A Rose For Sharon

The Website for the Sharon Fisher Bassett Memorial Fund

Because of Sharon

By Mike Kaminski

Sharon’s story is not unique.  There are many stories about many women who have lived through the experiences that Sharon was confronted with in her life.  Sharon is only a “reflection” of the women who have had their lives changed because of domestic violence in relationships, sexual abuse and related eating disorders.  And like many women, Sharon’s life was shortened because of the long-term effects of physical, mental, emotional and psychological abuse.  Sharon was not murdered.  But, in many ways, she did die many years before her heart finally gave out, gave up and stopped completely.

See, Sharon’s story, although very painful and tragic, is also very powerful because of the INNER LOUDNESS that was covered over, muted and muffled by the outer silence of her personality.  A personality that she had created, as a “mask”, and developed within an inner environment of self-protection that would only allow people to enter so far passed the guarded walls of her mind.

Sharon Louise Fisher graduated from high school in 1969.  Although the decade of the 1960’s was coming to an end, Sharon’s life and future was just beginning to be pieced together.  The 1960’s was known as a time of social revolution, a time of peace, a time of war and a time of love.  And, in a way, Sharon’s life would experience all those effects in a very personal journey.

Sharon was very intelligent.  She was accepted by a local ivy league university and chose Psychology as her major.  She could have gone to another university.  But her father offered her a car if she would stay nearby.  This decision would change her life very quickly and would contribute to the end of her life in the future.

Not much is known about Sharon’s life during her university years because no one really knew her.  Even in her sorority house, Sharon never talked about her life, her relationship or the secrets that she was keeping personal and within.

Her room in the sorority house had been a closet that had been converted into a small living space.  This “space” was really symbolic of Sharon’s life in the relationship she had entered and accepted with another university student.

Again, Sharon was very intelligent.  But we all know that intelligence is not a safeguard or prerequisite in a relationship that, on the surface, only appears to be “love”.  And so, we might ask ourselves “WHAT IS LOVE, ANYWAY?”  See many times, beneath the visual image of what we hope “love” to be, we live with what really exists.  CONTROL, MANIPULATION, BRAIN WASHING and many other forms of hidden abuse.

I believe that many people search for love their entire lives and do not really find “true love”.  What they actually find, accept and eventually settle for is a form of emotional “fools gold”.  What Sharon really found and lived with for many years was, in reality, an “ugly two-headed monster”.

Sharon had so much potential.  And like many young women, she had dreams, goals, hopes and desires.  Eventually, she graduated from that ivy league and very respected university with a degree in Psychology.  And now she believed the whole world was ahead of her.  Her husband-to-be also graduated the same year from the same university.  The year was 1973.

Sharon married her “husband” very soon after graduation in the university chapel.  On the surface, their relationship appeared to be a storybook love affair.  But for Sharon, the “fairy tale” was, in reality, a “nightmare”.

Many times, before her wedding, Sharon told her family, close friends and sorority sisters that she did not want to get married.  She did not want to walk down the aisle on her wedding day.  She even cried before the long walk.  No one really understood why.  But now she was expected to follow through with her commitment.  See everything was paid for and she could not back out now.

Sharon’s wedding night was not a “blissful event”.  Although it was her time of the month and she was sick and in a lot of pain because of her “period” or menstrual cycle, her husband still expected her to perform sex.  It was not the first time they had been together sexually.  It was not something that they had not done before.  But as a wife, Sharon was now expected to perform her sexual responsibilities.

During the early years of their marriage, Sharon’s husband became progressively more abusive.  Sexual, mental, physical, emotional and psychological abusive.  He would hit her where the marks would not show or be visible. He threw here down the stairs.  He forced Sharon to have sex when she did not want to do it.  In some ways, this would be considered rape.  He made her wear special “outfits”.  He insulted and humiliated her in public.

Sharon became increasingly ill.  She began to develop severe anorexia.  She could not maintain any professional employment.  She was terminated from her positions several times because of her health and physical appearance.  Her anorexia began to show more visibly.  Her self-worth continued to be lowered, not only because of the abuse, but also because of her professional failures.

Through the early years of Sharon’s marriage, the abuse continued at an increased rate.  Eventually Sharon made the decision that she would never have children because she did not want to bring any child into a “family”, marriage or environment like the one she was living in.

