Where the Sidewalk Ends…

By Shawn Robare

I usually try and keep the personal behind the scenes stuff off of Branded, but I’ve been meaning to write about something for awhile and this just seemed like the day to do it.  Next Monday would have been my big sister’s 44th birthday, but it isn’t because on November 27th, 2010 she took her own life on a dreary Sunday morning.  Every single day that’s passed since I received the panicked phone call informing me she had hung herself has been a bit of a struggle.

There’s no doubt in my mind that I spent the first 32 and a half years of my life following in the footsteps of my big sister Beth.  She was, hands down the coolest, nicest, and smartest person I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing, and whether she knew it or not I spent the majority of my childhood hanging on every word she spoke.  I can trace back so many of the things that I feel define me directly to her, whether it’s my ability to draw, my design aesthetic, my taste in movies and music, my choice in cars, or the overall outlook I have on how to lead my life.  She metaphorically laid down the sidewalk that I’ve been following my entire life.

I remember the day when I was four years old and she gave me her old pair of roller skates, these huge blue monsters that were way too big for my feet.  They had sweet white stripes on the sides and red wheels, and she taught me how to tip my toes down to use the “break” peg to slow myself enough so I wouldn’t come crashing into the front door of the house whenever I wanted to stop.  When I wore those skates I felt like I could fly, like I was Superman, and she was the one who taught me how to do that.

Up until I was 8 or 9 Beth also used to let me “camp out” in her room.  She’d get a bunch of sheets that she would tack up to the wall on one end, and tuck underneath the mattress of her bed on the other, and she’d let me hang out all weekend in her room.  It was the only time I was “allowed” in there, and it was usually when she was doing a bunch of stuff for cheerleading or with friends.  This might sound weird since she wasn’t there, but half of the excitement for me was that she gave me full reign over her books, turntable, and record collection (but I wasn’t to touch her dresser or closet!)  I spent so many weekends flipping through her collection of LP’s introducing myself to Cheap Trick, Rick Springfield, Prince, Cyndi Lauper, and the B-52s.  Over the years I borrowed and eventually took ownership of her collection of Judy Blume books as well.

When I was 12 years old, Beth brought home a copy of Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste from the video store, and she let me watch it even though it was one of the horror films my parents had actually forbade me to see.  That same year she drove me out to a second-hand bookstore and encouraged me to pick up my first two “adult” novels Stephen King’s The Shining and Christine.  Beth also gave me my first Weird Al cassette, and didn’t seem to care when I immediately usurped her tape player so that I could listen to those songs every night before I went to sleep.

When I was getting to that awkward age of ten, when she was eighteen and it wasn’t cool to hang out with your little brother, she still let me tag along with her.  There was this one time when she let me pile into a car with three of her girl friends and we all went over to jump on Beth’s boyfriend’s trampoline.  Someone got the bright idea to cover the thing with detergent and to hose it down to make it an extremely fun and stupidly dangerous adventure.  Thank goodness we all had bathing suits on.  I remember we took turns in pairs getting into the shower (in our swimsuits mind you) to get the soap off, and I was paired with one of Beth’s more attractive girl friends that I had a crush on.  All I’ll say is that my sister gave me a knowing wink afterwards.

When we ended up moving to New Hampshire from Florida at the end of 1989, Beth stayed.  She’d already moved out into an apartment earlier that year when she was still 19, and that always stuck with me.  The first thing I did when I turned 19 was move out, not because I felt like I needed to (in fact my parents would have been overjoyed had I stayed), but because Beth did and it just felt right. There are countless other things my sister introduced me to or encouraged me to do, and it kills me when I think that I never got a chance to really repay the favor.  Over the years I tried my best to introduce her to stuff that I loved as birthday and Christmas gifts, but I’m not sure if she realized what I was trying to do for her, repaying what she had done for me.

