One of my oldest friends died last week, so please indulge this “remembrance” (a way many journalists try to process loss). When 63-year-old Nancy Shanks died, its effect was that of a sudden storm, crash or blast, except it wasn’t unexpected.

Despite anticipating her passing from ALS (the debilitating “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”), her life is remembered and celebrated, a reminder of the human need to belong, the true feelings of family (“the pack” we’re comfortable in) or maybe of the stars (the universe where we’re all tiny pieces).

My morning prayers for years have mentioned family and friends, living and dead, and moving a pal from one to the other is jarring.

A long-time singer with Illinois bands including Elmo Turn and the Midwest Rhythm & Blues Revue, Nancy also sang with Wild Cherry, became the original vocalist with the all-woman rock group Vixen, had a solo LP on United Artists in 1977 (for which execs tried to re-make her into another Olivia Newton-John, renaming her “Shanx”), sang numbers on movie-soundtrack albums for “About Last Night” and “The Secret of My Success,” recorded with the likes of J.D. Souther and Tori Amos, and had another solo LP in 1988.

Before my wife and I were married, Nance gave us an a capella version of “Dedicated to The One I Love,” singing, “Each night before you go to bed, my baby/ whisper a little prayer for me, my baby/ and tell all the stars above/ ‘This is dedicated to the one I love’.”

We met when I was a know-it-all student teacher who, facing a class of adolescents, sensed I knew nothing after all. A doe-eyed high-schooler, Nance initially decided I must be a “narc” since I then had shoulder-length hair but dressed “professionally” (i.e., wearing a tie). Within days, however, we clicked, and through rowdy protests, a shared passion for rock ‘n’ roll and generally raising Cain, Nance and I for many years and several time zones remained close.

Throughout, Nance was always agreeable and often, easily and earnestly amazed at mundane or meaningful moments, from excitement at sharing her “discovery” of smearing cream cheese on pitted dates to literally saving another friend who’d fallen on hard times.

I’ve now been in Peoria for more than 40 years, but I’ve also lived in Washington, D.C., and San Diego. There, I saw Nance a few times, going to a Hollywood premiere of Richard Pryor’s “Jo Jo Dancer” with her, and enjoying a terrifically silly visit to the Rocky & Bullwinkle display on Sunset Boulevard.

In recent years, Facebook helped but it’s no substitute for conversation. On the other hand, friends have little real need to talk or touch despite distance or the passage of time. Long phone calls became less frequent and shorter as they became more difficult (physically for her, emotionally for me).

That human need for shared memories, of belonging, despite tears or giggles, has become precious. For example, my high school class has monthly lunches sitting around a diner’s table with a bunch of buddies, childhood chums chatting, joking and reminiscing over common pasts. There are old baseball teammates, my insurance agent since I got my drivers’ license, a neighbor who fondly recalls my parents, and others who remember backyard Wiffle-ball games and snow forts, Schwinn bikes and butch wax, box turtles at the dime store and baseball cards at the drug store.

Such memories, moods and moments never leave in hometowns, where our hearts return when accumulating burdens from deaths to other dreads require respites. And what’s noticed are overlapping communities – “families” – that abide, apart from geography and time.

So it is with Nance, now seemingly separated yet never leaving us.

As she taught me with her singing, smiling soul: Wanderers, wonderers and wayfaring souls aren’t alone. Despite fear and grief, you’re loved and part of us, and we you.

As she sings on tape, “While I’m far away from you, my baby/ I know it’s hard for you, my baby/ because it’s hard for me my baby/ and the darkest hour is just before dawn.”

Bill Knight has been a reporter, editor and columnist for more than 50 years. Also an author, Knight is a journalism professor emeritus from WIU, where he taught for more than 20 years. Contact him at bill.knight@hotmail.com. For archives, visit mayflyproductions.blogspot.com.