Sharon Maree

Monday night was a rather long night with my grandson being taken to hospital in an ambulance with Croup. As always when I am on ‘Granny duty’ I don’t like to sleep on the job so try to stay awake as long as possible. I eventually succumb and easily drift off to the land of nod, but while I find it really easy to visit, the hard part for me is actually staying there … but today  it’s 5.44 am and I have slept in. I can tell you I would really love to go back to sleep.

What I want to share with you in today’s blog is an issue that faces many people and their families. The sad journey of watching a loved one tackle Dementia.

In 1955 my mother-in-law, father-in-law and son Barry (my husband) adopted a baby girl called Sharon Maree and welcomed her into their lives. Sharon was 17 months old when  they were told “rather brutally” that Sharon suffered from Down Syndrome. Up until this point they had no idea and were in total shock when the Doctor, who assumed they knew, pointed out her disability.

Due to how little was known at the time about Down Syndrome, or Trisomy 21, my mother in law decided to search high and low and look for a ‘cure’ for Sharon. During this search she went back to the adoption agency to request some family history and was given the offer of returning Sharon and being given a replacement. Luckily for all of us this horrified the family. They refused the offer and kept our darling Sharon who has become such a vital member of our family.

While Sharon spent her early childhood living on my in law’s sheep station 300 kms NE of Broken Hill, it was decided that she should be sent somewhere she could be provided with some extra stimulation to help with her delayed learning. Despite Doctors advising that she wouldn’t have any quality of life and was unlikely to live past 14 years of age, she proved them wrong by learning to walk and talk and even taught herself how to swim just by watching her brother!

So in 1960 when Sharon was five years old, she moved to Broken Hill to board with the Sisters of Mercy at the Home of Compassion. Sharon still talks incessantly about Sister Malachy who taught her to iron, many of the other Nuns and teachers and, most lovingly, her boarding friends from Wilcannia.

For me personally, Sharon came into my life 43 years ago when I met her big brother Barry. Originally when Barry and I married and had our first baby, Sharon had decided she wanted to get married and have a baby too. She soon changed her mind and exclaimed that men and babies were “too much work” and instead opted for the role of Aunty. Sharon really has been the most kind, caring and dedicated Aunty and now Great Aunty.

In 2011 Sharon’s father passed away and Barry as eldest sibling took on the responsibility of looking after Sharon. It was her wish to live independently in her beautiful new house her father had built for her in Broken Hill. With the aid of the many wonderful services available to her, Sharon was able to achieve her wish of staying alone in her house and living independently. She began to take control of her life and make all her own decisions. They weren’t always agreed with, like the time she decided to dye her hair bright red and black which nearly gave her brother a heart attack!

In November last year her independence came to a halt. Sharon had wandered out and become lost in 40 degree heat resulting in a trip to the Emergency Department with dehydration. We received a phone call at 10.30 pm from the Broken Hill Hospital telling us Sharon was being discharged and we needed to pick her up.

When we travelled to Broken Hill the next day and met with her care workers they relayed events from the last two months and it was clear she was beginning to suffer from confusion and memory loss. We had realised there was some decline in her cognitive function but she had managed to hide from us how fast she was deteriorating.

While we knew she would no longer be able to live independently and care for herself, the decision of moving into shared living accommodation ultimately lay with Sharon and she made it clear this wasn’t going to happen. She agreed to at least come and stay with us over the Christmas break whilst we discussed her options.

Sharon decided after Christmas, while her day program was on holiday, that she would like to travel with us to Sydney to visit our daughter, son in law and grandchildren. On arriving at the house she walked around admiring everything and announced she wanted to live there. My daughter, son-in-law and three grandchildren welcomed Sharon into their lives and began the process of setting up a new life for her in Sydney.


So the next and potentially final chapter of her life began in Sydney about six months ago. We were told her descent in dementia would be very rapid as this is a characteristic of people who have Trisomy 21. While she did begin to slightly improve over the last six months, and we saw glimpses of the old beautiful Sharon, it became increasingly apparent that it was not as permanent as we would have loved and she is once again beginning to descend into the darkness of dementia.

Due to the commotion surrounding my grandson’s trip to hospital, she wandered around totally confused as to what was going on, not knowing whether she should be getting up and joining us or going to bed as we kept telling her. This went on until 1.00 am when I finally went into her bedroom and managed to convince her it was the middle of the night and she really needed to get some sleep for the party we were planning for her the next day. With the promise of party and cake she happily went to bed after a high five and a big loud kiss!

For me this is the hardest part of this awful, brutal disease. Watching a loved one begin to lose their sense of the world and slowly lose the ability to understand, remember and communicate. To sit and watch the look of confusion and sadness that comes over Sharon’s face when she thinks no one is looking is a truly heartbreaking experience.

