Sharon Elaine was born on February 27, 1963, to Oliver and Elaine Westman of rural Rush City. She was one of five children: Barb, Jim, Sandy, Sharon and Barry; an infant brother was stillborn.
Sharon attended Rush City Schools and graduated from there in 1981. She went on to attend Bethel University and graduated with a BA in Social Services; she needed only 6 more credits for her Master of Arts in Human Development from St. Mary’s University in Minneapolis.
Sharon was very active in music and drama both in high school and college. She sang with the Bethel Women’s Choir in a tour of the Scandinavian countries during her senior year of college—giving her the opportunity to meet relatives in Sweden.
Sharon believed that she should do what she loved, and she loved helping others. Because of the hospice care she saw her grandma Julia receive while battling cancer in 1987, Sharon was inspired to make hospice care part of her life’s work. She began by volunteering her time with hospice and eventually coordinated hospice services through Chisago Lakes Hospital for several years.
Her dream was to develop a career out of her various passions. These work experiences included conducting grief and loss classes as well as individual counseling sessions for those who have lost loved ones; becoming a custody evaluator and guardian ad litem; providing a variety of mediation services through the nonprofit organization Rural Mediation Services in Cambridge; acting as a facilitator for “Parents Forever,” (a research-based curriculum developed by the University of Minnesota Extension Services) to help parents make child-supportive decisions during separation or divorce; providing in-home piano lessons for students in Rush City, Cambridge-Isanti, Harris, Mora, and the Twin Cities area. Sharon created her Open Hearts Company as a way to combine her many skills and services.
Sharon met her husband Roberto in Rome, Italy, and Jillian was born in September, 2001. Sharon, Roberto and Jillian lived in Rome several different times. During this time, Sharon’s passion for photography began to take shape; she had an eye for beauty and this is reflected in her photographs which capture the beauty she saw in the world around her. Sharon founded Spirit Leaper Studios and sold many of her works through this website. Her photograph “Rooted in Minnesota” earned third place honors in the 2009 East Central Arts IMAGE Show (photography division), and “Light Still Lives Here—In the House of my Mother’s Birth” earned the first place award in the 2010 East Central Arts IMAGE Show (photography division).
Wondering about her name? She didn’t see herself as a Sharon Elaine but more as a Juliahna Grace, eventually coming to a point where she incorporated all of the names Sharon Juliahna Grace Westman.
In August of 2008, Sharon was diagnosed with AML, an acute form of leukemia and had a bone marrow transplant December 26, 2008. She has had no recurrence of the leukemia, but over the last two years the bone marrow stopped producing healthy cells and she lived with incredibly low blood counts and high risk from infection, illness or injury. While the doctors were determining how best to treat her, she depended on transfusions of blood and platelets at the bone marrow transplant clinic at the U of M to supplement what her body couldn’t produce. Early this year doctors diagnosed her with “bone marrow failure” and once again a stem cell transplant was the only option for a return to health. Another donor was found, and she had her second transplant on April 5. The donated cells quickly engrafted and began to produce near normal levels of all blood lines. However, she then developed Graft vs. Host Disease in which the new cells recognize the old tissue as the enemy and begin to attack and destroy it. The GVHD advanced to Stage 4 and proved to be insurmountable.
She had fought valiantly for nearly four years trying to return to the life and dreams she envisioned. Her answer just three weeks ago to a question from the doctors about how to proceed in the face of advanced GVHD was “Fight, fight, fight!” Less than a week before her death doctors asked her again at what point she would want to stop fighting, and Sharon’s answer was “I can’t imagine…Jillian…” While her spirit was strong, her body was weakened by the treatments that were required, and she eventually faced an illness she could not conquer.
Sharon was a very caring and compassionate individual to family, friends, animals, and even insects, and any other living being that needed help. She was a peaceful and thoughtful person who tried each day to create the beauty she envisioned. She will be so deeply missed by all who knew and loved her.
Our heartfelt thanks go to the scores of people who have prayed for her over this four-year period and have supported us in prayer and concern. A special thank you goes to family and friends who spent so much time with Sharon at the hospital including the 24-7 support of the last month. Special thanks also to Dr. Erica Warlick, the staff at the BMT Clinic and to the wonderful nurses on Unit 4B at the University of Minnesota Medical Center.
Sharon is survived by her husband Roberto Cicero, daughter Jillian Grace Cicero, her parents Oliver and Elaine Westman of Rush City, siblings: Barb Westman, Jim (Donna) Westman all of Rush City, Sandy Westman of Fridley, Barry (Tina) Westman of Janesville, Wis., mother-in-law Nadia Pannuti of Italy, nieces, nephews and many other relatives and friends.
She is preceded in death by an infant brother, grandparents: Oscar & Ruth Lundberg, Hjalmar & Julia Westman
Pastor Tim Adams officiated funeral services for Sharon Westman at the Journey North Church in Pine City at 11 a.m. on Saturday, June 23. A time of visitation was held at the Olson Funeral Chapel on Friday from 5-8 p.m. Music was provided by Amanda Laugerman and Katie Kohler. Casket bearers included: Chad Westman, Julia Westman, Caitlin Westman, John Hendrickson, Craig Lundberg, and Keith Lundberg. Interment was in the First Lutheran Cemetery in Rush City.
Funeral arrangements for Sharon Westman were entrusted to the: Funeral and Cremation Service of Rush City; Olson Chapel. www.funeralandcremationservice.com.