Sunday, July 3, 2011

A First That Hurts

Last week marked my mother’s birthday as well as that of her best friend, Sharon. It also marked the first time that we had to celebrate Sharon’s birthday without her. If you’ve ever lost someone close to you, you know how these special “firsts” can take you by surprise, bringing you up short and almost halting time for a moment. Once you get your bearings again, the day seems to echo with an odd resonance.

Today’s post is my dedication to Sharon. I promise it’s not weighty or depressing, because that wouldn’t do justice to Sharon, who epitomized the exact opposite of depressing. If you’re looking for off-kilter or even a little funny, you may want to check out my last 2 posts before this about a really odd seatmate of mine on a flight to Phoenix or some surprisingSkymall offerings. However, I promise you that if you read on, there’s a good chance you’ll understand why I believe so strongly in the goodness of people.

My mom met Sharon during her freshman year in college. Not long after my parents divorced when I was 2 years old – and I’ll tell you, all of my parents and stepparents are good friends, so it’s possible, people – my mother and I moved close to Sharon and her family. As a single parent of a small child, my mom had to lean on her support system, so I got to spend a lot of time with Sharon. I count her as another mom, in many ways.

That's my mom on the left and Sharon on the right. Weren't they cute???
So what was she like? Let’s start with the surface stuff. Sharon was beautiful. Seriously. You know how some women are said to “light up a room” by just entering it? That described Sharon. She was blonde with huge eyes and an even bigger, omnipresent smile. Her smile…  it was infectious. And it emanated from within. Even when she discussed serious topics, her smile would only disappear for a brief time. It’s like she couldn’t contain the positive inside her.

Sharon loved to laugh with her friends and family and to focus on the joys in life. When talking with family and long-time friends, she got a kick out of retelling shared stories and incidents. For instance, she loved to remind me about how when I was very small I was inexplicably terrified of her first husband, Tom, a very kind, gentle man who happened to be very tall. One time, when I was maybe 4, we all – Sharon, Tom and their kids – were piling into Sharon’s car to go somewhere.  As we were getting situated, I did one of those slow movie glances to my left – staring briefly at the legs on the seat next to me and traveling up the body until I reached the face – and started screaming when I realized I’d ended up next to poor Tom. Poor, kind, gentle, very tall Tom. But in Sharon fashion, she simply laughed, said “Oh Megan,” and moved me to a different seat.

That’s the thing about Sharon. She rarely got outwardly angry. Don’t get me wrong, she was tough and strong and driven, and she kept us kids in line. But even if you did something to upset her, being with Sharon felt… safe. Sharon was love personified. I know that sounds hokey, but it’s a fact.  

Sharon and me, 1979.
I have so many memories of Sharon and her family. Going on vacation to the beach (Rehobeth? Bethany?). Spinning on the flat spinning thingy on the playground near their house in Virginia. My mom and stepfather getting married in a lovely ceremony in Sharon’s backyard in New Jersey. After the wedding, my new sister and I stayed at Sharon’s while our parents went on their honeymoon, and by the time they returned we had acquired a black kitten. I could go on and on. There’s a quote in my favorite movie, Field of Dreams, that describes how I’m feeling while writing this: “The memories will be so thick they'll have to brush them away from their faces.” Can't you just hear James Earl Jones' voice saying that line? Best. Movie. Ever.

But I digress... Sharon, she radiated. That positive spirit of hers was almost palpable and seemed to infuse her entire being with enviable energy. As my mother says, she never let moss grow under her feet, and she was always involved in something. Think you can’t have several successful careers in one life? Don’t tell Sharon. During the many iterations of her career, she was involved in sales, marketing, training, property management, and education. In Miami, while managing a high-level job at a prestigious college, she also established a very successful high school for at-risk students.  She even volunteered with the Civil Air Patrol, an organization her wonderful husband continues to support.

Sharon was ill for several years before she finally succumbed late last year, but she had the kind of spirit that made it almost impossible to tell she was sick. Even when she knew her time was going to be short, she always kept charging ahead. Her illness and the treatments for it kept her from working full-time, but Sharon still continued to make her mark. Among other things, she helped set up a law office for her daughter, managed benefit dinners for a homeless shelter, remained involved in Civil Air Patrol activities, as well as helped set up a trail system AND wrote a book about Quechee, VT, her final home town.

There were so many times during Sharon’s last year when the doctors were sure that this was it. We needed to prepare for the inevitable. And then Sharon would miraculously bounce back. When I say bounce back, I mean bounce back. I mean that yet again she would travel, visit friends, chatter away in her sweet, high-pitched voice that 100% mirrored her personality. There was one point late last summer that seemed more serious, and it was at that time that the thought popped into my head, “Wow. She may not see another Thanksgiving. How can she not experience another Thanksgiving?” I’m not sure why this particular thought kept spinning around my brain, but it knocked me off my feet. And then, a few days later, Sharon bounced back again.

We suspect, frankly that the Queechee book project – making sure it was completed and perfect – kept her alive and motivated in her final months. She was absolutely determined to finish that book! True to form, Sharon didn’t want to shirk her responsibilities, let anyone down or make anyone finish what she’d started. Let me tell you, Sharon finished that book. 100% complete, not rushed, not thrown together. Perfect. And she did it all with that incredible Sharon smile.

In among all that joy and positivity, Sharon did have one regret: that she didn’t go to the doctor earlier to find out what was wrong when she started feeling unwell and that she didn’t get a colonoscopy years earlier. (That’s one regret because it’s all tied together, you see.) In the end Sharon, was diagnosed with colon cancer. She fought her cancer for years, and she made those years count. There were highs and lows, but the fact remains that she truly lived her life before the diagnosis, and then she truly lived her life after as well.

So for those of you who know me and who get sick of my insane need to look at the positive, to find the silver lining even in the worst of scenarios, now you know where I learned it. Now you know why I can take in all those strange and sometimes happy and sometimes tragic topics I practically ingest – news and books and films and articles – and still remain convinced that people are innately good and that the world is pretty wonderful. It’s been taught to me over a lifetime by two amazing best friends – Sharon and, of course, my Mom (who is still here) – who shared so much in common… most importantly and amazingly, all things considered, a joyful outlook on life.

So happy birthday, Sharon. Thank you for all the gifts you gave to all of us… including the best one of all: time with you.


  1. What a wonderful memory. I think I can appreciate the hurt and the joy. We're all blessed (hopefully) with amazing people in our lives. This is a beautiful way to remember one of yours...makes me want to reach out to some of mine. Thanks for reminding me, and the rest of us, to take the opportunity to do it while we can.

  2. What a beautiful tribute. I wish I had known Sharon in this life. But thanks to you, I am acquainted with her spirit. (((hugs)))

  3. Rich and Pam: Thank you both. She was an amazing person. Fortunately, she knew how much she was adored in life, so this is just a coda. :) And a chance to share her.

  4. Megan: You did an amazing job in capturing the essence of Sharon. I miss her terribly, but take comfort in knowing that I am a better person because of her. Thank you for the memories. BIG HUG...

  5. BIG HUG right back to you, Rick (Ricky). I think we're all better for having known her, and I'm better for having known you, too... 100% serious. Love you tons.


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