Sunday, September 11, 2011

My friend Sharolyn

Is beautiful.
Loves life more than anyone I have ever met.
Is generous.
Is brave.
Laughs easily and often.
Makes friends with everyone.
Would help anyone.
Is not afraid to laugh at herself.
Loves holidays, celebrating and family.
Owned the only poodles I will ever love.
Would hate how much I'm crying as I write this.

Sharolyn is 34 years old. She is dying of cancer. When I left her house an hour ago, I knew that it may be the last time I saw her.

But this isn't a story of dying. It's a story of living.

The first time I spoke to Sharolyn, I didn't know who she was or how much we would love each other. I was a reporter; she was the liaison for her high school reunion. I remember how much energy she had.

The second time I heard of her, another reporter was doing a story on this local woman who'd dressed up as half a man and half a woman to do a duet with herself on "American Idol." She didn't make it. That should give you an idea of how wrong that show can be.

The third time, Sharolyn bounded into my life with a huge smile. Our wards had just merged, she'd been called to be the Relief Society president, and she walked up to me and reminded me of the first time we'd talked. I liked her immediately. She is impossible to not like.

Three days later, I accepted a calling to serve with her in the Relief Society presidency. We worked together, along with two other amazing women, but also watched movies, had parties, went to dinner and gabbed about everything as only women can do. We talked about boys and hair and losing weight. She is one of the first people who knew I wanted to go on a mission. She once told me, and I am not kidding here, about her first visit to the gynecologist.

When I unexpectedly got tickets to the Stadium of Fire, I called Sharolyn. Taylor Hicks, who won AI the year she tried out, was at SOF. When he crossed the street in front of my car and went into a local dive, I raced to the restaurant where we were meeting after the show and announced that we were going to stalk him. Didn't even faze her. We went to the bar, we danced, we felt awkward, and she went up to him and said hello. For the next two days we both agonized about how guilty we felt for going into the den of iniquity.

When I decided to go on a mission, I moved into her house to save money. On New Year's Eve eve, the two of us and two other friends were all hanging out on her bed planning a party. When we called a mutual friend to invite him, Sharolyn somehow made the invitation to a party in her bed. We laughed for five minutes after hanging up the phone.

Two days later we found out that a woman in our ward had died in a car accident. Two months earlier, another woman had died. She went to her funeral to comfort her roommate, whom she barely knew. In the second instance, she suggested to the bishopric that the ward donate money to send the woman's roommate to the funeral. It was done in a few hours.

I got one letter from her on my mission. She'd written it over a period of weeks and then forgotten to send it and then finally did. That was Sharolyn. I laughed the whole time I was reading it.

Sharolyn found out her cancer was terminal about eight months ago. We all thought she'd beaten the last round, but it came back, this time to her liver. And it just kept coming.

Watching her fight has been inspiring. Watching her die has been nightmarish, because I see her dying and I mourn her dying, but also because every time someone dies from cancer it's like my dad is dying all over again. Because her liver is failing, even the symptoms are the same, and when I see her face and her eyes and her pain I see my dad suffering. When I watched her breathe, I remembered watching my dad's chest and waiting for it to rise again and wondering how I was going to survive if it didn't. When I think of her in a hospital bed, my beautiful, interesting, vivacious friend who was never still, I see him and remember how losing his functionality was one of his greatest fears and how he hated feeling so helpless. When I saw her there, almost dead but not quite and feeling torn inside on what I should pray for, I remembered, in the moments after my dad died, selfishly wishing he would come back, even in the same horrible state he'd been in, because at least he was still a little bit there with me, but after he died he was just gone. I hate to think of Sharolyn suffering any longer, trapped in a body that is no longer useful to her, but the thought of her being gone hurts so much.

When I spoke at Dad's funeral I tried to answer the question why: why bad things happen to good people, why healthy people get cancer, why people die so young. Why life, which is supposed to be a thing of joy, hurts so much. And the answer is, I don't know. There are scientific reasons why things happen and there are spiritual, eternal reasons, but the fact is that I can't make sense of it. Sharolyn is too young. Dad was too young. Lindsey Karr and Will Truman and Whitni Reese and Shaun Davis and all of the people you know who died of cancer were too young.

But, for all of its illogic, that is life. All I know is that one day I'm also going to die, and at the end of that tunnel, with face, mind and soul free of cancer, my dad will be waiting for me. And I hope, if Sharolyn's not too busy, she'll be waiting for me too.


  1. wonderful post. Sharolyn has been one of my good friends since 8th grade. We have a life time of memories. She is going to be so missed.

  2. Way to make me cry! I really like your blog...