It was at last winter’s solstice that Sharon Connell had one of her greatest wishes granted: she saw the sun as few on the planet will ever see it. But her view from the snow-edged patio at Denver’s Holly Heights Care Center encompassed far more than the muted December sky and the shining golden orb.
Sharon was seeing her forever.
“I know I am going to die, soon,” she had told a small gathering of new friends and Stacey, her nurse from The Denver Hospice, who had arranged the astronomical adventure just ahead. “Once my body is too tired and I’m told okay, you’ve done what you can, I feel my soul will go off into the Universe. Because I believe our souls are energy, just as the Universe is energy.
“This has always fascinated me,” she continued, struggling to lift a three-inch thick volume titled UNIVERSE: The Definitive Visual Guide from beside her hospice bed and locating a well-read section. “First there was the Universe series on TV—my grandson loaded that on my iPad so I can have it any time. And then there was Morgan Freeman with Through the Worm Hole. And the Hubble telescope! Oh, the Hubble! I saw those images and thought, ‘How can something be that beautiful?’”
Sharon noted that, having been raised Catholic, her views now that lung cancer had made her earth-time finite were beyond traditional faith. “For me, there is such a sense of comfort in what we have learned about what’s out there. When you look up at the stars, that light is millions of years old. The sun…the earth…the moon…and we are part of it!”
With the arrival of naturalist/director Peg Alig and astronomer/volunteer Simon Young from Lookout Mountain Nature Center
, Sharon’s excitement skyrocketed. The team had brought with them a telescope, its lens larger than a dinner plate, capable of magnifying what she saw through the eyepiece by 40 times.
Over the next 45 minutes, a mini-astronomy course took place on the wintry patio, with Sharon bundled in purple parka, hat and gloves. Peg and Simon explained that it took 8.25 minutes for light to reach earth from the sun. They showed her a photo of the sun taken that day (available each day at www.spaceweather.com
) and told her she would be seeing some sunspots—dark spots caused by intense magnetic energy. Sharon responded with facts on the topic, including that the sunspot activity grows strongest in 11-year cycles.
Peering into the telescope and seeing the sun, she shouted, “That is so unbelievable! Oh, my gosh! And those sunspots…they look like freckles!” The small group around her laughed, too, caught in the joy of a dream delivered.
Sharon Connell passed in January 2014. Into the Universe.