For the past 25 years at Lanesborough Elementary School, when someone has needed to talk, Jane Shiyah has been there to listen.
The school adjustment counselor, who has worked in schools for a total of 45 years, will retire from that job on Friday, only to take up a new cause -- raising awareness about myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME).
"I've been telling people retirement is going to be all about M.E., but not about me," said Shiyah on Monday.
Also known as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and by other names, it is a complex, debilitating, and often disabling illness that affects multiple systems of the body. It's considered an "invisible" illness, because people who have it don't necessarily look sick.
There are an estimated 1 million people who suffer from ME/CFS, including Shiyah's 27-year-old daughter, who Shiyah said prefers not to be named. Shiyah's daughter was diagnosed as a senior in college and has since moved home with her mother to receive care.
"It's like getting the flu with all the aches and pains, but it never goes away and you have trouble thinking and concentrating. It's been tough on her," said Shiyah.
Lanesborough Elementary Principal Ellen Boshe said Shiyah's daughter couldn't be in better hands.
"She's given so much support to us as individuals, as a school and to this community. We're going to miss her very much, but this is an important cause for her to take on," the principal said.
Shiyah has asked that in lieu of retirement gifts, donations be made to at ME/CFS health fund.
In addition to counseling, Shiyah has taken on a number of causes in her quarter-century with Lanesborough Elementary, such as teaching children about veterans and their services, providing character education and bullying prevention outreach, and conducting a school-wide chess program among them.
Her most notable, and likely most beloved charge at the school, is an affable 8-year-old Bichon Frise named Inky, short for "Inquisitive." He is a certified therapy dog and a certified Reading Education Assistance Dog (R.E.A.D.). Inky, who has some of his own health issues, was nearly put down before Shiyah and the school picked him up.
"The school rescued him and now he's going on his next adventure with me," Shiyah said.
Over the years, students have come to know Shiyah, and more recently, Inky, as having a kind and patient presence in the school, a key factor for students and faculty, particularly during times of trouble and personal pain.
Students regularly talk with her about issues, such as divorce or "split-apart family groups," -- "a name the kids came up with, since some kids' parents were never married to begin with," Shiyah said.
She said Inky helps students who suffer anxiety and anger issues. "He calms them down," she said.
Death and loss, coping with stress, bullying and social issues are also things Shiyah regularly addresses in individual meetings, as well as peer group meetings, like the "lunch bunch" she's organized.
"She's helped a lot of people when they're feeling down," said third-grader Aireanna Shaw.
Shaw's classmates said they appreciated being able to meet with Shiyah to go on walks with Inky at the school and having a "quiet room," to go to with a comfortable chair and stuffed animals to help them calm down if they've had a rough day.
"I think she makes [people] feel happy. She's a nice person," said fifth-grader Ryan Michalak.
"She talks to people about their troubles and Inky listens. I think we're all gonna miss them both," he said.