He was a Vietnam War veteran who loved John Wayne movies and could fix anything. She, a sassy Ohioan who worked at the University of Michigan and had more positivity than Pollyanna.
Their first date was spent talking and laughing for five hours. Marrying later in life, Donald and Sharon had both experienced pain and loss in their lives and had found each other after their kids were grown.
Their wedding was magical. It was a hot July day—the sun was out and the clouds were sparse. It was casual and fun, just what they wanted. They only expected 93 guests, but 149 people showed up!
The ceremony was simple, sweet, and real. In front of friends and family, they promised to love, cherish, and honor one another for better for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, until the end.
“They are two people who are blessed later in life by the gift of love in a healthy, redemptive way,” said Pastor Brian Johnson, of Crossroads Community Church in Stockbridge, who officiated the wedding. “Their love is real.”
The newlyweds moved to a cottage on a lake in Unadilla and spent the rest of the summer out on the water, going out on their boat, spending time with family and friends—life was good.
And then, less than a year later, it happened.
Family was hanging out, eating and soaking up the sunshine while Don was trying to fix their boat.
“Don came up to me while holding a bracket in his hand and said ‘I don’t know what to do with this,’” Sharon said.
So, she suggested he ask his grandson to help him with the repairs. But then, his grandson came and said that Don was talking, but not making any sense—he was mumbling.
“I saw the right hand side of his face begin to droop, and I knew,” Sharon said. “He was having a stroke.”
Her 12 years spent working at the University of Michigan Hospital taught her to look for the signs of a stroke. Calmly and quickly, she instructed Don’s son to lead him inside while she called 911. They had only been married 11 months. Don was only 66 years old.
As Don lay in a hospital bed with a feeding tube, unresponsive, a doctor told her she needed to get used to seeing him like this. “What you see is what you get.” Sharon did not accept this.
“You don’t know this man. He will walk; he will talk; he will come home,” Sharon said. She immediately began asking around the hospital for the best rehabilitation center near Ann Arbor.
“The nurses unanimously told me I should go to Kresge Rehabilitation in Chelsea,” Sharon said.
Within weeks, his feeding tube was removed. Within months, he was able to respond with “yes” and “no.” Over the next three years, Don spent hundreds of hours receiving therapy and care at Kresge Rehabilitation Center and at the Veteran Affairs. Physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy—all the treatment he could get.
“Sharon is always optimistic, with a strong faith and conviction” Pastor Brian said. “She has loved Don and cared for him like they’ve been married 50 years.”
Sharon comes to Kresge nearly every day to visit Don. She’s made lots of friends too, and can be seen joking around with other residents, leading them in sing-alongs, and cheerfully saying hi to everyone she meets.
“The staff here is so sweet,” Sharon said. “They take a genuine interest in people—they truly care.”
The staff at Kresge is completely amazed at how far Don has come. Just last week, Sharon asked Don to tell her what time it was.
“I don’t know,” he said.
“I want you to try,” she said.
Then, Don lifted his left hand and said, “Okay, promise!”
Sharon was flabbergasted. Where did he learn that? How did he remember? Don is improving and learning all the time. Slowly, but surely.
“I think this man will come back 95 percent,” Sharon said. “Honestly, I love that man more today than I did four years ago.”
Don has reached an independent level to join Sharon at home, and once renovations are completed, he can finally return to their cottage in Unadilla.
“Do you love me?” Sharon says to Don.
“Yes!” Don replies.
“Do you know how much I love you?”
“I love you to the moon—”
“And back!” Don finishes.