Sharon continued to become more anorexic.  At one point, she only weighed about 55 pounds.  Sharon wanted to look “ugly” so that her husband would stop forcing her to have sex.  But the abuse continued.

No one really knows when Sharon finally broke free and left her husband.  However, her eating disorder continued after her separation.  Sharon developed more severe mood swings.  And no one could understand what Sharon was experiencing.  No one really wanted to hear or listen to her cries.  And so, Sharon was stereotyped, labeled as mentally ill and placed in several psychiatric facilities and hospitals.

See, Sharon was not mentally ill.  But her family, and now society, labeled her with a mental illness.  And her nightmare continued to be part of the reality of her existence.  Eventually, Sharon was diagnosed as a “threat” to herself.  And so, this once young, very beautiful, very intelligent woman who had dreams and goals in life began to be controlled by a society that really did not understand Sharon or women like her.  And so, Sharon began to give up on life.  She lost faith and trust in people.  After all, people had hurt her.

See, Sharon went from an abusive and controlling relationship with a man who abuse her to being abused and controlled by a society that could not understand her pain.

Even the people who said they loved her really misunderstood Sharon.  And maybe Sharon really did not understand “Sharon”.  She had escaped one controlling way of existence only to find herself trapped in another controlling way of life.  But Sharon could not physically escape this time.  And so, Sharon grew even more alienated from everyone in her life.  She did not trust anyone.  She did not want to associate with anyone.

Sharon believed that she was helpless and overpowered by a society that stereotyped her as “mentally ill”.  Her faith and trust in people was finally stripped away, just like every other thread of independence that Sharon ever had.

Sharon lost the desire to feel loved by anyone.  She could not say “I love you”.  And she did not believe anyone who said those words to her.  Sharon would never really or completely believe those words again in her life.

Sharon suffered a massive heart attack in 1985.  She should have died.  But God had other plans for her.  Sharon lived with a damaged and weak heart that only functioned at about 13 percent in the beginning.  But Sharon grew stronger.

From 1985 until the time Sharon came into my life, she lived on Social Security Income, government health insurance and medical assistance.  Sharon always felt like she was living off other people.  She felt like she did not deserve government money or assistance.  Sharon always felt that she was not productive to society.  Sharon believed that she was worthless and useless.  But Sharon still had pride.

Sharon and I came together through the personals in a local newspaper.  But I will always believe and feel that God directed us to find each other in those “personals”.

We met, physically, for the first time on December 13, 1998.  But I believe that Sharon and I knew each other in another life.  I believe that she was my soul mate.  When I first saw Sharon I knew that I had found the woman I was going to love for the rest of my life.  I saw the woman I wanted to marry.  I saw the woman I wanted to dedicate the rest of my life to.  I fell in love with Sharon that first night.

We talked for hours in the restaurant.  Sharon told me that she was dying.  Sharon told me that her food budget was $50.00 a month.  She told me that the remainder of her money was used to pay bills and take care of her dog and three cats.

Later that night we went to the mall.  It was the Christmas season.  We walked past the stores like two young kids holding hands.  The mall was full of life and so was I for the first time in years.

Sharon wanted to sit on Santa’s lap and have a picture taken for her brother.  She wanted to send him the photograph.  She looked like a little girl on Santa’s lap.  Sharon had not seen her brother in five years because he lived in San Francisco.

Finally, it was time to say “good night” and so I walked Sharon to her car.  She kissed me on the cheek.  To me, that kiss felt like the best kiss I was ever given by a woman.  I did not know about her life or the abuse she had suffered.

Sharon had another very serious heart attack about a month later in January of 1999.  She almost died again.  I moved in with her and we began to live together.

Sharon told me many times that she would never get married again.  I accepted her decision.  But we decided to marry “in spirit”.  And so, on February 13th., we drove to a small Roman Catholic Church in a nearby town and said our vows to each other.  This was exactly two months after we had first met.  In the six and one-half years we would live together, we were never officially married.  But we remained married in the sight of God.

In the Spring of 1999 Sharon asked me to take her to see her brother in San Francisco.  She never had the money to visit him.  Plus, she was too weak and sick to travel alone.  And so, we went to San Francisco for her birthday in April of 1999.

