The birds they sang
At the break of day
I heard them say
Don't dwell on what has passed away
Or what is yet to be
Whatever you get paid attention for is never what you think is most important about yourself.
~David Foster Wallace
Bridget Marie Shields died at her home on 21 December, 2022, surrounded by her books and music(1), and with her son and most darling young one, James, with many family members and friends, in both directions, not far away. Among her prized qualities, Bridget, had a deep sense of empathy, particularly for women, but really for all who desire or have an otherwise battle-driven need to come back to themselves and, ultimately, to safety and affection. For this reason, it was fitting that her transition was facilitated by two Valkyries, for whom we have gratitude, wonder, and respect, and who accompanied Bridget to her resting place of ashes.
Sometime between her birth and graduation from Buffalo Grove High School in IL in 1983, Bridget’s gypsy and romantic spirit was kindled at work of all places, when the Boss asked, "Will you walk with me out on the wire?" Following a pretty firm “yes”, Bridget dropped her cheerleader pom-poms (but remained your most ardent supporter) and landed at the University of Kansas before heading to Marquette University where she earned a BA degree in English and became an adopted daughter of Milwaukee, though maintaining her close Chicago ties. This was also a time of exploration, and Bridget developed a love of culture and travel – many will recall her stories of (or travelled with her through) her favorite cities, including Rome, Italy; Sofia, Bulgaria; Prague, Czech Republic; and more locally, NYC and, interestingly, North Yarmouth, ME.
Bridget also earned an MA degree from National Louis University in Secondary Education, with an English Language Arts specialization. Consistent with her education and interests, Bridget was an English Teacher and taught at Warren Township High School from 2002 to 2022. During this time, she taught Junior English, Science Fiction, and Mythology, though spent most of her tenure teaching English Learners, a curriculum she co-developed. She was a strong and resolute advocate for her students, a supporter of the arts, and an empathetic colleague. As her son James reflected, “I think my Mom, at her core, was an unbelievably compassionate, insightful, and caring educator (you can’t ask for a better parent than that!), with a profound effect on everyone she met.” As a professional, Bridget’s contributions and impacts on her students, colleagues, and wider circles leave an enviable legacy.
Bridget is preceded in death by her mother and father, Phyllis Ann and Bernard James Shields; and her brother, Danny. Together through life, Bridget is survived by her son, James Fitton, Jr., and his father, James Fitton, Sr; her siblings: Margaret Mulvihill, Sharon, Debra, Colleen, Joseph, Michael (Sarah Seidler), and Alan Shields; and a larger number of loving aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins including: Virginia Spink, Lisa Spink, Jennifer Spink, and all of Bridget’s loving and extended family in Louisville, KY.
Bridget was multifaceted, both whimsical and unswerving, hilarious and heavy, profoundly compassionate, yet ostensibly remote at times, and could be both direct and simultaneously unintentional. As a trusted confidante to many, Bridget was involved, fielded many perspectives, though never a spy or a snitch or one to pass judgement, and probably more often as a behind the scenes peace-maker. She contained multitudes and, above all, was a fiercely loyal child, sibling, friend, and mother. Bridget is the person, if Prine’s will be done, who just now might be sitting at the nightclub called The Tree of Forgiveness.
In honor of Bridget’s life on earth, a celebration will be held on 4 March, 2023, from Noon to 4pm, at McGonigal’s Irish Pub (105 S Cook St, Barrington, IL 60010). In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to the Meadows Sheltered Care (https://www.meadows-icfdd.com/), attention Katie Shapiro, 3250 South Plum Grove Road, Rolling Meadows, IL 60008 (847-397-0055).
In the guestbook below, we invite you to light a virtual candle, download a picture, and/or leave a message to share your favorite memories to honor Bridget. Please consider suggesting an artist or song to your shared memory to help us commemorate Bridget.
The family would like to thank the folks at the Oncology and ICU units of Aurora St. Luke’s Hospital, and the Hospice teams for their compassionate care. They'd also like to thank all of Bridget’s wider family and circle of Friends for their support, tenderness and love, and prayers. Lastly, the family appreciates the attention and care provided by the steadfast, strong women of the Cremation Society of Milwaukee.
1As the proverb maintains, when someone dies, a library burns to the ground. Bridget was a woman with a complex of stories as well as an abundance of actual books (in her possession would be far fewer than she ever purchased or read given her tendency to give them away to an interested or targeted reader, as it were). We will all miss out on the wisdom and unique insights housed inside Bridget’s personal catalogue though can honor and remember her with a nod to some of her favorite and/or impactful storytellers and/or Capital “A” Authors (disallowing the Author reverently, albeit inadequately, channeled here for the sake of dramatic effect) that might include first, the women, many of the classics, such as Dickenson, Wolf, Atwood, Louisa May Alcott, and Toni Morrison and Sylvia Plath, Buck and Gertrude Stein, and Kingsolver. Bridget appreciated the wit of Twain, the simple and controlled Hemingway, the verisimilitude of O’Brien, and the absurdities, nonsensicalities, and perspectives seen in the works of Samuel Beckett and Roald Dahl. And more women including Joan Didion and her literary journalism (cf., Tom Wolfe, Hunter S. Thompson), Mary Karr and her poetry and memoirs, and the novelist philosopher, Dame Jean Iris Murdoch. There are also the more lyrical Authors (e.g., Patti Smith, Cohen, Waits, Dylan, Prine, et al) but that’s an entirely different matter. Carry on.
Brigid, you were a voice for the wounded and the weary.
Strengthen what is weak within us.
Calm us into a quietness that heals and listens.
~A prayer to St Brigid of Ireland