Life: A Fragile and Beautiful Gift

By: Johanna Marano March 19, 2017

If you have ever lost a loved one, there are certain times of the year that are just harder than others. Holidays and the anniversary of the person’s passing are typically hard, but something as simple as a particular song can have the same effect.

This time of the year is personally always hard for me. In a few days, it will mark the eleventh year since the death of my beloved dance teacher, who was taken to soon from us. No matter what amount of time passes it does not seem to get any easier.

If you stick with me through this post, for it is a long one, I would love to share the story of my dance teacher. Living through this event has had a major impact on my life. It is still hard for me to recount what happened over a decade ago. I hope by writing I am able to continue working towards finding closure, in addition to having an impact on someone else out there.

I know we have all heard the phrase “don’t drink and drive”? I know that it can be so redundant when we are taught that it is wrong to drink and drive. However, it does not seem to matter how many times we hear it, it doesn’t always seem to stick because there are numerous accidents each year. I happen to know all too well the feelings of sadness and pain associated with this type of situation because this is how my dance teacher, Miss Sheena, died.

Sheena
Miss Sheena Villa – my beloved dancing angel.

I loved and adored Miss Sheena the moment I met her. She had this presence to her that was so full of life. She couldn’t help but make you happy and her smile lit up the room. Watching her dance was breathtaking, she danced with such grace and beauty it appeared effortless. When it came to teaching, she had a way with making each student feel special and cared about them both in and out of the studio.

Miss Sheena teaching her students.

She had that very same effect on me. My first two years at the studio, she would sometimes fill in for my solo teacher. I loved her choreography and spending time with her. The summer before my third year, she asked me to join the new lyrical team, but I didn’t want to join. I didn’t think lyrical would be my thing. Despite my complaint, my parents signed me up for the summer course because both they and Miss Sheena thought it was an excellent idea.

To this day, I can’t thank them all enough for encouraging me to join. As the weeks went on, I grew to love the style more and more. A few months into the season my parents talked to Miss Sheena about how much I enjoyed her class. My mom then asked if she would teach me a lyrical solo the following year. She gladly accepted and promised she would. I couldn’t wait until I would have one-on-one time with Miss Sheena. I wanted to learn and grow from her not only as a dancer, but as a person as well.

The only problem was that these dreams and promises never came true. That season, my dance family was hit with very devastating news. It was March 24th, 2006 when we learned that our beloved teacher was taken from us and became a dancing angel of God. I remember coming home from school just like any other day, but something wasn’t right with my mom. She told me that we needed to go to the studio because Miss Sheena was in a car accident early that morning and was now in a comma. I was shocked and confused. How could someone I saw two days ago be in that kind of state?

When I last saw Miss Sheena, it was Wednesday night and I was getting ready to leave dance. Her twenty-fifth birthday was the next day and it was all she talked about. My dad mentioned to her that if she wanted he would arrange a limo from our family business to come and pick her and her friends up. She declined, saying she was grateful for the offer but would be okay. We told her to be careful and to call if she changed her mind. I wished her a happy birthday, gave her a hug, and went home.

Two days later I find out that her birthday was anything but happy. She started out the night celebrating with her father and step-mother by having dinner at their house. Her dad said she ate so much, just like always, and then took a nap.

Sheena's birthday
One of the last pictures from Miss Sheena’s birthday.

When she woke, she went over to her mother’s house, where she got ready to go out. She and her friends all had a little too much to drink, especially the driver of the vehicle. The celebrating ended in the early hours of the morning and she left with her best guy friend and boyfriend. Her guy friend was driving, she was in the passenger seat, and her boyfriend sat in the back.

In the city of Allentown (which is Pennsylvania), there is a Rose Garden, where lots of ceremonies and pictures are taken. I recently found out that this also happened to be the place where Miss Sheena’s parents got married, which is disturbingly ironic. For on their way home, the vehicle came around a curve and went on to the sidewalk. It rode here for a small amount of time brushing the bushes that lined the Rose Garden.  The car then veered over to the left, crossing the road and crashed into a nearby oak tree. It just so happens that this particular tree can be seen in the pictures from her parents’ wedding. After the accident, the car managed to leave a heart shaped mark on this tree, which is still haunting to think about to this day.

Sheena's Tree
The heart shaped mark left from the impact of the vehicle.

It was reported that the car was going 85 miles per hour in the 35 mile per hour zone. The impact of the crash was so severe that the roof and door on the side where she sat collapsed in and she needed to be cut out of the vehicle. Her boyfriend walked away without much harm and although her guy friend was also cut from the car, he survived with minor injuries. Her father reported that “her cute little freckled face was swollen to the size of a basketball. Her head was oozing blood through a thick wad of bandages that were wrapped from her eyebrows to the back of her neck. Both of her graceful dancer arms were broken and in casts.”

Sheena's freckles
I have always loved the effect of this photo – it is chilling and haunting. It is even clear to see the freckles on Miss Sheena’s face that her dad spoke of.

Everyone gathered at our studio to pray, hoping she would be blessed with a miracle and pull through because we knew she was a fighter. I remember sitting there crying with everyone and occasionally laughing if someone shared a memory. But there was one thought that constantly loomed in the back of my head, if she only would have taken a limo she would still be here. This thought still haunts me to this day.

The doctors determined that her injuries were so severe that there was little chance for recovery and her parents couldn’t stand to see her suffer or live life hooked up to various machines. Together they decided that taking Miss Sheena off life support was the best decision, even though it was the hardest. With that, she was able to help save others by being an organ donor. Her heart now survives in a man from New York.

That day I lost a teacher, an inspiration, and someone who I longed to grow closer to. I didn’t intend for this post to be a lecture on the severity of drinking and driving. I shared this story in hopes that you recognize that life is a very fragile and beautiful gift that we are all blessed with. It needs to be filled with love, lived to the fullest, and not taken for granted because it can change in a heartbeat. Every decision you make not only affects you but all those around you.

I was only ten years old when Miss Sheena passed away and this event has had a tremendous impact on me. It has affected the way I see and live life. I may never know the severity of how her parents feel, as they go on each day without their daughter, but I do know what it is like going without a teacher and friend. Miss Sheena helped me realize that dancing was my passion. I always knew it was, but it was because of her I am the dancer I am today. She opened my eyes and heart to new styles of dance.

As I mentioned earlier, next week marks the eleventh anniversary of her death and as each year passes it doesn’t get easier. I think about her a lot, especially when I dance. It can be hard to listen to the songs she choreographed for my team and class. Both at home and in my dorm room, I have one of her memorial cards near my bedside. In high school, I took many art classes and created a piece in her memory. My dance studio offers a scholarship in her name. In order to raise money, the committee has sold ribbons and pins, which I have bought over the years. During my senior year of high school, I applied for the scholarship and was one of the very few recipients for this incredible honor. In addition to the actual scholarship, I also received a butterfly necklace.

Necklace
The butterfly necklace that I received as part of the Sheena Villa Scholarship.

Even though Miss Sheena is gone, I know she is still here influencing my life. I love and miss her very much and without her I wouldn’t be the person I am today. She cared for me, as I did for her, not only in the sense that she was my teacher but someone who I looked up to. Our relationship may have been cut short, but I wouldn’t change anything about the time I spent with her and I treasure those times very much. Miss Sheena also inspired me to become a better dancer and grow by opening the door to other possibilities. Most importantly, which I hope you can take away from this story, is that life is fragile and beautiful. Many of us take it for granted and don’t realize this until it is too late.

Sheena Villa
In Loving Memory of Miss Sheena Villa March 23, 1981 – March 24, 2006

 

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