During the Summer and Fall of 2001 we had a home built.  It was not our “dream” home.  But it was all I could afford at the time.  And it was better than the trailer that Sharon had been living in.  Now Sharon was surrounded by trees and she could “lose herself” in the beauty of nature.  She would spend her good days planting flowers and doing gardening.  But Sharon’s health became progressively worse each year.

From the beginning, we always slept in separate rooms.  Sharon told me early in our relationship that she did not want sex.  She told me that if I wanted to stay with her there would be no physical involvement.  She did not like to be touched, held or kissed.

Sharon did not want anyone laying next to her in bed.  In the six and one-half years that I shared with Sharon I never saw her naked body.  I never saw Sharon without clothes.  WE never did anything passionately.

As Sharon’s heart and health grew weaker, I worked at home more and more.  We went from courtship to retirement in six and one-half years.  I was an ordained minister and had a private counseling practice.  I gave up counseling but remained in parish ministry.

We had very little social life.  We stayed home most of the time except for going to the store, the doctor or to visit her mother.

Sharon had her own microwave, refrigerator and television in her room.  Many times, she would not talk to me for several days.

Sharon’s “world” became her flowers, planting and gardening.  Her “life” was spent outside during the nice days of the Spring, Summer and early Fall if she felt good.  Sharon would find her “peace” in the soil and quietness of nature.  No one could hurt her in that “world”.  Sharon also rescued cats.  At the end, we had 16 cats inside our home.  And we loved every one of them.

During the last summer of Sharon’s life, in 2004, she passed out three times outside as she worked with the flowers and plants.  Every time, I would need to call the ambulance for her.  Sharon would lay on the ground and foam at the mouth.  She would not know where she was.  The medical teams would take her to the hospital.  Each time, Sharon would recover in the emergency room and then sign herself out of the hospital.

Sharon hated hospitals.  She always had “flashbacks” and remembered the treatment she received in those psychiatric facilities and hospitals during the 1970’s and 1980’s.  She had been misdiagnosed as mentally ill and “pumped up” with fluids because the staff thought that she was just too thin.  She had been placed in the in-house psychiatric unit at Geisinger Medical Center, a psychiatric hospital near Washington, D.C. and eventually in Danville State Hospital.  But Sharon was never mentally ill.  She had developed anorexia because of her painfully abusive and destructive relationship and marriage.

In December of 2004, Sharon was advised that she needed a pacemaker for her heart.  And so, the day after Christmas she was admitted into Geisinger Medical Center for the operation.  But the heart surgeon could not successfully attach the pacemaker unit.  It could not function properly because Sharon needed a third wire attached to the lower part of her heart.  The wire could not be attached because she was too thin and her body frame was too small.  Sharon was discharged and came home.

However, Sharon’s heart continue to fill up with fluid.  She could not sleep laying straight down in bed.  And so, early in February, Sharon had to return to the hospital, that she hated, to have fluid drained once again.  But this was only another “temporary fix”.  Sharon was dying.

On February 24th, 2005, Sharon and I finally met with Dr. Edward Woods at Geisinger Medical Center.  Dr. Woods was the best heart surgeon at GMC.  He was also a wonderful, caring and compassionate doctor.

Dr. Woods told Sharon directly about her condition.  He told Sharon that she needed an immediate heart operation to replace a damaged mitral valve.  If Sharon did not have the operation as soon as possible, she would die in a couple days.  But it was Sharon’s ultimate decision.

Dr. Woods was very confident and positive that the operation would be successful and that Sharon would recover.  But she needed to have the operation the next day.  Sharon agreed.  But deep down inside, she knew she would never walk out of the hospital after the operation.

The drive home was in silence.  We did not talk.  We were both thinking about the future in different ways.  I had hope and expectation of a couple more years with Sharon.  But she knew and understood her body better than anyone else.  That night, Sharon just wanted to be alone.  I just laid in bed and could not sleep.  The night would be very long but the morning would come very quickly.

Very early on the morning of February 25th, Sharon and I prepared ourselves for the long day ahead.  As I drove to Geisinger Medical Center, we did not talk in the car.  We both were alone in our thoughts.  The morning was cloudy and very cold.  A snow storm was predicted for later in the day.  The weather was only a reflection of our thoughts.  I knew that Sharon was very tired.  Her heart was very tired.  And I had slept very little during the night.  It was going to be a long day for both of us in different ways.

