Sharon was born on August 17, 1951, and grew up in Parsippany in the same house in which she would live for most of her life. Her mother Margaret Mae Ike was a very loving person who overcame a childhood of neglect, having lived much of her life in foster care. Margaret was the sort of person who, though she never had much in this world, would always make sure there was room at the table for a guest in need of a welcome. She married Henry who had been recently widowed, his wife having died suddenly during an appendicitis, leaving behind a little two year old girl named Carol. Margaret took little Carol into her heart as her own daughter.
When Carol was six, her baby sister was born. For the rest of Carol’s life Sharon would hold a very special place in her heart. According to Carol, she looked like Shirley Temple. Carol remembers a story of how when Sharon was just 18 months old, her mother heard Sharon suddenly begin to giggle, and when she came into the living room to see what her daughter was giggling about, to her dismay she found little Sharon playing with a little field mouse that had somehow snuck into the house. The story says something about Sharon — her distinctive laughter that would stay with her throughout her life, her gentleness and delight with all God’s living little creatures.
When Sharon was ten her baby sister Krystal was born whom Sharon would both love and suffer over for years to come, for Krystal would live a troubled life, dying before Sharon.
For the most part though, Sharon’s childhood was happy, despite frequent bouts of bronchitis, pneumonia and ear infections. She enjoyed family trips to Wildwood, and later enjoyed going there on her own with friends. She enjoyed school and did very well there, getting mostly “A”s throughout her time in the Parsippany school system. Afterwards she took some courses at Morris County College. Sharon was very bright, though often she seemed compelled to hide her intelligence. She loved to read.
Lynn Agre relayed a story to me of a time when she and Sharon were working the toy booth together at the Happy Apple Bazaar in the mid-afternoon quiet time. To keep themselves awake the two women rummaged through the board games for sale and found a scrabble game, which they proceeded to play. Lynn prides herself in her love of words, as evidenced in her pursuit of a Phd in linguistics, but nevertheless, Sharon proved herself to be the superior wordsmith that day, beating Lynn by a substantial margin.
Sharon had a knack for teaching herself skills. She taught herself to be a key punch operator and how to operate a computer and do book keeping. She worked for a time with Dell Publishing where she met her life long friend, Fred Coleman. At one point she supervised an office at a company called Bases. During these years Sharon lived on her own in various apartments.
When her mother got sick, Sharon moved back into the family home in 1994 with Carol, George and Michael in order to help care for her mother. It was during this time that I met Sharon, who was keeping her mother company in a hospital room at St. Clare’s. I was visiting Mae Thomas, a member of our congregation who shared a room with Sharon’s mom. I was struck by the family’s devotion to one another. When her mother died in 1995, I was privileged to officiate at her funeral. An unanticipated grace that came from this sorrow was that first Sharon, and then later Carol and George began coming to Church, and before long Sharon had become a very special part of our church family. She gradually coaxed Fred Coleman into the fellowship as well, which widened the ripples of grace that extended out from her life in ways far beyond our knowledge and understanding.
There was a loneliness hidden deep in Sharon’s soul. Although she would often present a tough outward image, inwardly Sharon was in fact quite soft and tender. In certain ways she was a very private person, and yet Sharon longed to feel like she belonged.
Sharon’s church family came to mean a great deal to her; she felt like she belonged here. Having learned from her mother the principle of, “There’s always room at the table,“ Sharon appreciated the belief she found here that “There’s always room in the circle.” She loved being a part of the United Methodist Women. Sharon played an important role in establishing the retreats that our church began holding each year for persons living with HIV/AIDS and their families, for whom the great compassion of her heart was moved deeply.
Sharon formed a special friendship with Joy Frandsen whom she would talk with for hours on the phone, and she grieved for her friend when Joy passed from this world two years ago. As Sharon’s numerous health concerns made it more and more difficult for her to leave the house, she made a point of staying in touch with folks, talking on the phone to Lois and Doris and Ruthann and Grace Schlosshauer and Grace Agre and Ann Nye. Betty Polen remembers how Sharon and her sister Carol brought dinner to her house the very next day following the death of her husband Ray, and how much it meant to her. Whenever I would visit Sharon, I was always touched by the way she would ask about my family, remembering the details of their lives. Sharon developed a special place in her heart for the Gibson family, doing whatever she could for them. She gave special attention to the mother of her childhood friend who became confined to the Care One Nursing Facility.