The last time I saw my sister was in July of 2010.  We’d been meaning to get together and go on a vacation in Savannah ever since I became an adult, but it just never materialized.  That year though we finally did it.  It wasn’t really a vacation as it was only a whirlwind 18 hours total, but I booked a two bedroom bed and breakfast that overlooked the river, and we met up on a Saturday afternoon.  I had been really excited to see her because she had recently asked me to draw a logo and mascot for a new business she was looking to start up.  She’d never asked for anything like that from me before and I was so happy to finally do something creative for her.  We spent the afternoon talking about the drawing I’d done and what her plans were for the company she was going to call Goblin Technologies.

We spent that evening going up and down the river-walk, browsing in all the shops and more or less catching up.  My favorite picture of us together is from that day (the one below), where we were caught making the stupidest faces ever together.  It’s unflattering as all hell, but it’s also hilarious and I love it.

She had scheduled a ghost tour for my birthday, and that night around 10:00pm we met up with our group in one of the town squares and had probably the worst evening ever.  Between the rain, the unseasonable cold weather, and a very boring and pretty lame tour guide, we were all drenched and pissed off.  Though I still enjoyed the experience of walking the streets of Savannah in the dark, it was a rough night.  That next morning Beth had to jet back down to Florida, so we said our goodbyes, and while she was walking away to her car I snapped the below photograph.  After I took the picture, I didn’t look back at her, I was busy fiddling with the camera to make sure the photo looked alright and then was on my way to finish off my mini Savannah vacation.

I didn’t know it at the time, but that photo is literally the last time I saw my sister.

I’m no expert on grief or dealing with death, but I think I can kind of authoritatively say that dealing with the loss of a loved one is compounded tenfold when suicide enters the picture.  There’s a level of disbelief and immense feelings of rejection that are almost impossible to shake, even years later.  At the end of the day, all I do know for certain is that if you have someone in your life that means half as much to you as my sister meant to me, tell them.  Right now.  Write them a letter, send them an e-mail, text them, call them, go over and hug them.

As a positive post script to this, I took all my anger and grief and put it to use since my sister passed.  Though she didn’t leave a traditional note (most don’t I’ve been told), I was able to piece together the last couple months of her life (she kept a lot of journals) and have a pretty good understanding of how she came to the place where she made her ultimate decision.  Part of the digging reveled what I personally feel is her “note”, a lone jump drive that was in her purse that had 12 songs on it.  Each song seems to address someone or something that haunted her at the end of her life.  No one knows where the drive came from, and those songs were not from albums found anywhere else in her music collection.  When I listen to those songs I feel like I can hear what was in her head at the end and it’s been what I’ve needed to drive me to do things that I’ve been meaning to do for years.  In particular, those twelve songs have been my weight loss soundtrack for the last year and a half.  I was always overweight (you can certainly see that in the photo above), but after Beth I knew I had to ditch that extra girth.  The last thing my sister helped me do was to get to a healthy weight, dropping from a high of 400lbs to my lowest since the 9th grade of 252lbs.  So there is that.

I reached the point in my journey where the sidewalk my sister created, ends.  I’ve had to learn over the past 2 and a half years that it’s my job now to keep building it, even if I can’t see where it’s leading.

  • Cody – Thanks, I sure hope so…

  • Truly an inspiring and heartfelt tribute. Thanks for sharing this with everyone. Your sis would be proud.

  • Jason – Thanks, and honestly it heartens me getting to know folks like you, and I have this site to thank for that. Wishing you nothing but the best with you and your new addition to your family!

  • Since I found your podcast in 2006, I have been an avid follower/supporter of all of your work. The heart that you put into everything you do is a beacon of inspiration in an otherwise complacent society. This post came a day after what would have been my mom’s 58th birthday. She was taken from me 5 years ago. I still think about her every day. She was a single parent for most of my life and sacrificed a lot to expose me to all things 80s. While we had our normal period of tension during my high school years, she was always my best friend. While I can’t fathom the loss of a sibling as I am an only child, anytime I am exposed to the sudden loss of a loved one it reminds me how difficult it is to deal with the myriad emotions that accompany it. One thing I find helps is knowing you’re not alone. Thank you for helping me to remember. -Jason

  • Thanks guys, sincerely.

