Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Writing I Didn't Want to Do but Was Honored to Complete

I was asked to write an obituary for a remarkable woman, truly what people would call a "character", someone who made my "family I've chosen" better with her presence, her candor, her unsappy approach to compassion. After writing it, I gave it to her husband Bill for him to give to the newspaper. Unfortunately, a snafu meant that it didn't appear the day before the funeral. I intervened, tried logic, then asked for humanity to prevail and unfortunately, the bottom line was the only thing the business side of the paper was interested in. At more than $800, I thought the charges were excessive when the item wouldn't appear until the day of the funeral. So I switched approaches. A call to the News Desk resulted in a feature story, celebrating her volunteerism, that appeared last night online and the day of the funeral on page 2 of the City Section and above the fold.

Carolyn would not have enjoyed the attention, but would have been thoroughly pleased that we beat the system and got it all for free. They didn't use my version of the story and as a result got a few great quotes from Bill that I didn't. But in case you never had the privilege of meeting her, here's my introduction to a great woman who loved and lived life to the fullest:

Carolyn Sharber, 75, died June 17. Her sudden death occurred as she was fulfilling one of her many volunteer roles – assisting Texas Lovin’ Cloggers prior to a performance in Branson, MO.

Born in Elizabeth City, NC, Carolyn spent 39 years in classrooms in New Orleans and Houston. She and her husband, Bill, recently celebrated their 54th wedding anniversary. Childhood sweethearts, they attended grade school and high school together and graduated from East Carolina University.

Upon her retirement from teaching physical education, Carolyn began a second “career” of volunteerism. Her commitments included Braes Interfaith Ministries, Omega House (an AIDS hospice), Interfaith Care Partners, and the Livestock Committee of the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo. She was a member of Willow Meadows Baptist Church where she faithfully did whatever task needed to be done.

Known for her sense of humor, compassionate spirit, and practical approach to work and play, Carolyn was able to bring a lighter side to many of the serious issues connected to her volunteerism. Fifteen years ago, upon being told that hospice volunteers were needed for cooking, cleaning and patient care at Omega House, Carolyn quickly acknowledged that she would happily do the laundry but since she kept her cookbooks in her oven at home, she wouldn’t be cooking anywhere else either. At the church, her aversion to cooking prompted other volunteers to capture her one experience in the kitchen on film.

Upon hearing of her death, numerous friends and acquaintances began recounting their experiences with Carolyn’s selfless acts of befriending the outcast and recruiting of others to join her in her volunteer activities.

“Carolyn gave her life to service, caring for everyone but herself,” said her husband Bill. “You would never find a better friend. I could never have found a better partner.”

Carolyn is also survived by a sister, Mary Ann Knight of Garner, NC; two nieces Sheryl Holbrook and Donna Barefoot; a nephew Randal Hardesty; and close friend Buncy Nemec.

The funeral will take place Wednesday, June 23, at 10 a.m. at Willow Meadows Baptist Church, 4300 West Bellfort. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the church youth programs to scholarship youth activities.

Truly a sanitized version, the best things about Carolyn were her approach to doing good deeds, her aversion to cooking, her total disregard for anyone who didn't want her smoking in the church parking lot, her willingness to do ANYTHING except cook, the way she approached anyone she didn't know and made them her friend in minutes, and the way she never saw what might keep others from lending a hand -- dirty clothes and hair, a shady past/present, a furrowed brow that looked menacing -- and instead just treated humanity as humanity.

I, and many others, will miss her.

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