“But woo boy does it seem like everything else is f*cked.”
-Shawntel Ensminger, “When You're Slaying the Dragon, but Get Taken out by a Trap Door.” S-intelligent, January 13th, 2021
We are heartbroken to share that after thirteen years of skillfully plotting to stay ahead of her mortality, Shawntel passed away on Thursday after a routine-for-her procedure. Alan was by her side. Though COVID quarantining negatively impacted Shawntel’s life tremendously, her last months of life were *more-or-less* enriched by Brynn’s choice to complete her sophomore year of college from home. #mom-of-teen
Just look at all that attitude! #coolmom
She was grateful, most of the time, to have more moments. Even as her physical health declined, Shawntel never gave up fighting for more days to live. She lived for herself, no doubt, but she pushed through every available option because of Brynn. By the end of her life there were no more options, her cancer was getting cancer, and managing her body’s revolt against sustained living was a game of whack-a-mole. Every problem the doctors managed to “solve” just created at least one new, just-as-serious issue. She was stubborn (so, so stubborn), charismatic, and kind to nearly everyone. It was pretty fun when she got pissed off, as long as you weren’t the one who wronged her.
Shawntel was a woman of many opinions and passions. She was an academic, a creative, a librarian, a best friend, an activist, a curator of life, a partner, an empath, and, quite significantly, “Not the Worst Mom”. She loved an irresistible deal, road trips with pink gas station muffins, yarn, good food that tasted the way it should, live music (usually Isbell-involved), iced beverages, Jackbox, singing enthusiastically but poorly, hedgehogs, unadoptable dogs and cats with sad backstories, Knights of Columbus donuts, the Boone County fair, random and unique happenings and things, Fillmore’s peanut butter shakes, overplanning parties, playing ‘Wizards Unite’ and ‘Pokemon Go’, breathing normally, patiently sharing facts while attempting to have mature intellectual conversations online, snarky DMs, conducting seasonal costume contests, Justin Trudeau (when not in costume), celebrating made-up holidays, and spying on the fox friends who live in her backyard. Shawntel’s obnoxiously thoughtful and often hand-crafted gifts tormented her friends on birthdays and holidays. (See Appendix)
This is only the tip of the iceberg, and she won money with that Xmas sweater.
Through COVID, Shawntel’s life revolved around her home and her charming little family of stubborn, difficult, sarcastic personalities, side glances, and quirks. Absolutely delightful, so long as you like that kind of thing.
As you can see, her signature emotive move was the head tilt.
She loved her home (many of you probably helped with her down payment) and its promise of permanency. She was very happy to have found her forever family and her last love, Alan.
On the day she went to the hospital, leaving the driveway with Alan, she noticed her favorite tree was in bloom and commented on how beautiful it was.
Once you knew her, Shawntel was the type of person you couldn't shake. She had many close friends who had been by her side since childhood. They describe her as “so nerdy,” spontaneous (occasionally reckless pre-Brynn), organized, and older and wiser than the rest of her friends. She was in the calculus club in high school and the whole group agreed to list themselves as co-presidents for their college applications. Shawntel was a rules follower, a people pleaser, and a “good girl,” but that didn’t stop her from randomly leaving town without exact permission, getting her car stuck on a beach in Virginia (how?) and having to be pulled off the sand with a bedsheet. Ah, high school. She was active in her church youth group, and she was fascinated by religion and sociology. She wanted to understand the world.
Shawntel (left) and Brynn (right)
Whatever trappings that normally fall upon teen moms from Northern Kentucky, Shawntel side-stepped them, and not just because she turned twenty a couple of months before Brynn was born. Motherhood at a young age made her incredibly purposeful and intentional. She was already really fantastic at overthinking her way through a problem, so she put that to work for Brynn. She built an incredible life with and around Brynn, but she had her ambitions as well. Traveling, moving to Florida and back multiple times, reading, crafting, starting a union, being the glue within her networks of friends, and making life work as a graduate student. She earned two MAs and nearly completed her PhD before cancer's initial interventions. The struggle was real at times, but she was tenacious.
Brynn and Shawntel in DC
Shawntel was great about checking in and staying in touch as best she could. Despite everything she may have been going through at any given point in time, she still wanted to know how you were doing and what was going on in your life. She knew what it meant to be a steady friend, a non-judgmental cheerleader, and an inventor of joy and life experiences. She had an awesome memory and noticed every detail. She was the type of friend who always saw your raw goods, and even though we can all be bitchy, petty, terrible people, Shawntel would almost refuse to believe that was the REAL you, she only focused on the best in people. When you ask people who knew Shawntel at any point in her life, they will tell you that she was beloved. They will tell you stories of kindness and consideration, thoughtful gifts, parties, sarcastic remarks, and they will tell you they admired her because she was relentless in her love, and in her drive to achieve.
Iconic picture of Brynn helping her mother study for her final exams.
Shawntel continued to create until she passed. Her Etsy Store, WellOwlBe, had several orders waiting to be filled. She continued crocheting her best-selling “Hormone Monster Dicks,” because the stitches were programmed into her body. She could still bust them out even when her hands were misbehaving, going numb, or acting otherwise useless. She had set aside boxes of hand-me-downs and treasures for friends. She had a small garden of "rescue" succulents that she was carefully spraying by the window every day.
Bear witness to the money-making glory of the “Hormone Monster Dick!”
Shawntel’s last two dinners were both favorites: Monday night, April 5, was Avgolemono soup, from a recipe she’d once found and told Alan to make, and, on Tuesday night, the 6th, simple shrimp scampi, as depicted on the Binging with Babish YouTube channel and website, which the family frequently viewed. (The scampi had also been her birthday meal this year.) She didn’t eat too much of either, as her appetite wasn’t what it should’ve been, but she said both tasted normal to her, which wasn’t a given due to her meds.
Shawntel, looking cheeky.
Like Prince Phillip, Shawntel was “cheeky right ‘til the end.” She was stubborn and proud until her last moments, annoyed by the ventilator, resisting, fighting, likely pissed off by the entire situation. Our bodies have limits, though, and hers was just too weak to live another day. We will remember her strength and bravery as she faced a long death as much as we will remember the vibrance of the life she led and the connections she made to those of us who knew and loved her. Shawntel was adored, and she will be remembered.
Shawntel loved a clever comic representation.
Since Shawntel generally chose to surround herself with people who were very concerned about caring for others, we have a sneaking suspicion you are thinking to yourself, “OMG, what can I do; this is horrible!”
Here’s what you can do:
Share your stories and pictures on Shawntel’s Facebook page. We will compile everything that is contributed into a book of memories that can be enjoyed by her family and friends.
Sign up to be a potential bone marrow donor
Financially support Brynn in her ongoing transition into adulthood (with Alan by her side). For those who want to honor Shawntel’s legacy by caring for Brynn financially, you can make contributions to her directly through Paypal at email@example.com. Brynn will save the money to help her with tuition, living expenses, and self care.
Don’t be an asshole and write a damned will.
A memorial will be scheduled for the summer.
Appendix One: Evidence of Outstanding Friendship
Antique fireplace screen (found at, of course, a Goodwill auction) that fans out like a peacock. Shawntel gave it to a friend who has an insatiable love of peacocks.
She was always there to create a snarky T-shirt.
Another vintage find that she gave to a library friend as a going away gift.
All things Alien for Alan.
Handmade earrings, always to the exact specifications of your personality.
For Brynn, an angry uterus, as a moving away to college gift.