Sharon was required to report into Geisinger before 7:00 am.  After she had completed the registration and signed all the necessary forms, we were advised to sit in the “waiting room” until her name was called.  As we sat in the busy silence of the hospital, as it came to life in the early morning, we said very little to each other.  The waiting seemed like an eternity.  But, in reality, only half an hour passed.

Finally, at about 7:30 am, Sharon’s name was called.  We both stood up.  I gave Sharon a kiss and held her hand.  Then Sharon walked towards the elevator and waited.  As the door opened, Sharon waited for the people to exit.  And then, alone, Sharon entered the empty elevator.

As the elevator door began to close shut, Sharon smiled at me and waved.  I smiled, in a sad way, and waved back to her.  That would be the last time I would see Sharon standing in life.

The operation was scheduled to begin at 10:00 am.  The procedure was estimated to be a five hour operation.  I told Sharon that I would wait in the hospital until I knew she was safe, out of surgery and in the recovery room.  Then I would go home and feed our cats.  And so, the longest day of my life began as I took my seat in the waiting room reserved for family and friends in the operating room.

I had taken work with me to pass the time but I could not concentrate.  I just found myself looking around at the other people waiting to hear confirmation of their loved ones coming out of surgery.

About noontime, I was feeling very anxious about the operation.  And so, I asked one of the charge nurses for an update.  To my surprise, disappointment and slight fear, I was told that Sharon’s operation had been rescheduled to begin at 2:00 pm.  Another operation was taking longer than anticipated.

The next two hours seemed to pass so slowly.  I could not concentrate on anything.  And as I looked out the big windows near the waiting room I saw the snow beginning to fall at a faster pace.  I needed to go home but I also wanted to be near Sharon.

About 2:30 pm, I was notified that the operation had finally begun.  It would be a long procedure and then Sharon would be transferred into a recovery room.  I would not be able to see her until later that night.

The nurse suggested that I go home and get some rest.  I agreed.  There was nothing I could do in the hospital.  The snow was accumulating and I needed to take care of our cats.

As I walked out the building and into the cold snow, I had mixed emotions:  sadness, fear, anxiety and hope.  The snow was falling at a faster and heavier rate.  I just talked to God on the way home.  There was nothing I could do for Sharon.

Hours later, after I had fed our cats, got cleaned up and changed my clothes, I felt that it was time to return to the hospital.  I just could not wait at home for the phone to ring.  I shoveled most of the snow away from our long driveway.  But as I tried to drive up the hill, my SUV became stuck in the ice.  I realized that I could not get out now.  Fear and frustration overcame my thoughts and emotions.  I gave up and went inside to call the hospital.  I notified the operating room that I was unable to return to the hospital because of the storm.  The nurse was very sympathetic and told me that someone would call me when Sharon was in recovery.  She said there was nothing I could do in the hospital.  And so, the long wait began as I felt even more helpless.

I estimated that the operation would take until about 8:00 pm.  But when I did not hear from the hospital by 9:00 pm, I called the operating room.  Sharon was still on the operating table.  Complications had taken place.

Finally, a little after midnight, Dr. Woods called me.  Sharon was in recovery but she was very weak and in a highly critical condition.  The heart operation had been successful but now she was on life-support.  Dr. Woods assured me that Sharon would recover and that every possible machine and procedure necessary was now being hooked up to her body.

I could not return to the hospital until the next day.  But Dr. Woods stayed with Sharon for the next two days to personally monitor her condition.

When I finally was able to get into Geisinger Medical Center, I saw Sharon in a drug induced coma.  She looked so frail and helpless laying in bed hooked up to all the machines and monitoring equipment.  But I still had faith and belief that my wife, my love, would survive, recover and return to the peace of her home and flowers gardens.

But Sharon never came off of life-support.  Her body functions began to shut down, one by one.  Eventually, Sharon needed to have a Tracheotomy.  But the hole in her throat from the Tracheotomy was larger than the tube.  And so, each day, the fluids and infection would ooze out from around the hole and the tube.  I did not know it at the time, but she was dying from a blood infection and her body was not responding.

For two months, Sharon existed, in and out of reality.  She could not eat.  She could not talk.  She could not even write on a pad to tell me what she wanted or needed.  Eventually, she was transferred into tow other units within the hospital.  Each new doctor and treatment team would assure me that Sharon would recover.  But she never did.

