TEWKSBURY — Outside of the Glenice Sheehan Women’s Recovery Home in Tewksbury, a residential program serving women with chronic substance abuse issues, dozens gathered on Friday to celebrate the life and memory of Shaelagh “Shae” Downs, a former resident at the home who died of an overdose in January. She was 35 years old.
“My sister never gave up, she has been a fighter all her life. She’s one of the strongest women I have ever known,” Shae Downs’ older sister Raegan Downs said as she fought back tears. “Her story didn’t end well, but know this; all my sister ever wanted was to help people. She achieved her goal.”
Shae Downs, a Lowell native, struggled with addiction but attended and graduated from the recovery home in July 2019, according to her aunt Marsha McGee. The recovery home is a part of the Lowell House Addiction Treatment and Recovery nonprofit.
Family members of Shae Downs held the ceremony on the home’s front lawn, where they recalled memories of her, expressed their thanks to those who supported her recovery and, namely, unveiled a new bench and cherry blossom tree dedicated to her memory.
“This is going to be a place of peace for people in the house and in the area, where they can go and feel really good about their recovery,” said Bill Garr, CEO of the Lowell House. “If one person goes here and sustains their recovery, then that’s a great tribute to Shae.”
According to McGee, the home gifted the small plot of land to the family, which was able to raise enough money to purchase the bench and tree through a successful GoFundMe campaign.
“Thank you to everyone who contributed to making this special memorial a comforting and peaceful spot that will keep Shae’s memory alive,” Raegan Downs said, after reading aloud a passage her sister had written 25 weeks before she died, in which Shae Downs expressed her gratitude for the recovery program and how it saved her life.
Before the ceremony began, Shae Downs’ family members sprinkled her ashes on the site as her favorite band, The Beatles, played in the background.
“When you sit here and you meditate, or just think or enjoy the weather, I want you to sing a Beatles song to yourself, because they were her favorite,” her friend Diane Mackey said to the crowd. “This is about remembering one of the most beautiful souls that hit the face of the earth, and the sadness that she’s gone has to be replaced with hope for all the others at the Sheehan house.”
To conclude the ceremony, Shae Downs’ family passed out balloons to the dozens of people who gathered to bid her farewell, each releasing their balloons and delivering a short message as they floated off.
“As her big sister I know she was supposed to look up to me, but I have been in awe of my sister since the day she entered this world,” Raegan Downs said. “She was one of a kind.”
According to the program’s website, the recovery home is “an innovative and unique residential program serving chronic substance abusing women 18 years and older. It promotes a true ‘social model’ of graduated care, designed to return women to complete, sober functioning. Participants are prompted to return to their community as contributing members of their communities, oftentimes reconnecting with their estranged friends and family. The average length of stay is 6 months.”