John and Cheryl Sacramone met as teenagers, working together at Star Market. She was walking down aisle 4, where he was stocking shelves. But it wasn’t love at first sight, at least nothing they acted on. In fact, Cheryl went to prom with John’s brother. Years later, his brother’s prom picture sat on the mantle next to John’s engagement photo. Cheryl was featured in both of them.
John still laughs about it: “I said 'mom, one of these has to come down. You decide.'”
John and Cheryl’s wedding picture eventually replaced them both. And several years later, baby pictures followed. Their son Justin was born in 1990; their daughter Jenna in 1994.
“Cheryl got a part-time job, but mostly stayed home while the children were growing up,” said John. “Justin was a mama’s boy and Jenna was a daddy’s girl.”
In summer of 2002, when Cheryl was just 38 years old, doctors found spots on her lungs. Never a smoker, she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of lung cancer; chemotherapy and other treatments started immediately.
But by the following spring, her health declined further. John had to begin the agonizing task of talking to family, including their children, just 8 and 12 years old, that Cheryl probably had just months left. Thankfully, through friends in health care, John was educated about hospice. Cheryl was brought to Salem Hospital, where Hospice of the North Shore (later renamed Care Dimensions) had a wing dedicated to hospice patients.
“People don't understand. They hear ‘hospice,’ and they think ‘that's it; all over,’” said John. “Cheryl was in hospice for months and they never once treated her like she was dying. The nurses and volunteers were exceptional, especially her nurse Maggie who was always so upbeat. That space was where Cheryl could still be a mom; we could all still be a family together, while the clinical team took care of her medical needs.”
John is forever thankful for the support he got from family and friends in the months while Cheryl was in hospice, and then in the following years. John’s brother Ralph and sister-in-law Elaine visited each morning so that John could leave for work. John’s parents Shirley and Duncan stayed overnight with Justin and Jenna so that John could stay overnight with Cheryl.
Cheryl died in June of 2003. John was so appreciative of the care provided, that he donated funds to name a room after her at the Kaplan Family Hospice House, which was built in 2005.
In the fall after her death, “Cheryl’s Team” was born and participated in their first Walk for Hospice. For years, the group was among the biggest teams on Walk Day, raising thousands of dollars. John organized hundreds of supporters and turned that day into a celebration of Cheryl’s life. John has also been a regular attendee at the Tree of Lights Ceremony each December, which brings people together for a time of reflection and remembrance.
The serendipity of love reveals itself as John and Cheryl’s children navigate life’s journey, each finding a partner who shares the unique bond of losing a parent.
Their son Justin found creative success directing film and theatre (something he credits Cheryl for first introducing him to at an early age) and is celebrating six years with his partner Patrick Barajas. Their daughter Jenna, a successful financial analyst, married her high school sweetheart Alex Lomakin in 2020. This year, on October 30, Jenna and Alex welcomed their first born, Luca Gregory Lomakin, into the world.
John remarried in November 2023. His new wife Liz is a lifelong friend and the two finally decided several years ago that the time was right to give it a go.
Following their honeymoon, John plans to be at the Tree of Lights Ceremony in Danvers. He now illuminates lights for Cheryl, his mother and father, as well as Liz’s parents. It’s a lesson that while life moves on and new relationships are built, memories of those who have passed stay with us. It’s important to remember them, even decades later.
“My advice to people who lose a spouse is: you’re never going to get that back again. And you never want to forget that person. But at the same time, it’s OK to keep living and you will find happiness.”
The Care Dimensions Hospice House is a peaceful place offering 24/7 clinical support for the patient. That allows families to spend quality time with their loved one.Read more
Since 1978, Care Dimensions, formerly Hospice of the North Shore, has provided comprehensive and compassionate care for individuals and families dealing with life-threatening illnesses. As the non-profit leader in advanced illness care, we offer services in over 100 communities in Massachusetts.