“Celebrate Life,” Nov. 8, 2016

On a glorious fall day in Bridgeport, West Virginia, I stood before an audience of cancer survivors and thought, “What can I possibly tell them that they don’t already know?”

The event was a “Celebration of Life,” hosted by United Hospital Center in Bridgeport, to honor oncology patients and remind them they’re not alone.

I had no degrees, no expertise to offer. But I have raised three children and buried my share of loved ones. I lost my mother, my stepfather and my first husband all to cancer. I’ve been a daughter, sister, wife, widow, mother, grandmother and student of life. I’ve learned a few things along the way. So I told them my story, hoping it might somehow be their story, too. Here is part of what I said.

My first husband wore a lot of hats. He was “Dad” to our three children, a high school teacher, basketball coach, marathon runner, Young Life leader and a handyman around the house. He loved doing those things, and kept doing them, even after he was diagnosed with cancer and given six months to live.

By the strength of his will and the grace of God, he stretched those six months into four years, during which we learned several lessons.

The first lesson was kindness. We were swamped with offers for help. So many casseroles showed up at our door I thought I’d never have to cook again. Friends and even strangers said they were praying for us and their children were praying for our children.

We learned that kindness heals. I watched it heal the Coach even as he was dying. I watched his spirit bloom with the realization of how much he was loved.

The second lesson was how to embrace change. As the cancer took its toll, the Coach adapted. When he could no longer run, he was glad to go for walks. When he could no longer hike, he took photos of mountains and put them in scrapbooks. When he could no longer coach, he sat on the sidelines and cheered for his former players. When he could no longer teach or walk or change channels on the TV, he lay on the couch and welcomed a stream of visitors.

One by one, he let go of things that once defined him, and focused on what he could do, rather than what he could not.

We were fortunate to have family and friends who made us laugh and reminded us to be thankful. That was the third lesson: Gratitude. Near the end, I gave the Coach a journal.

“I want you to use that,” I said, “to make a list every day of five things you are thankful for.”

“What if I don’t do it?”

“I’ll hide the TV remote.”

So he did it. My name often showed up on the list, but never at the top. He always listed God first. He said God never threatened to hide the remote.

After he died, I learned yet another lesson from the words of a friend who wrote: “The challenge for you now, having lost your loved one, is to live a life that is honoring to his memory, while at the same time that life moves forward, so only one person has died, not two.”

I don’t know why some people get to live longer than others. But I believe that those who do owe it to those don’t to live well. To keep moving forward. To be more, not less, alive.

From my grandmothers, I learned I was loved. From my blind brother I learned not to fear the dark. From my children, I learned there are some things I can do, and some things I have to leave to God. From my late husband, I learned to let go. From my new husband, I learned to believe in second chances. From my grandchildren I’ve learned that I will live forever in their hearts.

If there’s any art to living, it might be this: Be kind. Embrace change. Be thankful. Live well.

And always celebrate life.

Comments

  1. Cynthia G says:

    Wonderful advice but I have learned to expect only that from you. Thank you !

  2. robin says:

    Thank you!

  3. Carolyn says:

    My husband passed away in September. This column spoke to me. I called his sister so she could read it too. I put part of it in my refrigerator door, so I could remind myself not to give in to sadness, but to live each day knowing I am here for a reason. Thank you for your encouragement.

  4. Tonna Marroni says:

    Sharon, tomorrow, November 14, would have been my mom’s 86th birthday. She passed away this year on February 28. She loved your column. She often clipped it out and sent it to me when she connected to your message, or she would read me her favorite parts of your column when I called her. Mom always seemed to know when I needed to hear your thoughtful message. My sister sent me a text earlier this evening, telling me I must read your column today. We both have been dreading November 14 without mom and the column you ran again this week was so perfect, it was like mom helped you pick it out to remind us of what she told us during her last few days, “To keep moving forward. To be more, not less, alive.” She said, “Live your life! You have a wonderful family and a beautiful home. You have so much to live for. Do all the things you love to do. Don’t be sad. I have been blessed with a good life.” Sharon, you provided mom with many heartfelt columns, and also some humor. She loved humor! Thanks for sharing your special message again today, and thank you for sharing your insights. My sister and I will continue to read your column weekly because when we do we can hear mom’s sweet voice sharing your insightful words of wisdom, or laughing through your situations. You really touched her life.

