This is part of the series Shore Stories: Life Along the Lakeshore columns by local residents about their lives.
The observance of Good Friday and Easter has always been a combination of great sorrow and celebration to me. It is also an emotional reminder of one of the hardest times of my life, beginning on Easter Sunday 1995, a day that the lives of my wife, Char, and I would be changed forever.
“Nine-one-one operator. What is your emergency?”
“Yes, my wife, Char, just had a seizure. She was shaking uncontrollably for several minutes!”
“What is your location, sir?”
“We’re at 6918 Arbor Heights Drive in Hudsonville — uh, hold on … I need to go. She just went into another seizure! Tell the ambulance to please hurry!”
Char was rushed to the hospital, having multiple seizures, and later was diagnosed with a golf-ball-size brain tumor. Days later, she would have emergency brain surgery to save her life. After a successful surgery, results from a biopsy of the tumor revealed it was malignant. Our world was turned upside down and the future offered little hope … at least according to the doctors, who gave Char just two years to live and said to plan on her having a limited life.
In the weeks ahead, Char underwent one neurological test after another. Surprisingly, she had no measurable deficits from the surgery. With that good news, Char was determined to have her life go back to normal by returning to work in the middle of six weeks of post-surgery radiation therapy. But profound fatigue from the treatments would lead to the difficult decision to resign from her job. To Char, it was like walking off a cliff. She shared with me that she felt defective and without purpose in her life.
It was during this dark time that hope shined the brightest. Char and I were invited to attend the Blodgett Hospital Brain Tumor Support Group. We met seven others going through a similar journey and, by the end of the evening, it was clear that everyone in that group was squarely on Char’s heart. On the way home, I just had to laugh and smile as she was so excited and full of life again, already planning out gift bags and cards for each person in the group.
Addicted to joy
To my amazement, the grief about her own circumstance was suddenly gone, replaced with compassion and love for others. And with it, joy to her heart. Char became addicted to joy. Our social life became attending cancer support groups across West Michigan and meeting others in need of encouragement. She would tell me there is nothing you can buy that will bring more joy to your life than loving, helping, and encouraging others. She was right.
Steve and Char Harryman
Though doctors told Char she would have only two years to live with a limited life, what soon became clear was that God had a different plan. Char lived an amazing 24 more years and would go on to help thousands of people, sharing love, compassion, joy, and hope. After going through multiple recurrences and a total of five major brain surgeries during that span, Char finally went to heaven in May 2019.
I think Char had the secret to a happy life. No matter what she was going through, if someone else was in the room, she would always think of them first. She wanted to learn more about their life and what she could do to encourage them. It brought her such purpose and impossible joy amidst the storms she was facing.
Char would often visit people in need of hope and encouragement in hospitals, hospice centers, and their homes. Many would open up to her and share their pain, often saying, “Well, my struggles don’t compare to what you’re going through, Char.” She would stop them and say, “Don’t ever compare. What you’re going through is no less difficult — just different.”
She would spend time with them, listening and praying with them. The impact Char had on people’s lives was immeasurable. I was reminded of this when a woman approached me at Char’s wake. “I saw Char’s obituary and just had to come to share my thanks. Over 20 years ago, Char visited my husband and me during his last days. That visit meant so much. I wanted you to know.”
Char had a strong faith and a favorite saying that I think applies to anyone going through a struggle or storm right now. It is a reminder not to give up hope and that there can be purpose in the pain: “What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the Master calls a butterfly.”
Fruitport resident Steve Harryman is the founder and president of Hope Through the Storm Ministries, a Christian faith-based organization devoted to bringing hope and encouragement to people facing serious illness and disability. He is also an award-winning writer, videographer, photographer, and successful magazine writer. His first book, “Char’s Gift: A Remarkable Story of Hope Through the Storms of Life,” is about his wife of 33 years who died in May 2019.