Wopat publishes emotional narrative

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The last photo of writer Kathleen (Shannon) Wopat with her late brother Stephen Shannon was taken at Fort McCoy several weeks before Shannon deployed to Iraq. From left are siblings Stephen Shannon, Jack Shannon, and Wopat. (Photo submitted)

By Molly Moser

“Inside, the small room looked like a hospital. The walls were white, and the floor was made of concrete, and the fluorescent lights overhead made me squint. There was a long metal counter with metallic tools that I couldn’t name and everything smelled of antiseptic… This room made no effort to alter the stark reality of what we were there for: To identify a deceased human being.”

Just days before the anniversary of her older brother’s death, Guttenberg native Kathleen (Shannon) Wopat went public with a story about the experience of seeing her brother, Stephen, for the first time when his body was returned from Iraq. Wopat’s writing, titled, "May the Force be With You," was published by Story Club Magazine. 

“Growing up, my parents never denied me two things: Traveling and reading,” Wopat explained. “English was always my favorite subject in high school, and although I wanted to pursue English, I decided to study something more "practical" and applied for nursing school at Viterbo University in La Crosse, Wis.” She could not deny her passion, though, and after two years in nursing school she changed her major to English Writing. 

Wopat is now an Employment Specialist at Riverfront in La Crosse, managing a program assisting low income individuals with obtaining and maintaining employment. She also works with the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation and receives referrals from them to place individuals in community employment. “I use my writing every day, whether it be report writing, creating resumes, writing cover letters, communicating with clients, composing letters, or practicing motivational interviewing,” Wopat told The Press.

"May the Force be With You" was first written in 2008, while Wopat was taking Creative Writing Nonfiction at Viterbo. “It was scary at first to revisit something so personal and meaningful to me, but ultimately, it was also very therapeutic,” she said. She revisited the story after being contacted by an old classmate, Elle Kammerer, who is now Managing Editor at Story Club Magazine in Chicago. Kammerer remembered Wopat’s writing, particularly her piece about Stephen. 

“I could tell she really wanted to revisit and rework the original piece,” Wopat said. “I was honestly scared to go back and workshop it because I originally wrote it in 2008. My perspective had changed on some things, but also remained intact on others. Mainly, there was just a huge growth of character and maturity on my part and I was very pleased that that element was applied.” After a month of workshopping the original piece, it was submitted. 

“The subject matter came naturally for me because I experienced it first hand, and it really gave me a chance to think back to that particular time in my life. I reflected on how I was feeling then and what I felt now. My brother being gone isn't so raw as it was then. I certainly have my moments of grief and sadness, but I allow myself to feel what I'm feeling,” Wopat explained.  

While the story is an emotional one, Wopat says she decided to share it with the world to carry on the memory of her brother. “So much dark, depressing, and negative writing is out there. And that includes material on the wars of the past ten years. I know this is a touchy and emotional subject, but there's hope and joy at the center of it.”

Readers will find a humorous ending to the story, available online at storyclubmagazine.com/stories. “Our family has survived tragedy, and always found a way to laugh and find humor,” Wopat said. “My family members are honestly the most hilarious people I know. My own humor is encouraged and enlivened by them.” She credits her mom, Joan Shannon, with inspiring her to write. 

“My mom cultivated, encouraged, enlightened, educated, motivated and pushed me in every way possible to be creative, wild and free,” said Wopat, who lives in La Crosse with her husband, Larry, and their three-year-old son, Jonas. “The most important thing my mom taught me was to get out of my own way. The best way she taught me to do this was by doing this herself.” 

Wopat is currently working on two short nonfiction stories. “One is tentatively titled, "The Giving Up Pants," and is Seinfeld-esque. The other is titled, "Fingernails," and has a more serious tone to it. “I may take breaks between writing, but will never stop,” says the writer. “I have always had that feeling of knowing and certainty that I am capable of writing a novel and having it published… I don't know when it will happen, but it will. I'll know when the time is right and I'll know what to write. I want to share my hope and experience and change the world in some way.”

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