In remembering the first time my cousin Dale introduced me to Sheila Piper, almost thirty years ago, it seems like just yesterday. She was beautiful, witty, smart and as charming as they come. Dale was pretty taken by this amazingly special lady and we all could understand why. She was born a few months before me and Dale convinced her to marry him a few months after Lori and I were married. Their wedding was the first wedding we attended as a newly married couple and it was our first Catholic wedding. We joked for years about how much exercise we received at their wedding. I have never sat, kneeled and stood as many times at a wedding before or since. Dale and Sheila were the perfect couple. We always looked forward to seeing them every chance we could. They made Atlanta home so the distance was a bit of a challenge. I remember the day their first born child D.J. was born – November 26, 1994 to be exact. There was no happier couple than Dale and Sheila. Then, a few years later, they completed their family with the birth of their beautiful daughter Tracy on January 3, 2000. Watching this family grow was incredibly special to us. They made trips to Statesboro so Lori could photograph their growing family and on occasion we would travel to Atlanta. Sheila never met a cause too small or a friend too distant to find a way to help in her own special way. She was always the brightest smile in the room and forever focused on everyone in her circle always putting her family and friends before her. Then, last year, came the devastating news that Sheila had advanced cancer. She prepared for a fight and how phenomenally she fought. Last October we made one final trip to photograph Sheila, Dale, D.J. and Tracy at their home in Atlanta. We assumed it would be the last time we had this opportunity but we prayed there would be many more. Sheila wanted one last family portrait and a portrait of Tracy to match the one of D.J. on her wall. It was yet another piece of “unfinished business” that she had to complete. Lori designed a beautiful Christmas card that in typical Sheila style wanted to be more than an ordinary Christmas card but one that celebrated her family and thanked so many who had done so much to be beside her during this fight. It was also a reminder of the unfinished business that she would have to leave to others. A son in college and a daughter who is a rising Junior in High School.
Tomorrow, Sheila and Dale will enter the St. Jude the Apostle Catholic Church in Sandy Springs one last time as a couple. It is the church where their love was sealed and new life was celebrated as one. Sheila’s fight is over. She is now in Heaven. But her memory will live on in each of us who she touched so deeply. They will gather to celebrate an incredible life well lived and honor her for the incredible wife, mother, daughter, sister and friend that she was. Lori, Edie Grace and my life is so much richer thanks to Sheila. She reminds us how amazingly short life is and the importance of celebrating every minute of every day that we are given. She also reminds Lori the power of what she does daily in documenting the legacies of lives well lived.