Sharon Jean von Mehren, born on Nov. 28, 1952, died peacefully in the presence of a handful of her many loved ones at 4 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 11. Although she had been in a coma-like state for several days, her strong heart kept her body alive long enough for "see you later" kisses from most of the throng of friends and well wishers who wanted to have one last touch from a woman who had been an enormous and precious presence in their lives. She left this world with a final soft breath that meant relief both for her and for those who had seen her battle the cancer that was causing her so much bodily suffering. If there is any comfort in the fact that Sharon is gone, it exists in the simple fact that she is no longer living with either fear or pain.
Sharon was born in Pittsburgh, Pa., to Louis and Connie Zankel, and eventually moved to Warwick, R.I., where she was to spend most of her adolescence and was graduated from high school. Always the adventurer, she left home at the age of 17 and was a self-described Deadhead who also managed to see such greats as Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. In fact, Sharon was such a pistol even at that young age that she dated the drummer from a certain Boston band known as Aerosmith. She lived and loved her experiences in those years, and some of us may never have the courage to follow in the footsteps of such a fearless woman and embrace live with open arms as she always did.
On May 23, 1975, Sharon gave birth to her only child, a girl named Jessica. She spent much of her pregnancy in California and eventually made her way to the Vineyard. Here, she raised her daughter and met the love of her life, John von Mehren, then a young carpenter and teacher who, with his long brown hair and hippie sensibilities, was irresistible to her and always remained that way, even when he cut his hair and became the lawyer we know today.
When Sharon was diagnosed with cancer six years ago, she underwent a year of intensive treatment that might well have broken someone less strong than she was. When she was declared cancer-free, she threw herself a party and decided to start her own business, Vineyard Botanicals, find a part-time job and establish a breast cancer connection through The Faulkner Hospital where she had and always would receive her medical treatment. This connection was for newly diagnosed patients who needed support grappling with their own fears and questions, as Sharon had when she was first diagnosed. She spoke with and e-mailed countless women and established more than a few lifelong friendships. This was a woman who not only embraced life but, in fact, almost squeezed the life out of it.
In addition to her husband, John, of Vineyard Haven, she is survived by a daughter, Jessica, of West Tisbury and beloved court jester Brian W. Abbott Jr., also of West Tisbury, extensive family in New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island and scores of friends. She loved and was loved in return like no other.
Sharon wished that in lieu of food or flowers sent to her family, donations be made to the Vineyard Nursing Association at P.O. Box 2568, Oak Bluffs, MA 02557. Her services will be held from noon to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 19, at the Chapman, Cole and Gleason Funeral Home in Oak Bluffs, with a reception to follow at 5 p.m. at her family home.