She is a woman of strength and dignity and has no fear of old age. When she speaks, her words are wise, and kindness is the rule for everything she says. She watches carefully all that goes on throughout her household and is never lazy. Her children stand and bless her; so does her husband. He praises her with these words: “There are many fine women in the world, but you are the best of them all!”
She was smart.
She was funny.
She was generous.
She was loving beyond words.
If you told her any of that, she would dismiss it with a laugh or a self-deprecating joke. She absolutely refused to believe me. Which shows just how stubborn she could be. I’ve often said that she was the most stubborn person on the planet. Beyond being stubborn she was also difficult...difficult because she put everyone else before her and was terrible at taking care of herself. For those who knew her, they would never call her shy, but in truth she was always skittish when first meeting someone. And still, she was kind and friendly to everyone she met. Her friendly demeanor and consistent smile drew people to her. She knew how to make other people feel valued and loved.
She was my mother. She died on May 2, 2020.
Sharon Loraine Burkhardt was born on November 25, 1943, Thanksgiving, in Council, Idaho. She was born into a simple ranching family. Her parents, William and Dema, were hard working, hardy folk who appreciated life, family and their land. They instilled important values in young Sharon that she then instilled in her own children. She was raised in Weiser, Idaho along with her brother, Jerald Wayne. Life on the ranch taught her the value of hard work, close family and sunrises. Mornings were her favorite time.
It was in Weiser that Sharon met the love of her life, Curtis Wayne Paris. He was her brother’s best friend and she quickly fell head over heels for him. It took him a while longer to see her, but eventually she got his attention. They married and had five children, Kimberly, Sherilyn, Daniel, Matthew and Melody (that’s me!). Wayne was a printer by trade and they moved around for several years from job to job. One day they decided to settle in Idaho to raise their children. They started their own printing business in Weiser before moving it to Nampa. Even after they sold their business, Sharon continued to work in the printing industry for several more years. She then worked for Micron and Simplot until she retired. During her retirement she spent her energy on her family, on reading many books, and deepening her relationship with God.
My mom didn’t have the easiest life. When you look over the facts it seems simple, but in truth she experienced a great deal of pain and suffering. She was born with heart problems that plagued her throughout her life. They caused pain when she was younger and later contributed to heart disease, high blood pressure and three heart attacks. In their late twenties, after a series of sad and life shaking events, my parents decided they needed to start going to church. They made the choice to check out a church they had heard about on the radio. This plunged their young family into a fifteen year stint with a cult. In April of 1970, they welcomed a beautiful baby boy, Matthew. Sadly, he died the following day. The church was hard on my parents, especially my mother, during this time. Their words and attitude toward her regarding Matthew's death haunted her the rest of her life. Eight years later, around the time I was born and after many more issues had arisen from their time with this cult, they finally made the decision to extricate themselves from the control of the church. The entire experience left scars for everyone involved and still affects my family to this day. This also caused a rift between her and her parents, who had followed my parents into the cult. My grandparents defied the church and remained a part of our lives while remaining with the church, and it was always the elephant in the room.
The losses sadly did not end with Matthew. In 1983, my grandfather (Sharon’s father) died in a tragic accident when a building fell on him. In the summer of 1995, Kimberly, the eldest of us kids, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. For ten months we all struggled through her chemo, radiation and surgeries. Kim and my mother had been working together for years and had developed a deep and beautiful friendship. Once again, my parents had to face their worst nightmare, the loss of a child. Kim passed away in June 1996 at the age of 33. A few years after Kim’s death, my grandmother (Sharon’s mother) was diagnosed with lung cancer. After several months of battle, she finally succumbed to disease in April 2000. As the world was reeling after the unfathomable events of 9-11, her other half, the man she’d spent more than four decades loving, suddenly died on September 18, 2001 after a miss fire with a gun.
Even after all of that loss and pain, she remained an optimist. No matter where she went, she made friends and garnered respect from all who met her. Sharon was a beacon of light at work and at home. She was always there for the ones she loved. In addition to raising her children, she helped raise her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. When I say she helped raise, that is no idle statement. Her grandchildren spent much of their childhoods and adulthoods either visiting or living with her. They were never turned away, always taken care of and supported. To this day, she has eight grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. And it didn't stop with her family. When she met someone in need, she would find a way to help. She was known to invite people to stay in our home. She once gave away her RV to a homeless couple.
I was blessed by a close relationship with her. After my father died, my mom moved in with me. We had each other through some very difficult times. She was my person...that person I spoke with all the time, the first person I saw each morning, and the last person I spoke with each night. Even before we were living together, she was my dearest friend. Until a month ago, over my lifetime only a handful of days had ever passed where we didn’t speak at least once. Even after she had moved into nursing care two years ago, we spoke every day on the phone and I would visit her several days a week. I would call on my drive home from work and she would call before going to bed at night. We would talk about everything and nothing. No matter how angry or frustrated we got with one another, the idea of not talking simply wasn’t considered. No one has ever understood or accepted me the way that she did. She was the greatest influence in my life.
She radiated grace, but didn’t understand it. She spent more than four decades trying to grasp the concept of grace and accept that she was loved unconditionally. No matter how much she could accept that of others, it didn’t sink in that she was loved in that way. No matter how many times I told her that she was the most amazing person in my life, it never sunk in. Her spiritual battles stemmed from a terrible self-image and the decade and a half with that cult. Even in the midst of her battles, she continued to confess her love for God. She knew God loved her, even if she couldn’t fully fathom that truth. We would take communion often and she insisted that I say the prayer...harkening back to her stubbornness.
She was far from a serious person. She loved to laugh and joke and have a good time. Oh, and was so unbelievably ornery. One of her greatest joys was teasing me and poking me, well teasing and poking anyone... she loved to poke people with her nails. She didn’t have natural talent for anything artistic, no, her talents lied with listening, loving and supporting. That didn’t stop her from trying. Whenever she was given the chance she would paint or draw with her kids and grandkids. She hated having her picture taken. If you wanted a picture of her you either had to surprise her or make sure one of her grandkids was around to take a picture with her. Otherwise she just scowled or turned away from the camera. Like I said, ornery. Her greatest delight was her family and being around them brought her untold amounts of joy. And although she was teased relentlessly by her children, playing pinochle with us was some of the happiest moments of her life.
She defied the odds, and rose above pain and suffering. She showed us all how to live life with kindness and hope and those are lessons I will carry with me the rest of my life. I pray my life will honor her and all that she meant to me.
She was beautiful.
She was hopeful.
She was grateful.
She was beloved by us all and we will miss her.