The Lovely Kait Shannon
SINGER AND SONGWRITER JEANETTE ARSENAULT HAS SUPPORTED GOOD CAUSES FOR YEARS, singing at fundraisers for everything from local kids to tsunami relief. She’s taken her Acadian-Canadian songs across the globe and serenaded athletes at two Olympic Games, but in 2014 a shadow came into her sunny world when her daughter was diagnosed with cancer. In 2018 darkness fell when Kait lost her fight.
“I RAILED AGAINST MY GOD,” SHE SAYS. “YOU BETTER BELIEVE I DID.” Her faith is strong, but losing Kait plunged her into a darkness she likens to an iceberg. “Grief is heavy,” she says over tea at Bloomfield’s Saylor House Café. “It pulls you down and keeps you down – below the surface – until one day you can rise up just a little. A small piece of you emerges into the light, and people see it and say ‘Oh good, you’re back!’ But the dark mass still weighs you down, and waves can slap you in the face and take you back under.” She sips her tea and smiles. “It helps to have something to focus on.” For Jeanette, it’s a promise she made to Kait.
Kait Shannon’s high spirits and kindness were a blast of sunshine in the sometimes bleak chemo and radiation therapy rooms. “She was always involved, always helping people,” says Jeanette. “She’d offer advice and urge other patients to try the CBD oil she passionately believed in to supplement pain relief.” Not even the stroke that affected one side of her body could completely slow her down. She’d go visiting in her wheelchair, compose music on her casio using her good hand. “She never gave up,” says Jeanette. “And if she could make life better for anyone, she’d wade right in.” They sat together for hours, “between three and six a.m. were our magic hours,” dreaming up ways to help others in hospital, and came up with an idea for bringing small home comforts to sterile spaces.
“We had some great ideas to improve life in the hospital,” says Jeanette who is keeping the other ideas under wraps for now. “I’m not ready to give away all our inventions,” she laughs, but the first of Kait’s Comfort Kits are ready to roll. A memorial concert, hastily arranged by author and composer Suzanne Pasternak last year, raised $17,000. Now with help from donors and suppliers who gave freely or discounted deeply, Jeanette is ready to stuff 200 little cotton sacks with small luxuries, like soft facecloths and satiny tissues. “Hospitals do their best, but their towels can feel like sandpaper!” she says. There are spa products, crossword books, even Tim Hortons cards because, “when you’re stuck in hospital, Tim’s feels like the Ritz,” she laughs. Jeanette has nothing but praise for hospitals and staff that cared for Kait, and this is a thank you to them as well as a perk for patients. Money for the first kits came primarily from the big-hearted people of Prince Edward County, so in addition to 100 kits for the Ottawa hospital where Kait was cared for so gently, 50 kits are going to Prince Edward County Memorial Hospital and another 50 kits are going to Prince Edward County Hospice. It’s baby steps towards their vision of expanding to Belleville General, Kingston General and Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.
The launch party for Kait’s Comfort Kits is September 24 at 7:00 p.m. at the Waring Hall, Waring House, Picton. The indefatigable Suzanne Pasternak, herself a veteran of long hospital stays, is organizing again and of course there will be music. “The bar’s open, too,” says Jeanette sweetly. Her great friend, talented, boisterous Tom Leighton will play and some of Kait’s hospital compositions will be premiered. Comfort Kits will be on sale for people to sponsor: the likely price will be $25 to $30. And Jeanette’s promise will be kept.
“I’ve seen how the universe opens up when the time is right,” she says, soaking up the sun as she sits in a café garden. “I am so grateful to everyone who is helping us. And when I see Kait again, I’ll tell her all about it.”
Editor’s note: Kait’s song, Kiss Me Under A Shining Sun inspired the title of this article. The above photograph of Kait was taken by Kait’s dad Michael Shannon. Visit www.jeanettearsenault.ca/kait/ for more information on Kait’s Comfort Kits.