  5. Shashi says:

    I am late to comment and read your column. I had a very bad day, but your column cheered me up like a candle in dark room removes the darkness. You are so nice to write such inspirational posts. I feel myself lucky to find your website. And I read your book and still keep it .I do not want to give to anybody as they can order their copy. They might keep it forever so I do not take risk . it has your autograph too ! That is even more precious . love you,! as always this post is very precious reminder to thank God for our blessings. Love you !

  6. Thank you Sharon for being the inspirational person you are. I sincerely hope our paths will cross one day. I used to live in Texas, but we moved to Colorado Springs, CO to be closer to family. If you ever plan to speak here, please let me know.

    Kindest Regards,
    Juliann McPadden

  7. Tobey Ellison says:

    My brother lives in Pacific Grove, Cal. He use to send me your columns he cut out from the paper. Every time I would read them tears would come to my eyes; some happy tears, some sad tears. You touch my heart and you bring me down to earth in my spirit. It’s a very good thing. Thank you so much for sharing your insights, feelings, and experiences. Happy Holidays to you and your family.

  8. Robert Harper says:

    I like the way you think, and your writings.

  9. Betty Bewley says:

    I speak with those who just said, “Thank you.” Many have or will walk a similar road and your words always lend a warm hug when needed. Again, “Thanks.”

  10. Alice says:

    I’m so happy that my wonderful Doctor sent me my first first Shar0n “precripton” for my new computer when I was just 88. It must have been a wonder-drug. Here I sit at my pc, 95 years old, anticipating each column. Your early life mirrored my own. I felt compelled to contact you and signed it alicemarie from Tennessee. Y0u responded! The story of how we met personnally in California will have to wait.
    Alicemarie from Tennessee

  11. Shirley Elliott says:

    Beautiful column. I have never read one of your columns without feeling better after reading it. Often your words will cause me to laugh or cry or sometimes both. Such a treat to see a new post. Wishing you a beautiful weekend.

  12. Linda Kantowski says:

    To all of Sharon’s readers I want to say that I am blessed that I too live in Las Vegas (of all places) and have the absolute honor to say Sharon & I are best friends. Just so you know, she is the same in person as you find her in her columns. Wonderful. She has this soothing way about her..like a cup of tea and a warm blanket on a chilly day. I challenge her to post this, as she doesn’t like to take the spotlight. But just this once, Sharon & all the people like her, should take a bow and accept our thanks for making this life sweeter and for sharing hers.

    • Sharon Randall says:

      OK, sweet Linda, you made me cry. Of course I’d approve your note. You’re my “oasis in the desert”! Love you!

    • Kate Sciacca says:

      We knew that all along dear… and you seem to have her gift of words too… “like a cup of tea and a warm blanket on a chilly day.” Perfect! And it is a chilly day up here in Carson (your Capitol) – 38 degrees at 4pm… I think I will make a cup of tea 😀

  13. Ronda says:

    Thank you

    • Elaine Mccaffery says:

      Thank you so much for your words of wisdom, your kindness and your always positive attitude towards people and life. I enjoy all you write. Some times I feel like I can connect with your life. Other times when I feel lost , and in despair you lift me up. I feel like you are a true friend even though we have never met. Keep up you writing, you are an inspiration. I too, write ( journal) just to keep my sanity. Cheaper than a therapist. Have a good day.

  14. jbruce says:

    Second chances. Recognizing them is at first so scarey. Seizing them makes us stronger.

  15. Judy Rivera says:

    So beautiful and uplifting to my soul. God has given you a wonderful way with words.
    When you write it’s as if you are sitting across the table having a conversation with the
    reader!

  16. Beverly Davisson says:

    OMG, You were here!!!!! Wish I known it. Hope the leaves were pretty& you get to go South!!! Great message. Happy Thanksgiving to you & your.

  17. Thank you, Sharon. Today of all days I needed these gentle reminders.
    Bruce

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