Sharon was in her 60s, had a one-of-a-kind personality, and always spoke her mind.
The first time we met we didn’t exactly click, but a spiritual connection and love brought us together.
Sharon had cancer. I worked at the hospital where she received treatments, and I’d spend lunch breaks visiting with her. We developed an unlikely friendship and talked and texted regularly.
When she asked me to come to her house I had no idea what she had to say, but I knew whatever it was she couldn’t say it over the phone.
I sat at her table with my hot coffee and creamer and we made small talk. I was nervous.
Our small talk had drifted off and she looked at me and said:
“My cancer has returned and this time the doctor’s given me 6 months to a year to live. I’m getting my affairs in order.”
I was dazed like someone had punched me in the face. I was speechless. She had fought so hard. I thought of all the surgeries and treatments she’d been through.
“I was wondering if you could help me,” she continued. “I don’t want my husband to worry about anything when the time comes. Can you help me write my obituary?”
I was still stunned and in denial. How could she just accept her impending death like this? ‘Write your obituary!? You can’t die.’
I fixed my shocked face, took a deep breath, a sip of my coffee, and let the shock and sadness wash over me.
I loved her and I knew crying would not be what she wanted. I replaced my sadness with a deep sense of honor, respect, and acceptance.
“Of course,” I said with a sad smile. “You know I’ll do anything to help you. I really hate this prognosis, and I pray that even if we do write this obituary, we will never need to use it.”
Thus began the journey, which included interviewing her, writing her obituary, obtaining photos, making several home visits, shedding lots of tears, and letting her review and change her own obituary several times.
More than a project
A few months in, it became hard always talking about her death. We talked about other things and I learned so much about her life. More that would fit in an obituary.
During one of our obituary revision sessions, an idea popped into my head.
“Let’s plan your 49th wedding anniversary!” I said. “We should have a small party!”
Sharon was reluctant. She did not like a lot of fuss to be made over her. She said no at first. Then yes to something small. However, I was pretty convincing and by the end of it, she let me do what I wanted and plan a small party for her.
Her 49th-anniversary party was held in October 2018 at a mansion restaurant in Nashville, TN. She’d invited 20 of her closest friends who sat down for a soul-food meal. My crafting crew made beautiful gift bags. The guests filled an envelope with money, something she later called me about. She was beside herself with gratitude at how loving her friends had been. Her oldest son drove from North Carolina to attend.
It was a beautiful fall night and the words of gratitude and love she spoke at the end of the night brought us all to tears.
She later told me, it was one of the best nights since she’d had her prognosis.
Sharon had such a courageous and brave spirit. She faced death with faith and hope.
My last visit with her was in hospice at a nursing facility. We laughed as I tried to wheel her to the dining room in a broken wheelchair. Her feet kept stopping the wheelchair bringing it to a screeching stop. It was so funny as we slowly made it to the dining hall.
People stared at this young-ish Black lady and white senior citizen woman talking and laughing.
A lady at our table let her curiosity get the best of her. She asked Sharon who I was. Sharon said I was her friend.
“I had all boys, but if I ever had a daughter, I would hope she’d be like her. She’s more like my daughter than a friend,” she said.
My heart was full. What a huge and kind compliment.
After a dinner she barely touched, I wheeled her back to her room, helped her put on her PJs, and watched her fade to sleep as her morphine took over.
I cried all the way home knowing it was my goodbye.
She died six days later.
Finishing the assignment
I called her sons and we followed all the instructions she’d left us. She’d even left instructions on planning her memorial talk and reception.
I went into “work mode,” as I’d done often as a crime reporter covering the saddest stories. My emotions went to the back of my brain so I could do a good job.
I finalized the obituary she’d approved and sent it to the printer.
Her obituary was read at her funeral. It was so finale.
Then we sang her favorite song, “Give Me Courage,” and I broke down crying. The entire past year came out in a flood of tears and sobs.
What a beautiful time in my life learning so much from a strong woman of great courage and faith. She made her final days count and she gave me a gift when she entrusted me with writing her obituary.