A Life's Story

June 10, 2022

Together nearly forever

Rarely apart over their 60-year relationship Sharon and Larry Zarychanski, left great memories for their family after COVID and cancer ended their lives within two weeks of each other

By: Kevin Rollason

COVID-19 and cancer may have taken away a couple, but the love that began on a high school volleyball court almost 60 years ago was never extinguished.

Sharon Zarychanski, 74, died March 26 shortly after contracting the virus. Her husband of almost 54 years, Larry, died of prostate cancer just 13 days later. He was 77.

“We watched cancer chip away at my father over the years — we knew he would succumb to his illness, but we weren’t prepared for what were the events that would unfold,” says their son Ryan Zarychanski. “We didn’t realize there was some sort of race to the finish, either.

SUPPLIED Larry and Sharon were married on Sept. 16, 1967.

“It’s a painful reminder how our lives and the trajectory of them can be upended in an instant.”

The couple’s daughter, Shayla Moore, said she is so glad that they — with the help of both Grace Hospital and Grace Hospice staff — were able to get their dad to his wife’s bedside inside the hospital near the end of her fight with COVID.

“They were never separated for long periods of time (and) it caused them great sadness when Mom became hospitalized herself,” she says. “It was pure joy on their faces when we were able to wheel Dad over to see her and (they could) hold hands once more.

SUPPLIED A love that began on a high school volleyball court almost 60 years ago has come to an end because of COVID-19 and cancer. Sharon Zarychanski, 74, died on March 26 shortly after contracting the novel coronavirus, while her husband of almost 54 years, Larry, died of prostate cancer just 13 days later. He was 77.

“When Mom passed he often expressed the desire to follow her to heaven. He could not bear to be without her.”

The couple might not have met if Larry hadn’t gone back to Elmwood High School to coach volleyball after his graduation.

Both Larry and Sharon were sports-minded; he had played high school football on St. John’s High School’s football team (Elmwood didn’t have one so he was granted permission to play there) while, beyond volleyball, she threw the baton as a Winnipeg Blue Bomberette.

SUPPLIED As a teenager, Sharon Zarychanski threw the baton as a Winnipeg Blue Bomberette.

“He had graduated — he was three years older than my mom — and a friend convinced him to go back to coach volleyball and they coached the Grade 10 girls volleyball team,” Moore says. “Through the season they started dating and five years later they married.”

The couple tied the knot on Sept. 16, 1967 and, not long after, they moved to Charleswood, raised their family and immersed themselves in the community.

Their son and daughter said it was an era when not just the children on Kersey Bay — they were original owners on the street — played together, but the adults were all friends, too. Their parents hosted block parties, Grey Cup get-togethers but and birthday celebrations.

SUPPLIED Larry Zarychanski played high school football on St. John’s High School’s football team.

Larry first worked at Eaton’s before walking down Portage Avenue to become manager of the Hudson’s Bay Distribution Centre, followed by a similar role at the SAAN Distribution Centre.

He also joined the Knights of Columbus, helping raise funds for local charitable organizations, Catholic schools and the church, while serving as Grand Knight on his church council, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, as well as State District Deputy and Faithful Navigator for the 4th degree Miles Macdonell Council. He was honoured by being named Knight of the Year in 2009.

Moore says her father also enjoyed musicals, a love sparked decades earlier.

“He played parts in the high school musicals,” she says. “We shared a love of musicals, so if Fiddler (on the Roof) was coming, or Les Miz, we would go.”

Meanwhile, Sharon volunteered as a Brownie leader, Sunday school teacher, and their cottage residents’ association president while also working with the CIBC for 30 years — mostly at the Polo Park shopping centre branch — and the Bank of Nova Scotia for 10 more.

“She always worked two to three days a week and then full time when we got to junior high,” Moore says.

“We often stayed with neighbours,” Ryan said. “She was ahead of her time. In the 1970s there was mostly stay at home moms.”

Zarychanski says his mother was also super-organized — relaying essential banking information her children would need even while she was hospitalized.

He said at one point his mother “opened her eyes and looked at us and said, ‘Remember, there’s a Chamois wash coupon in my purse — don’t forget to use it.’”

Through the years there was also plenty of family time, from spending time at the cottage — which Larry built in Lakeshore Heights on the east side of Lake Winnipeg with the help of friends — to Sunday dinners at home with first, their son and daughter and, later, with their grandchildren.

“Dad had to clear the property before it was built,” Moore says. “After it was built he and Mom finished it through the years.”

“He went out there with friends who would go with him on weekends,” Zarychanski says. “He had two or three great friends who would work with him the whole weekend. They cleared the land, built the floor.

“They built the whole thing. They didn’t have a lot of money, so they did a lot of it themselves.”

Zarychanski says his parents devised a way of looking after their young children during the entire summer.

“Mom would have four to six weeks of holidays and Dad had four weeks off so we spent four weeks with mom, four weeks with dad, and in between they had two weeks together,” he says.

Larry was diagnosed with cancer about a dozen years ago. Sharon tested positive for COVID a short time before she was hospitalized.

“She was immunocompromised because of her medication to treat her auto-immune condition,” Zarychanski says. “We don’t know how she go it, but when she got COVID her immune system couldn’t fight it off even with being vaccinated.

“She died quickly, within 10 days of her first being sick.”

And, during the time she was in hospital, her husband, who was already in the hospice next door, knew she was there.

“He knew mom was sick,” Zarychanski says. “That’s what made it so painful. He knew his wife was critically ill, but he was bed-bound.”

He says his parents were “regular in action, extraordinary in their love and journey together from the very start to the very end.”

“As a couple, they were together for 60 years and married for almost 54; they did every thing together,” he says.

Moore says she “idolized their marriage.”

“They stared dreams and supported each other’s individual interests,” she says. “Compromised, argued, but were quick to make up.

“Their love for one another was steadfast through the lows and through the highs.”

And Larry and Sharon were together one final time. A joint funeral mass for them was held last month at their church.

Besides their son and daughter and their spouses, the couple is survived by five grandchildren, Sharon’s mother and her sister, three nieces and one nephew.

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

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