Sharon Johnson Memorial

A Tribute to the Life and Work of Sharon Johnson.

Sharon’s Eulogy written by Cathy MacLennan and Cecily Kowalik.

Ahhh, Sharon. The Angel of Hospice... as she was known and referred to by so many. Any of you have been supported by Sharon on your journey, understand this label and could speak of these things much better than I. However I will attempt the impossible - of translating the essence of Sharon into words... I will fall short, but she, in her abounding compassion will understand. First, a little history on how Hospice came to be: Sharon and Judy White the the birth mothers of North Perth Community Hospice. The seed was planted in 1990, after Judy shared with Sharon her challenging, yet moving and life changing experience of living with, and caring for, an aunt who chose to die at home.

They both felt there were many in our own community who would choose the same experience, given the opportunity, but support needed to be in place to enable them to do that. They envisioned an organization that offered, free of charge, skilled and compassionate support for family members and persons living with a life threatening illness, who wished to complete their earthly journey in their own homes surrounded by their loved ones. Sharon and Judy made a pact to work together to make this shared vision a reality. Their dedication and determination, to this end, never faltered.

Sharon Johnson

March 7, 1944 - February 11, 2011
Sharon Johnson

And so- forth on the crusade went Thelma and Louise, - as they called themselves, or Mutt and Jeff, as Judy’s Dad called them. They travelled many miles visiting other locations to learn about Hospice Services already in place.

Once they gained a clear focus of what was needed and the huge steps that lay ahead the gals spent months attending many area meetings, and offering community presentations, pitching their idea with the intent to gain support from groups and organizations, interest from those who might make use of hospice services, and commitment from those willing to become involved. Their persistence resulted in several individuals forming a steering committee to get the ball rolling. Meetings took place around various kitchen tables. One of those tables still stands as the board table in the current office: an icon for their initial vision that has become a constant and steady element in our community.

At this point, input from the growing number of supporters, indicated that, depending on circumstances or family wishes, the home may not always be appropriate for the end of life care. It was decided hospice services would be also be offered in the hospital, nursing homes or wherever needed. They understood that our community is blessed with tremendously caring nurses, doctors, support staff and agencies. However, as much as any of them would like to, it is impossible to spend extensive amounts of time with patients and their families at this intense emotional time. Hospice offered this extra ingredient in patient care. Within a year the meetings moved from kitchen tables to the new office... a room in the basement of the Anglican Church. Sharon and Judy often laughed about their mad dashes from front door to office door, in an attempt to avoid attacks from any bats who felt their turf had been infringed upon.

North Perth Community Hospice was incorporated in 1993. By this stage, a dedicated board of directors was in place and visiting volunteers had been trained. The office moved to its current location in the back part of the Ward and Uptigrove building. Volunteers continued to faithfully take turns running the front office until a person could be found to take on the position on a regular basis. That happened to be me. Hospice growth was a slow and tedious process, with people not wanting to really know what it was about, as it involved death, an actuality we really don’t like to think about too much.

However, once Sharon, Judy and the volunteers started visiting clients, they were embraced as part of the family because of the skills, comfort, peace, and assurance, they brought. Hospice became a living entity in the community. Its reputation grew by word of mouth, from those who so richly experienced the process of letting a loved one go, coached and supported by the Hospice team. Soon it became evident that grief support needed to be available, not only for clients who had lost family members, but for anyone in the community seeking help in coping with loss. To equip themselves for this next step, Sharon and Judy both earned their Grief Counselling Specialist accreditation. Grief groups, seminars and one-on-one counselling became available at no charge. I know Sharon and Judy were both tremendously grateful to every single individual.. and there are many of you... who helped, in any way, from beginning, through every step and change since then, to nurture their vision and grow hospice into what it is today. So there you have the history of Hospice. What about the woman who has been the Face of Hospice for the last decade?