In the last nine years of her life, Sharon found her greatest delight in her nephew and niece, Matthew and Danielle. She hadn’t seemed all that interested in children, but when Lurli got pregnant, something was drawn out of Sharon that had been hidden deep inside. When Lurli went into labor, Sharon was too excited to sit still, so she took George and Carol out to breakfast at the Spa in Lake Hiawatha, where she proudly announced to everyone who entered how she was about to become an aunt. Later that night, following Matthew’s birth, Sharon insisted that she would take George and Carol out to dinner to celebrate.
As Matthew and Danielle grew, Sharon would play games with them and read them books, as well as help them with their homework. She had the patience to wait out Matthew’s boy energy, recognizing in him an unusual intelligence, doing what she could to encourage his mind. She was so proud when Matthew was invited into the gifted program at school known as GRO .
Christmas a very special time for Sharon, during which she would get caught up in the spirit of giving. Sharon would spend all her money on Matthew and Danielle, making sure they found plenty of gifts under the Christmas tree. Her generosity extended beyond her family; through our church Sharon adopted a family from social services to whom she provided Christmas presents. She gave donations each year when the Muscular Distrophy Drive was held. She made a point of mailing in her church pledge when she couldn’t make it here herself.
Sharon loved old movies, with particular fondness for Susan Heyworth. She knew “The Godfather” by heart. She liked Disco Music. She taught herself to crochet and to knit, making sweaters and blankets as gifts to give to the people she loved. A Noah’s Ark tissue box sits on my desk, made for me by Sharon. She loved cats. She could be very, very funny, impish, like a little girl.
Sharon had a tough time living in a physical body. She dealt with obesity, kidney failure and dialysis, breathing and heart problems, and eventual confinement to a wheel chair. She endured countless hospitalizations. Considering all she was up against in her body, we often wondered if Sharon would make it out of the hospital, but she had a remarkable determination – a stubbornness – and eventually home she would come, ready to live and love some more.
For the entire past year we were amazed that Sharon was able to stay well enough to avoid the hospital. But a month or so ago she found herself back there again. She underwent two surgeries, and extended stays in the ICU. Somewhere along the way, the great fatigue that was always with Sharon finally got the better of her. She didn’t want to fight anymore. She wanted to go home to the Lord, go home to her mother and her father, to Krysty and Joy. And once she made her decision, it was only a matter of days before she was released from this world.
Lurli had a dream after Sharon’s death that blessed the whole family. In the dream it was understood that Sharon had indeed died, and yet she was there, alive and well, in fact looking quite different, her body no longer the great burden it had been for Sharon for so long. In heaven, everything is made new. All the tears are wiped away, and we are given a new body, one that can run and not be weary, one that can disco like John Travolta, if that’s your pleasure. It is a wonderful thing to think about Sharon with her brand new body, considering all she put up with in this life with her body.
The following was written by Darren Yacenko and Andy Klekanos:
Anyone who ever met Sharon, even for just a few moments, would have to realize as we always did, that she was one of the sweetest, most gentle and caring individuals you would likely ever meet. Despite any physical suffering she might have been enduring at the time, or her learning of yet another health challenge that she must somehow cope with, Sharon always greeted us with a radiant joy, and a warm heartfelt hug; Her first words to us were always to ask about OUR health and our families’ health, and how things were going for US (despite the fact that our issues seemed to us to pale in comparison to the nature and extent of the issues that confronted her.) Darren especially remembers her deep concern, sympathy, and empathy upon the passing of his dad at the Christmas holiday time, since she also suffered a great loss during a Christmas holiday season. We will always remember the very touching phone calls we would receive from Sharon, so appreciative of a note or card we had sent her, or just to make sure all was o.k. with us and our family, since she hadn’t seen us in a while.
Sharon’s active and ambitious participation for several years in the annual retreat sponsored by our church for persons living with HIV/AIDS is another perfect example of the caring, loving person that Sharon was…seeking out to help others when she herself was battling with her own health issues. She was a shining example of someone with a very strong faith built on a foundation of unconditional love. We still hang on our Christmas tree each year the angel ornament that Sharon and Carol managed to help us make in a crafts session during the AIDS retreat one year. It reminds us of Sharon’s angelic nature on this earth despite all the suffering that accompanied her earthly life, and it will remind us in the years ahead that she is now an angel in the truest sense…and free from pain and suffering.