  • What a heartrendingly beautiful tribute. Thank you for being so open, so vulnerable, with us.

  • This is extremely moving on so many levels. Thanks for sharing Shawn.

  • Thank you for sharing that, Shawn. That photo of her walking away had me in tears. Keep those memories and photos close, and keep building that sidewalk.

  • Chris


  • Jaime – This is probably obvious, but the little bit we talked about is more or less what spurred me to finally write down some of my thoughts. Guess I did want to talk about it. It’s weird it came out pretty easy, but I did all my crying while re-reading and editing it.

  • I’ll be honest, ever since I (accidentally) found this out about your sister last week, I’ve wanted to ask you more questions, but didn’t want to come off rude, which is why I just told you I’m sorry and left it at that (although I did look through all those photos–what a beautiful person!). I figured if you ever wanted to talk about it, you would–and here you are posting this, which I know had to have taken a lot of courage and battling of emotions to write. I hope it was therapeutic in the process and helps you to heal. Thank you for introducing us all to Beth and sharing this part of your life with us. I feel privileged to get to know more about the person who had such a huge impact on making you who you are–which is one of the coolest, nicest guys I know. Next time I see her, I plan to tell my own older sister how much she means to me–and if you knew me well enough, you’d know I’m notoriously bad at telling people how I feel. So that’s one more thing I really must thank you for.

  • Dean “Lamar” S.

    Thank you for sharing my friend.

  • Jenny – Thanks, and feel free to share it with the family. I didn’t want to bum Chris out with it, but you know…

  • Jenny Conley Bauer

    Shawn…this was such a beautiful tribute to Beth. Every time she ever spoke of you, her face just lit up. I miss her, even though we had grown apart the last year or so, mostly due to a lack of understanding on my part, she was such an integral part of my family and she was the smartest, coolest person I knew too. Would you mind if I shared this on FB so the rest of my family can see it? Jenny

  • I wasn’t expecting, on a regular old Tuesday night,to feel such emotion over someone I’d never met before. That picture of her walking away might stay with me forever. A raw & beautiful post for sure.

  • Thanks all, felt like it was finally time to write this one.

  • This was really moving, and I’m glad you were in each others’ lives– sounds like you both learned a lot from each other. Take care!

  • Wow dude, that was an amazing post. I grieve for you after reading this, and am glad to see there’s at least one positive (your weight loss) that happened. Not that it will ever replace your sister. Hang in there.

  • This is truly an inspiring post for anyone dealing with the loss of a loved one. God bless you and your family.

  • Well written post. Thanks for sharing. I started following your blog a few months ago and this post has really, for me, put the person behind writing them in to perspective.

  • I read this three times. It’s just beautiful. Thank you for sharing and what a wonderful tribute to a wonderful person. I am so sorry for your loss but it’s clear she is with you every step of the way in this weird journey of life.

  • Beautifully written post Shawn.

  • Not much I think needs to be said here except, “Thank you for that, Shawn.” -Pax

  • Shawn — The raw authenticity in this post is gut-wrenching. It takes a lot of guts to share something so real. The memories and photographs are priceless. Hold on to them and cherish them every day.

  • What a great tribute to your sister. I cannot even imagine how hard it has been for you, but the positive attitude you have going forward it amazing. And that is the best tribute of all.

  • Damn, that’s a great post. It sounds like we all owe some thanks to Beth for making you the pop culture geek you are today. I’ve lost a good friend but it wasn’t a family member and it was an accident. I can’t even begin to imagine how I might deal with these events. One of my friends lost someone close to him when he was younger and from that day he would say something to the effect of having to try everything twice, once for him and once for his friend.