Finally, during the eighth week, a supervising nurse told me that Sharon would never leave the hospital.  She was surprised that the doctors never informed me of her fatal condition.  The doctors had never said anything like that to me.  They only wanted me to sign release and consent forms.  And now I understood why.  But Sharon and I were never officially or legally married.

When the nurse told me that Sharon was dying and had no chance of recovery, my heart dropped.  The emotions that had been building up inside of me for the past two  months finally came to the surface.  My Faith was gone.  My faith was replaced with anger and resentment.  Anger and resentment towards the medical staff who had deceived me.  Anger and resentment to God who did not hear my prayers.

That night, a dark Thursday night, I called my best friend who was also an ordained minister.  I asked him if he would marry Sharon and me in the hospital.  He agreed and promised to do the ceremony the next night in Sharon’s room.

The next day, Friday, I met with the doctors and signed the release forms.  I felt as if I was signing Sharon’s death certificate while she was still alive.  But I knew Sharon did not want to live.  I wanted to take her home.  I knew that Sharon never wanted to die in a hospital, especially Geisinger, because that is where she was place in a psychiatric unit.  But I had no choice.  The doctors told me that Sharon would not make it past the main doors.

Finally, that night, a lonely Friday night, I finally kept my promise to Sharon.  Six years earlier, I had told Sharon that I would marry her even if it was when she was dying on her “death bed”.  Now it was that moment in time.

Sharon was conscious and my friend married us in spirit.  She even gave me a kiss.  That one last kiss felt as good as the first kiss that Sharon had given me on the night we first met.

I stayed in the hospital with Sharon for most of the next three days.  I only left her to go home and feed the cats and change my clothes.  The machines were scheduled to be shut down on Monday.  In three days, Sharon would be dead.

Finally, on Monday, April 25, 2005, exactly two months from the day Sharon was placed on life-support, she would let go of her life in this world.

Sharon Louise Fisher Bassett slowly died, peacefully, as the technician shut down the machines.  Sharon was surrounded by her family.  Soft music was playing from a small tape recorder that her sister had brought in.

I continued to talk to Sharon until she was gone.  When Sharon was officially pronounced dead, a part of me died along with her.  That part will never live again.

The certificate of death stated that Sharon died of a blood infection.   I will always think that she died of neglect in the hospital.

There are two images of Sharon that I will never forget.  The first night that I met Sharon when she was sitting on Santa’s lap like a little girl.  And the last time that Sharon waved to me as the elevator door was closing and she was on her way up to be prepared for surgery.

Sharon gave me a special gift in life.  She taught me how to truly love someone.  She taught me how to love someone who could not love me.  She taught me the meaning of loving someone else more than loving myself.  Sharon gave my life new meaning and purpose.  Sharon changed me life forever.

Sharon was the only woman that I had ever truly loved up to that point.  And it was not a physical love.  It was a form of love that transcends physical sexual desire.  It was a level of love that is not easy to describe or define.

It took me a long time to work through the anger and resentment of losing Sharon.  All my prayers had been meaningless in my mind.  However, once I finally accepted the reality of life without Sharon, and the reality of life with Sharon, I began to search for a reason why God had brought us together.  After all, Sharon told me that she was dying the first night I had met her.

But I could not let go of my anger towards God.  My depression grew stronger and I began to alienate myself from everyone.  I found myself driving Sharon’s bright yellow VW  “Beetle” aimlessly.  I had bought her that car two years before she died.  When Sharon died, her “Beetle” only had been driven about 1,000 miles.  She was always too weak to drive it.

Finally, one day as I was driving Sharon’s VW “Beetle”, a vision came into my mind.  The creation of a memorial fund and a legacy for Sharon.

And so, in September of 2005, THE SHARON FISHER BASSETT MEMORIAL FUND was born and created.  The mission and purpose of this organization would be centered on community awareness and education of domestic violence, sexual abuse, related eating disorders and discrimination of women.   A play was written. “A ROSE FOR SHARON”.  This play would become our primary outreach presentation, along with workshops and community programs.

For more information about THE SHARON FISHER BASSETT MEMORIAL FUND, our projects, play and programs, please contact me at mbkaminski@tds.net, mbkaminski@yahoo.com or 570-490-4387

 

 

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