by Joanie Butman
I recently wrote about the angels that surrounded and supported me through this most recent health challenge. I’m happy to report that the Colonel was similarly blessed. He had his own little harem of caretakers managed beautifully by my sister-in-law, Sharon. She is the Colonel’s winter next-door neighbor in Florida. For the past few years she and her husband, Paul Jr., have lovingly watched over my in-laws all winter, making sure their needs were met. This even included a subterfuge a couple of years ago to catch a thieving caretaker in the act with a ‘granny cam.’ Following that episode, the Colonel devised his own rudimentary ‘alarm’ system, which he tested on more than one occasion just to ensure Sharon was listening. The deal was that if he needed help, he would press his car alarm (which was parked close to her bedroom window) to alert her, and vice-versa.
Sharon was also the recipient of her share of what I refer to as the Colonel’s ‘cherry bombs.’ I chose this moniker because, though not confined to cocktail hour, it was his preferred delivery time. In the military, Paul worked on the hydrogen bomb, but the fallout from his cherry bombs was sometimes just as explosive and spared no one. They were a fusion reaction of a different sort and were his secret to igniting lively conversation. Once, after remarking on the intelligence and accomplishments of a number of my siblings, the Colonel innocently asked me, “What have you ever done other than get married?” Sharon’s pièce de résistance, after decades of comments and questions that defy all acceptable social standards, was when Paul inquired whether his son was a good lover, and he died still trying to pry her accurate weight out of her.
All kidding aside, the Colonel was lucky to have Sharon as a daughter-in-law AND a neighbor, particularly this year in his fragile state. She’s been holding vigil for months watching him fade away. It’s a privilege and an honor to usher someone from this world to the next, but not everyone is up to the task. It isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s not pretty or necessarily peaceful, and definitely takes an emotional toll. However, it also creates an otherworldly emotional bond that cannot be broken regardless of how many years pass. Despite the physical and emotional challenges, Sharon chose to do it happily, tirelessly and with love, gentleness, grace and compassion. She was truly the Colonel’s angel and escort. I don’t think anyone in the family could have done it with such aplomb.
Sharon wasn’t alone though. It made me think of why Jesus always sent his disciples out in pairs. A shared weight is much easier to carry, and the Colonel was a BIG man in stature and personality. Debbie and Jack Ketchopulos shared the journey with Paul, Jr. and Sharon, selflessly offering their time, companionship, compassion and kindness for months by tending to the Colonel’s mounting needs. Paul Sr. seemed so smitten with Jack, we often joked that he was his man-crush. Lastly, his nurse, Karen, who was by his side when he died, offered comfort and relief through many a dark and lonely night. His other caretaker, Lana, had a more difficult time with Paul but even they declared a cease-fire towards the end.
God gives us all assignments – some of which we just as soon avoid, not thinking we’re qualified. Nevertheless, the beauty of His assignments, if we choose to accept them, are that He will equip us with everything we need to accomplish our mission. In fact, thinking we’re way out of our comfort zone or range of ability is a sure sign that the calling is from God.
It is with enormous gratitude, and even more love, that I dedicate this to Sharon Lake and to the Colonel's other angels, for choosing to walk him home so beautifully and lovingly. You’ve definitely earned your wings on this one!