Sharon Maree I am so sad for you. I can’t help but wonder what is to come and how we will all cope. I know that while you were blessed to have been brought into the Turner family and given such a great opportunity in life, we have been even more blessed to have had you in ours. I don’t think anyone could ever have  imagined 61 years ago what an integral part of our family you would be.

Every day you teach us the values of loyalty and unconditional love. Your innocence and sense of humour has made us laugh many times, your optimism and effervescence are truly humbling and your dance moves are amazing! Ever the Diplomat and hardworking to a fault! It is well known throughout the family that your parents couldn’t have survived the droughts without your help.

So many people love you and I cannot take a walk around Broken Hill without being stopped many times by people who know and love you. You have touched the lives of so many people so effortlessly by just being your beautiful self.

I am already missing our long road trips where we sing at the top of our voices for thousands of kms and my journeys will never be the same without you sitting beside me playing your Air Guitar. You have given your great nephews and niece such a wonderful gift by opening them up to your world and allowing them in. I love that they know all the words to Annie and The Sound of Music and that they think Charlie Chaplin is hilarious. I am grateful that this next Generation of Turners have been able to spend this time with you and get to know how amazing you are.

Finally, I think about the mother out there who made a huge sacrifice 61 years ago and gave her daughter up for adoption. She probably does not know her daughter has Down Syndrome or how and where she lived her life.

Sharon will never be able to contact you and relate her life story as is the right of other adoptees. I wish you could know we think of you and thank you for the wonderful gift that has been our Sharon Maree Turner.



13 thoughts on “Sharon Maree

  1. I have tears rolling down my face after reading your story of Sharon Maree I worked with disabled /mentally retarded people for some 25 yrs in part of my nursing career these people are very special they can teach us many things about life and they are always happy never have a bad word to say about anyone.I remember many shifts with the sounds of ABBA ringing out through the ward and everyone dancing and singing,lots of hours spent teaching these people the basic skills of life we take for granted.They gave us so many special moments ones that when some of my fellow nursing peers and I get together we reflect on and wonder where they would have been except for the care they received from us we were their family as many of these special people had no one to visit them .So your story of Sharon Maree is one that rang with me and still to this day I never regret one moment of having spent the best part of my life working shift work and hanging out with these very special and loving people.

  2. What a beautiful story to share. Thank you. I hope things work out for you all and that Sharon continues her journey with people who love her as much as her family does.

  3. Annette I know your love for Sharon is strong and have enjoyed the many stories you have shared with us about her. These wonderful human beings are very special to us in our families.

  4. My family met the Turners in 1959, and met Annette when she married Barry and I know the story of Sharon Lee. What an inspiration she is to all Trisomy 21 people.
    She has led a beautiful life, Not always easy but with a loving, caring family and friends to guide her through her journey.
    I have enjoyed Sharon when we talk and hug,and have loved her stories the family share. We are so lucky we know her.

  5. Annette, thank you for sharing Sharon’s story, made me feel happy, and sad at the same time…bless you and your lovely family…

  6. Thank you Annette for sharing Sharon’s story. Like you my life has been greatly enriched by my friends with a disability.

  7. Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful story – you and your family are wonderful role models and I salute you.

  8. Thanks for sharing that Annette. I’ve got very fond memories of Sharon, she’s got a lot of qualities to admire. Tons of love, toughness, honest as the day is long. She’s a real treasure for sure, and it’s been great to hear how strong she has been going all these years. I’d sure appreciate it if you could pass on the love from “her cousin Greg Miller”

    • Will do Greg – can you please pass on to your mum and dad as I do not have his latest email address. Might be visiting NZ next year for conference. Might be able to catchy up. Love to your family.

    • Greg I’ve just read this and Sharon is sitting right next to me on the sofa. I told her that her cousin Greg Miller said hello and she said ‘a big hello back’ 😃

  9. Lovely story Annette having worked with disabled people for some 26 years during my nursing career i know how much love they have to give.Their honesty,love of life and need to just have fun is truely a blessing,I remember days of dancing about to ABBA and days in the courtyards with water play and their absolute delight if one of the nurses got hosed during this time.The many wonderful outings they enjoyed in the hospital bus and being able to help cook the weekly ward BBQ.Then when the day ended and your shift was finished how they just wanted to know if you were on again tomorrow to do it all again and how they stood at the door waving to you as you drove away.Plus that very moment they tell you they love you as you tucked them into bed we were their family and at times the only people they saw as their family….wouldn’t have wanted it any other way and would do it all over again…..Kerrie Tomlins.

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