Laurie A. Shinham

March 26, 2011|By JANET HEIM |
  • This family photo was taken in December 2008. From left, Laurie Shinham, Adam and Sarah Sparks, Erica Shinham and Donald Shinham.
Submitted photo

Laurie Shinham might have been nearing the end of her battle with breast cancer, but the longtime nurse had enough energy for the eight-hour drive to Indiana with her husband to witness the birth of their first grandchild four months ago.

Daughter Sarah Sparks was in the final stages of labor, but said she stopped pushing for 45 minutes, awaiting her parents' arrival. Colton Sparks was born 18 minutes after Laurie and Donald Shinham arrived at the hospital on Nov. 19, 2010.

"We had hoped to have many years as grandparents, but cancer took that away," Donald said.

"Her grandson gave her a lot of reasons to live at the end," said oldest daughter, Erica Shinham, who added that her mother wanted to be referred to as "YaYa" by her grandson. YaYa made sure Easter gifts were purchased for Colton, with Erica's help.

Sarah met her husband, Adam, while attending Taylor University in Indiana. She said she called her mother every day since she got married for advice on just about everything.

"She was so wise in everything. She taught me to care for others. She instilled that in us," Sarah said.

Her college friends loved it when Laurie would visit, Sarah said, because she would fold their laundry and cook for them, among other things.

"She was beautiful personally, physically and spiritually. She was loved dearly by everyone who met her," Adam said.

Laurie Salmon was born in Cumberland, Md., but her family moved to Hagerstown a year later. She had wanted to be a nurse since age 3.

She graduated from Smithsburg High School in 1979, earned a master's degree from the University of Maryland School of Nursing, and did graduate work at Frostburg State University and Western Maryland College, now McDaniel College.

Besides the nursing she did at Washington County Hospital and Washington County Health Department, she taught at Hagerstown Community College, volunteered as a camp nurse at Camp Joy-El in Greencastle, Pa., and was a residential nurse at Cedar Ridge Children's Home.

"She was the on-call nurse for everybody," said Erica, who lives in Philadelphia, where she teaches kindergarten and is taking graduate classes.

On at least two occasions, Erica remembers her mother resuscitating older neighbors near their Partridge Trail home on the east side of Hagerstown, then waiting with them until the ambulance arrived.

During Laurie's senior year in high school, she met Donald when they went on a weekend retreat in New Jersey with a group of high school students from Covenant Presbyterian Church, which Laurie attended. Donald, who was a year older and graduated from North Hagerstown High, had been invited by the youth advisers, who happened to be his sister and brother-in-law.

They began dating after the retreat, married after four years of dating and would have celebrated their 29th wedding anniversary in May.

"We were a team. She'll be missed," Donald said.

The Shinhams have been members at Tri-State Fellowship for 15 years, and both served as middle school youth leaders for the past 14 years.

"She really had a heart for students. She impacted hundreds of students," said Eric Boutieller, associate pastor of student ministries at Tri-State Fellowship.

"In my own personal life, it was a huge blessing," Eric added, saying she was a big influence in his sons' lives, as well.

"Sheer dedication, if you have to capsulize it," said Eric's wife, Lori Boutieller.

Laurie traveled to Kazakhstan on a medical mission trip, and took church youth on mission trips to places such as South Carolina and Pennsylvania.

"The kids got so much out of it. Many kids have gone on to become missionaries," Donald said.

Laurie was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2005. She had surgery and her doctors felt confident they had removed all the cancer.

Erica recalls hearing the news at a family meeting right before Christmas, one she described in detail in a memoir she had to write for a college course. It seemed the bad news always came around Christmas, one of the family's favorite times of the year.

About a year later, Donald was hospitalized and in the midst of worrying about her husband's health, Laurie felt a lump in her neck. When the lump got larger, a biopsy was done and they learned that the cancer had metastasized to her bones, then to her lungs.

In typical fashion, Laurie tried to function as normally as possible, despite chemotherapy and radiation treatments. She continued to work out at the gym, ate healthy meals and worked at Cedar Ridge until October 2009.

Laurie chose wigs that looked like her hairstyle, not wanting to upset the boys she worked with at Cedar Ridge, Erica said.

"She wasn't a quitter with anything. She definitely taught me the same thing," Erica said.

Erica added that her father was a "very dedicated husband," accompanying his wife to Baltimore for frequent chemotherapy treatments.

"I look on it as five years to cherish my mother and get to know her the best as I can," said Erica, who tried to come home every other weekend, helping Laurie sort through her nursing books and notes, youth group material and personal possessions.

"We helped her get through it with as much dignity as possible," Donald said.

The family marked Laurie's 50th birthday with a low-key celebration at home, days before she died. Two years before that, her birthday present was Lily, a white Maltese who weighs all of 5 pounds.

Lily was Laurie's constant companion, sitting on her bed or on the sofa with her. Since Laurie's death, Lily has been moping around the house, well aware of Laurie's absence.

Balloons — because she worked with kids — and uplifting music were Laurie's choice for her memorial service.

"Life will be difficult. It will be hard for a while," Donald said.


Editor's note:  Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail runs "A Life Remembered." Each story in this continuing series takes a look back — through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others — at a member of the community who died recently. Today's "A Life Remembered" is about Laurie A. Shinham, who died March 13, 2011, at the age of 50. Her obituary was published in the March 15, 2011 edition of The Herald-Mail.

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