Sharon was a quiet, gentle woman, content to simply remain in the background, being the best she could be for whoever needed her. With Sharon’s encouragement to apply her skills at a broader level, Judy accepted the position as Coordinator for Pain and Symptom Management for Huron and Perth County in 2000. Sharon then became the sole Coordinator of Hospice Services and found herself having to be more front and centre than she was accustomed to. Yet, she stepped into the role and took on each new responsibility with grace and strength. Sharon spent many hours traveling to, and attending meetings in the Huron Perth area, networking with other hospices, as was necessary for our hospice to continue to grow. I remember that day book of hers, growing fatter each day, with post its sticking out in different sections, listing added responsibilities. I can’t help but chuckle at the number of times that book went missing and we were in a mad scurry to figure where it had last been opened. Sharon’s focus was always on people, so it’s no wonder the book full of details was left behind. There is a room in the Hospice office which serves multiple purposes. One night a month, it’s the board room where business gets done with efficiency, topped off by the same caring, compassion and vision that is the trademark of Hospice. Another night, this room was where the Visiting Volunteers met with Sharon. Where Sharon offered guidance and direction, helping the volunteers further develop their skills. Where Sharon listened and supported as the volunteers shared their challenges as they naturally were feeling the pain of clients and family members during the end of life process. She was their guiding light. One volunteer said to me, as we stood by Sharon’s bedside last week, “I just don’t know how I am going to do this work without by Coordinator here to support me.” Most often this room served as what Sharon called the “Inner Sanctum.” I can’t begin to tell you the number of times people came to the office, either for an appointment or simply having dropped in, when Sharon, with that ability to tell with one look what was needed, would put her arm around the person and say, “Come to the inner sanctum.” Magic happened in that room. Tears were shed, gales of laughter erupted, hugs were exchanged, Therapeutic Touch treatments were given, and everyone, came out feeling more peaceful than when they went in. Not necessarily happier, as that is not what Sharon’s business was about. It was about listening and offering compassion to each person, about helping each to realize and find what she or he had within to help get through a tough time, about suggesting ways to cope, and mostly it was about being that safe and trusting person everyone could turn to in both their darkest hour... and their happiest moments. One client shared with us, “Sharon was able to quietly look right into people’s souls, see all the good in there, make any flaws seem trivial, and just plain love them.” Another volunteer sent me a video clip yesterday that she felt could have been composed with Sharon in mind. Indeed the words do exemplify Sharon: You raise me up so I can stand on mountains, so I can walk on stormy seas, you raise me up to more than I can be. I’ve seen over the years that once someone has been touched by Sharon’s spirit they can’t let go of her. It’s a bond that will never be broken, not even now. This was always evident at the annual Christmas Memorial Services. In 1996, we first offered an opportunity for those who lost loved ones to come to a service, and place a memorial on the tree. Some people still are attending this service, all these years later. We know the memorials by name as they are unpacked each year, and can see the faces of those whom they represent. This is what Sharon and Judy created, and taught us to respect, an ongoing honouring of each person’s experience. I can still see Sharon standing like a beacon, in front of the memorial trees, people lined up for their turn to get that very special hug and warm welcome that came fro her soul. Many of you here have been blessed by Sharon’s instinctual, loving acts of kindness. She just knew what to do when a family in our community, client or not, lost a loved one. There she’d be in the office, day or night, whenever the need arose, making packages for the family members, each adorned with her beloved butterfly stickers in each package were copies of comforting literature, sometimes packages of forget-me-not seeds; the now famous memory stones, to be taken by all who wanted to keep, in their pocket or purse, an ongoing, tangible remembrance of the one who died... make sure you take yours for Sharon today, or stop by the office to pick up one up. Her delivery of these packages, as many of us have experienced, was unassuming, gentle and loving. I remember looking up while visiting with people when my Dad died, and there she was, and doubt had been for some time, just waiting patiently, by herself, for when I had a free moment to give me our package... a hug, a loving message and then she disappeared into the background. I felt I had been touched by an angel.Many of will hear Sharon’s upbeat greeting, singing in our memory for ever more. She would sit in that middle office, turn her head as she heard someone come through the office door, and out it came: “Hey Girlie.” Many of these people who dropped in had been touched by Sharon through her Hospice work, or by working with her over the years. They had simply come in for their “Sharon fix.” The hardest part to talk about is the number of times that Sharon supported families and patients in the Palliative Care room at Listowel Memorial Hospital, the very room where Sharon spent her last week. This too was a room where magic happened. Where Sharon was attuned to every person in that room, where she comforted patients who were frightened, supported those who were hurting, where she always knew just what to say, and most importantly what not to say, where she taught family members how to lovingly and peacefully be with, and communicate with, their loved ones in the final stage of their journey, and taught them how to say goodbye. Some how it seems fitting that Bert, Robert, Peter and Andrew, their family, Judy and all Sharon’s friends and co-workers, had that same opportunity with Sharon, in that very room. Sharon, taught us well. She who was always the giver in her final days received that which she had spent two decades teaching and giving. She truly was our Angel.

