When I was working on my second CF calendar, I met Josh Sheldon. The last time I saw Josh was two weeks before he died. I would have never guessed he was so close to losing his battle with CF. He was always trying to make others feel better, and not worry about himself. When he came to the photo shoot he was on oxygen, but in my naïveté I didn’t think it was a big deal because he told me it wasn’t. He set it aside, and was not wearing the tubing.
When Josh was born, his parents Lynne and Len were told he might make it to his 15th birthday. Lynne says that is what sticks in your brain, “So once he passed 15 years old I thought, ok, we’re beyond that. And when he got to 21 I thought that was good, but we could see his decline so each year I thought we were lucky we had this year, but I don’t know how many we have left. “
The Sheldons adjusted to live with CF. In school Len says his son tried out for every sport, swimming, football, wrestling, and track. “He never made the team because he couldn’t keep up with the physical end of it. But he did find his niche in golf. Golf is a competitive sport with yourself. He did very well. He actually ended up becoming the Captain of his High School team. And he played Varsity all through. Josh was also good at skiing, snow boarding, water skiing, and rollerblading. The hardest thing for me was to watch how his health affected how he wanted to do things. He couldn’t do them anymore. So that was hard for us.”
Josh went to college at Central Michigan University. It was a tough year for him because he got very sick and eventually had to come home. Josh decided to attend Macomb Community College. He got his associates degree in Architecture. But Josh was a fighter and didn’t complain. He hung out with his friends when he could, and faced the reality of needing a double lung transplant. Lynne says they continued to adjust each time the situation got worse, “Once he was in the hospital we adjusted. The last few years of his life, we were always in the hospital. And he was always in at Christmas. We always tried to bring him home on Christmas Eve, and we did accomplish that. One year he came home but he got really sick, and he had to go right back in after Christmas, and the same for New Years. I made big trays up of goodies and took one to the nurse’s station, so they would be busy and wouldn’t bother us, and took the other tray to his room. The three of his friends came to the hospital. I had party hats and champagne in the room. Jennifer (Josh’s sister) and her fiancé came. Everyone stayed until after midnight and then his friends took off. Josh was exhausted. He thanked us. I said you know, this is one of the best new years I’ve ever had, it really was. I didn’t resent not being at a party, or out to dinner, I was just happy that we had it there. I thought it was really nice his friends came too. They gave up part of their new years.” Josh had a major bleed in his lungs. Lynne and Len brought Josh home from the hospital after six weeks. Josh wasn’t going to get his transplant, Josh was dying.” The doctor told Lynne that Josh was only hanging on for her. Lynne didn’t think her son would make it through the night so she called her daughter, and some close friends who also picked up her Mother. There is some humor in everything Lynne says. “Josh was supposedly dying and when everyone came in the room Josh asked our friend Tom how he was doing? We all laughed. Then Josh said he was sorry, and I said for what? He said, I don’t think I’m going to die tonight.” The next morning Josh, with his voice trembling, told his mother he couldn’t do it anymore. Lynne said it was ok. The two said the Lord’s Prayer together. Lynne told her husband. Family friends were in the room too. They sat by Josh, on his bed and he passed away.
I (Laura Bonnell) went to Josh’s funeral. It was a wonderful tribute to Josh’s life. Lynne got up and spoke about her son. In my mind I was screaming for her to sit down. I knew I was going to burst uncontrollably in to tears. I did. I was crying over the death of Josh, for a mother’s pain and because of the reality of the disease. Lynne spoke beautifully about her son, the entire room was crying, but Lynne bravely reminded all of us about the amazing young man Josh had grown to be, and how he will never be forgotten because he touched so many lives.