing her grief free rein.
“I didn’t know what would happen on December 5 (today) and I kept asking my family and friends if I would be strong enough. When it becomes overbearing I cry, I pray and I turn to friends. There are times when I hug my pillow and scream as loud as I can.”
The overwhelming support and words of comfort she has received from people she doesn’t even know have also been helping with the healing process.
“When I reflect on the many people who called and wrote to me. How people from all over the world were trying to contact me. There was this US attorney, Arthur Edwards who wrote a letter by hand on his official stationery telling me that he was following the story.”
She has come a long way emotionally. But the worsening crime situation keeps bringing her back to that dark place – that day when she was not there to protect her daughter from her demise.
“People talk about closure, but how could there be closure when someone else’s baby is dying at the hand of the demonic forces in this nation every day? I pray for those hurting and crying. Those who are going through what I did,” she almost whispers, as tears glisten at the corner of her eyes but ventures no further.
To parents, Lopez offers this bit of advice. “We have all been blessed with gifts of life. It is our responsibility to take care of them. It hurts me so much on mornings to see so many young children trying to make it to school on their own, totally unaware of lurking dangers. Parents, please ensure you do your best to let them know you’re there. Talk to them. Shannon and I had that type of relationship and I’m glad I have those memories to hold on to,” her voice trails off as she gets lost in one or more of those memories for a few seconds. “As the song puts it, ‘Memories don’t leave like people do’.”
Referring to an incident last month in which villagers in Tobago East foiled the kidnapping of a schoolgirl, Lopez says, “Her parents need to thank God people were paying attention. We need to get back to the days when we looked out for one another to protect what we have.”
And even though it’s now too late for Shannon to benefit from the brother’s keeper concept, Lopez says she is grateful to those who have and are still offering their support during her ordeal.
“Thanks to my family. My friend and co-worker Charmaine Alleyne who has been my confidant, my everything. My employers and colleagues who been supportive from the beginning, especially CEO Grear Quan who is continually checking on me even on weekends. My church family at San Juan SDA, Pastor Dottin and Pastor Mentor. The police service. Shannon’s special friend Akeem. Her other friends and their parents. The staff and students of ASJA Tunapuna. Thanks to Newsday for not hounding me for a story but for offering concern and friendship. The story was covered by women caring for another woman who has been to hell and back – but back from hell stronger,” she smiles broadly. “The nation.”
Her loss, though, has left her with a resilience that she never expected, making her almost invincible. “People look at me now and ask why the bad things that have happened to me since Shannon’s death aren’t breaking me. Losing a child is the worst hurt anyone can go through. Nothing else can hurt you after that.”
One man, Dale Seecharan, has been charged with Shannon’s murder. The matter comes up for hearing on December 14, at the Eight Magistrates’ Court in Port of Spain.