We are all going to have times of sadness as we come to terms with Sharon’s absence in our lives. When we do, I think Sharon would like us to remember these words she loved by Kahlil Gibran “And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and seek God unencumbered.” Shared by Cathy MacLennan

I want to start by saying that you have permission to laugh and cry. Sharon would have wanted that. Well Bert! You sure know how to pick’em. By that I mean, my Aunt Sharon. I was old enough to remember Bert and Sharon’s wedding shower. Bert and Sharon were so young. Did you see those pictures at the funeral home? Bert hasn’t even changed! My Aunt Sharon, Our Aunt Sharon, she was the coolest. You could talk to her about anything! Those of you who knew her, aren’t these word perfect for Sharon - tender, gentle, empathetic, humble, wise, Ms. Memory Stone, practical. Her marriage advice to Rick & I was to NEVER hang a clothes line together. Apparently it was ugly on Elm Street. Fifteen years ago, a neighbour of ours in New Hamburg lost her mother--in-law. This was my first look into Sharon’s life as a hospice nurse. This neighbour on many occasions glowed about the care her family received....extra.... ordinary....care. “Earthly Angel, Angel to All, Friend of Everyone, God’s Angel”, these are just some of the descriptions we have read on the Funeral Home’s website this week. Two years ago, I started telling her to her face that she was an angel on Earth. She wouldn’t have any of it.

Sharon has been there for some of us in our darkest hours. She was there in my darkest hours. In 2001 Sharon, a member on my mom’s side of the family walked in to the room of my dad’s dying mother. I was flabbergasted. Sharon was there, but left my Uncle Art and me alone with Nana as she took her last breath. And then Sharon appeared just in time to explain to Uncle Art, that Nan’s reflex was just that. Nana had gone to be with Pop Steeb. Memory stones appeared at the funeral home. 2004 My Uncle Art died of cancer. Sharon was there soon after. Memory stones appeared at the funeral home, words of comfort, and her listening ear. 2006 The worst day of my life. our beautiful, healthy 17 year old Kyla died. Sharon was there soon after. Sand, rake and stones stayed at our house for a year. Again, memory stones. Sharon changed lives. That is why many of you are here today. Sharon even saved lives. Just last night I met a friend of Sharon’s that is a bereaved mother of her only child. Sharon saved her life! I feel so blessed to have met this woman. You may be wondering about the elephant at the funeral home and now sitting at the back of the church. My cousin Andrew was so touched by a poem I had made available at Kyla’s funeral that he asked Sharon to buy one for Rick and I. How cute of Andrew. Where did Sharon find and elephant? But I almost hate to do this. Sharon was NOT perfect. The only trait I feel comfortable enough telling you I shared with Sharon was her distaste with peas. Hurt me once. I phoned on a Monday night asking her if it was good time to talk. She said yes BUT she would have to hang up on me at 9:00 pm. Something about a TV show that she and Bert watched every Monday night. “24” or something. Can you imagine Sharon hanging up? And... Sharon was prejudiced. It was... it was the colour YELLOW. That is why you don’t see any yellow up here. Did you know that Sharon had nothing yellow in her home? Hey Andrew, good thing elephants aren’t yellow.

Now I would like to read you the poem “The Elephant in the Room”.

The Elephant in the Room

We talk about everything else.... except the elephant in the room.... We all know it is there... It is constantly on our minds... It has hurt us all.... but we do not talk about the elephant in the room... Oh please say her name... For if we talk about her death, perhaps we can talk about her life... Can I say “Sharon” to you and not have you look away? For if I cannot then you are leaving me alone... Bert alone... Robert, Peter and Andrew alone... in a room... with an elephant...

And remember for Sharon’s and my sake: Never mix peas and carrots. Sharon would have wanted that. Shared by Cecily Kowalik.