My sister Sharon Phalon-Smith passed away on April 11th, just shy of 53 years old.
Sharon was an amazingly strong woman who always wanted to be in the center of things, with very strong opinions about everything from who should be the next President to whether to get one or two bags of ice. And she was not hesitant to share those opinions. She was the third of the four sisters that made up my family, and only now that she’s gone am I realizing just how much of my identity, and maybe hers, is tied up in being
1of4 (repressing gratuitous Star Trek reference here). Most of the pictures from our childhood reflect this:
Please note that though it appears we are in various costumes here, NONE of these pictures were taken on Halloween.
When Sharon was 19, she moved to Japan for a year, and then moved to Los Angeles. It was probably the best move she ever made, because it was there she met many of her closest and most loyal friends, including Stan, the man who became her husband. She loved working in the movie industry (mostly for Disney’s Buena Vista Pictures division), she loved living in Hollywood, and she loved the beach (though she hated boats). Here she is at the beach from sometime in the mid-1980s – check out the size of those sunglasses!
Sharon and Stan eventually moved to Las Vegas where Sharon worked in the news room at a local television station. It was also in Las Vegas where Sharon built her most enduring legacy by raising two strong, smart, independent, and beautiful girls. Whether she showed it or not, Sharon was very proud of her daughters and all they accomplished. She loved them fiercely and wanted to be involved in every part of their lives.
She loved to talk about making big dinners and hosting parties. She loved to play games of all kinds. She wanted to have her loved ones around her as often as possible. Three years ago, we had an early surprise 50th birthday party for Sharon. Her husband Stan and her daughters did such an amazing job keeping the arrangements secret that Sharon almost didn’t make it to her own party. Here is a photo from that happy day – that’s Jeff, Sharon, Stan, Jordan, Casey, Heidi, Alison, and Bob. It is one of my memories of Sharon that I will hold close.
Sharon died from internal organ failure caused by cirrhosis of the liver that was in turn caused by severe alcohol poisoning. I won’t get into the details here, but was a long and ugly process that probably started long ago. She had secretly been in extraordinary pain, both physical and emotional, for many years. As her disease progressed, Sharon began to lose the ability to see just how much she was truly loved. She had lots of ups and downs, and tried until the very end to express the independent spirit and strong will that was so much a part of who she was. But the very qualities she tried to retain also made it hard for her to admit that she needed help, and impossible for us to help her.
There was a lovely service celebrating Sharon’s life on April 29th, on what would have been her 53rd birthday. I think Sharon would have loved seeing how many family, friends, and colleagues came, and I know for sure she would have loved hearing all the great stories everyone shared about her. Thank you to everyone who helped support Sharon’s family with kind words and fun memories. I’m deeply touched by the heartfelt and thoughtful cards and letters from friends and colleagues who, like me, are still grappling with this senseless loss. I’m also really grateful to all those people who helped with the GoFundMe account that Sharon’s friend Alison set up to offset the funeral expenses and some of the outstanding medical bills. I’m really relieved that her family will not be saddled with that kind of debt as they struggle toward a new normal.
I will forever mourn her loss, but at the same time I am glad that Sharon is no longer suffering from the tremendous pain she lived with for such a long time. I grieve with my other sisters, with her husband and daughters, and with her loving and loyal friends. May we all move ahead in peace.