  • Shawn, I can’t even begin to imagine the pain of your loss, but I hope it helps you to know that your post touched me greatly. The world is surely much worse off without your sister in it. The fact that you are sharing your story and keeping Beth’s memory alive is a great way of honoring her life, and I thank you for sharing your memories with the rest of us.

  • therealduckie

    In about 1984 I worked at Larry’s Ice Cream with your sister. The following year Pretty In Pink came out. She adored the movie. She named me Duckie from that point on. Since then, and for every year until now, I am and always have been known as…the duckman. She birthed that persona. She gave me a direction.

    Beth was my Molly. She drove that Karmann Ghia, I rode my bike past your house on odd days to see if she would notice me…

    and then the years separated us.

    I lost touch with Beth. We went our own ways in life, but she NEVER left my mind.

    Recently, on Reddit, I was asked where I got my nickname. I explained where it came from and someone put the pieces together.

    I am heart-broken over her loss and I haven’t even seen her in 30 years. She made such an indelible impact on my life that it lasted this long and continues daily.

    She is why i am who I am…why I have succeeded, why i have…A personality.

    I can wish, all i want, that I could have been the one to rescue her, but I know deep down she was the cause and birth of me and I must take that and live…to my fullest.

    I am determined to make something of this life. I owe her…so much.

    RIP Beth, my sweet “Molly”

    • It’s been forever and a day since I thought about Larry’s. Beth used to come home smelling like ice-cream every night. And that Karmann Ghia, she was so proud of that thing even though it barely ran. It’s really heartening to know that she managed to have that deep of an affect on you, enough that you still remember her decades later. Thanks for sharing your story!

    • Troy Eckhardt

      That’s a beautiful testimony. Thank you for being so open.

  • Troy Eckhardt

    That’s absolutely heartless.

  • Troy Eckhardt

    Shawn, I’ve lost a brother and a friend to suicide, and a 2.75-year-old son to an accident. I don’t “know” your grief, but because of my own, I literally, physically feel the grief of others like a knife to the sternum. I am so sorry for your pain.

    • Thanks Troy, and I can’t even begin to express how sorry I am to hear about your loss. If I’ve learned nothing else it’s that our lives tend to be equally touched with amazing blessings and tragedies, and the challenge lies in how we continue moving forward to hopefully have a positive and bright influence on those around us. I feel blessed to have had the time with my sister that I did, and I can only hope to take all of the positive things she passed on to me to help making the world a happier place in any way that I can.

  • Anthony Mowad

    Shawn – I know this comment may seem random, coming 3 years after your post, but I just wanted to express my condolences on Beth’s death. I worked with her at Lockheed Martin from 2008 to 2009, when I was laid off in November of that year.
    I never fit in there, and my performance on the job reflected that, but your sister was one of the few bright lights from my time there. She was kind of my manager for a good portion of my time there, and she was always encouraging and sensitive, not to mention the only person in that place that had any real personality. When I started having problems on the job, she was my only defender. I really admired her and I was devastated when I heard what had happened.
    I’ve thought on her several times in the past few years, and I’m very glad to have found this post. She was a wonderful person, and I’m glad to know she had a loving brother.
    Best wishes – Anthony Mowad

    • Thanks Anthony, and I’m glad to know that for the short time you knew her that she had a positive effect on you. From what I understand about that place it was a rough working experience to say the least. I know there are folks who work there who have no right managing people, and at least my sister was there for a bit to make it a little bit better of a place to be…

  • John Harrison

    Hi, I thought of your sister and your family this evening. I had been in touch with her a few days before. It devistated me as it was my sons birthday and had been discussing children and work. She always made me smile and was such a gentle person. I am so sorry for your loss and wish I could have done something to help her. She wouldn’t come to England when I asked her. I hope she is at peace and your pain is never that bad.