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A path to healing

Eleni she was a normal mum who loved her family, fashion and cooking and who – like any other mum – yelled at her daughter to clean her room (while wearing her police uniform)

To the South Australian policing community Joanne Shanahan was a respected chief superintendent who supported countless victims through domestic violence crises.

But to her daughter Eleni she was just “a normal mum” – a bubbly, humble and honest person, who loved her family, fashion and cooking Greek food and who – like any other mum – yelled at her to clean her room (in her police uniform!).

The Shanahan family’s lives were shattered on Anzac Day 2020, when Joanne was killed in a horrific crash at the intersection of Cross and Fullarton roads.

For Eleni, who now owns Stirling’s Max Milan boutique, the day that changed her life forever began like any other.

Her mum dragged her out of bed to listen to a neighbor playing the bagpipes for Anzac Day and later asked if she would like to join them on a trip to buy a vacuum cleaner.

Her decision to stay home likely saved her life.

“I was watching Ozark, and I’ve never watched it again,” Eleni, who was 22 years old at the time, recalls.

“I was probably 10 minutes into an episode and my phone rang … and it was Dad on the phone and he sounded really, really stressed and he said ‘mum’s died and I’m going to the hospital’.

“… My brain couldn’t process it.

“I hung up and I was just sitting there confused.”

Just minutes after leaving their Kingswood home, the SUV Eleni’s parents were travelling in was hit by an out-of-control Voltswagen ute, which also plowed into another car, killing mother Tania McNeill.

The driver of the ute, a 20-year-old man, was acquitted just over a year later on grounds of mental incompetence.

The weeks following the crash are largely a gap in Eleni’s memory, lost in a fog of confusion and shock, while the months that followed were marked by a deep grief.

More than three years on from the accident, Eleni knows the grief will never disappear.

“(I felt) so sad,” she says.

“I can’t describe it really – honestly I was just numb, like I didn’t know what was going on.

“… Probably the hardest day is Anzac Day.

“I hate Anzac Day.

“If I listen to a bagpipes I turn it off … because that was one of the last things I heard in the morning.

“We generally just try and avoid that day.”

Today, Eleni is well-known in Stirling as the friendly face behind menswear boutique Max Milan.

For Eleni, who bought the business from a close family friend in late 2022, taking over the shop became part of her healing journey.

“It had nothing to do with my mum – so it was a pretty easy space to walk into,” she says.

“And noone actually knew who I was and in a way that was really nice because it was just a completely fresh start – a fresh community – lovely, lovely people, who treat you fantastically which really, really helped.

“And Mum never set foot into the store so I don’t have to associate anything I do with something tragic that happened.

“She would have been so proud for sure, she would have loved it, she would have been my best customer hands down, she would have been there every weekend.”

With the loyal support of the Adelaide Hills community, Max Milan has become Eleni’s ‘happy place’ … and there’s plenty of help from family and friends too.

With the loyal support of the Adelaide Hills community, Max Milan has become Eleni’s “happy place” … and there’s plenty of help from family and friends too.

“Dad buys stuff, my brother does modelling, Dad works on Sundays sometimes if I need a day off … my friend sometimes comes up – she helps me with folding.

“I have such a lovely support group and Jane, Dad’s partner, is there if I need her which is really, really nice.”

It’s also hard to miss her loyal shop assistant, long-haired Weimaraner, Kevin, who can be found by her side in Max Milan several days a week and has been helping her to process her grief since the accident.

“Kevin was about six months old when all of this happened and I honestly couldn’t have done anything without him,” she says.

“He is like my little rock.

“He comes to my psych appointments every fortnight still and he has his little spot on the couch where he sits and he sleeps.

“He’s just so chilled and just hangs out with me.

“He literally comes with me everywhere and I probably wouldn’t have been able to do some of the stuff I’ve done without my dog – which sounds so funny, but he’s almost like a human … he’s so emotionally in tune.”

Eleni is now looking to the future, hoping to expand Max Milan and well and truly entrenched in the Stirling community.

“I’ll definitely not leave the Hills, I love the Hills,” Eleni says.

“… I really, really love (the shop).

“It’s not easy running a small business, I have really down days and really stressful days because it’s going to be quiet, but your locals are your main support and you can’t be a small business in the Hills without your locals.”

More than three years on from the accident, Eleni knows the grief will never disappear.

But she is determined to carry on and live the life her mum would have wanted her to have.

“I try and think about it as positively as I can,” she says.

“It’s so horrendous what happened, but you can’t be dwelling on that all the time when I’ve still got a dad who can help me through things.

“So I try and think about it like that as much as I can.

“… Mum would want me to still have fun and do things and not not do them because of her.

“Some things will still be hard – like going to Greece without Mum – but I’m still going to try and just do as much as I can.”

And she’s also determined to follow in her mum’s footsteps and care for those around her.

“I think everyone has some sort of trauma or grief that happens in their life and you just don’t know it,” she says.

“And so I try to be nice to every single person I meet because I have no idea what just happened to them.

“They could have a family member who is really ill or going through something really horrendous and I don’t know.

“So be as happy and loving as you can be, because that’s what Mum would want.”

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