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Celebrating life in death - Greenpoint remembers killed cyclist Rasha Shamoon

As the large procession walked through the sleepy Saturday streets of Greenpoint, the Hungry March Band shifted its tone from the funeral dirge “St. James Infirmary” to a more festive song, celebrating the unique and joyful life of Greenpoint resident and cycling activist Rasha Shamoon.

On Tuesday, August 5, at 1 a.m., Shamoon was fatally injured in a collision while riding her bicycle back home to Greenpoint, when an SUV struck her near the Williamsburg Bridge. Friends and family gathered at New York Presbyterian/Cornell Medical Center for days, though she never regained consciousness and her condition worsened. On August 9, Shamoon was declared brain dead and on August 11 was removed from life support. She was 31.

An Iraqi Catholic émigré, who came to the United States with her family in 1982, Shamoon’s family settled in Massapequa Park in Long Island, where she attended Massapequa High School, graduating in 1994.

After graduating from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., with a dual bachelor’s degree in biology and psychology, she moved to New York and settled in Greenpoint with her boyfriend, Josue Cedeno, in 2003. This year, she received a second master’s degree in psychology from Brooklyn College and had been teaching biology and human anatomy courses at Hunter College, Pace University and LaGuardia Community College this past year.

Hundreds of relatives and friends from different aspects of her life poured into St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church for mass and the Greenpoint Avenue restaurant Coco 66 for the wake last Saturday, where they shared their thoughts and memories of their friend.

“I know a lot of you are sad, confused, and angry,” Josue Cedeno said during his eulogy. “I’m right there right now. I’m really confused. She would tell us, we all have options. We should take this fear of loss, this feeling that we can control things. We have this opportunity to make this precious life an adventure. Learn to love. Love yourself. You only have so much time in your life to do that.”

Friends from Hunter and Brooklyn Colleges, Transportation Alternatives, where Shamoon was an active member, and the Greenpoint YMCA, where Shamoon taught classes in karate and punk rope, came together to reminisce and celebrate Shamoon’s life.

“She spent Thanksgiving at my house this year with about 15 to 20 people,” Carolina Asirifi, said. “She said she was most thankful for time, because time takes care of everything. She was given such a short amount of time and yet she made so much out of her time. She enjoyed her life and her vibrant spirit made you enjoy life.”

Michael Haskell a Greenpoint resident and cycling activist, who met Shamoon during a karate class at the YMCA, helped organize the wake and funeral arrangements, along with more than two dozen other friends. Haskell shared a story about Shamoon and Cedeno visiting his house this past spring while his irises were blooming in the backyard.

“They really wanted to play horseshoes for three hours,” Haskell said. “At the end of it, the irises were gone, the hydrangeas were gone, but we really had a fun time.”

Amid the vibrant photos of Shamoon and her friends that hung beautifully from wires inside Coco66 and the collection of poetry readings and songs played during the wake, Shamoon’s family said the outpouring of love and support from the Greenpoint community pleasantly surprised them.

“I knew she had a large community of friends but I never knew the extent of it,” said Suhair Shamoon, Rasha Shamoon’s sister. “I know it made my parents comfortable that she had such a close knit group of friends here. She’s loved by so many people here and it is great to see them.”

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