In Memoriam: to Dorothy Howard

My grandmother, my father's mother died after a long bout with Alzheimer's disease. It's especially hard for me because she is a strong and intelligent woman, raised 3 lunatic out of control boys after their father died when they were still young. She was a well respected nursing instructor and a pivotal figure in getting me interested in learning about science for fun. She gave me a medical manual and atlas of the body when I was a toddler and soon I had begun to learn all about anatomy, biology, etc... To this day, even though I make a living artistically as a graphic designer I still read Discover, Smithsonian, etc... and think about her.

Being the one who started me off into really using my mind and thinking it was devastating to watch her deteriorate from not being able to find her glasses, to not knowing where she was, to being bed ridden with god knows what left of her mind while she incoherently would chatter unfamiliar phrases. It must have been like a prison for her, a prison of the mind. It always seemed so inexplicably horrible to phatom what it must be like for her... for someone like her. For, you see, she had the symptoms for Alzheimer's disease hi-lighted in her Merck Manual years before she was diagnosed. She knew what was coming, and that is was incurable. We found this out many years after when we were going through her things.

The idea of euthanasia had been brought up within the family before, even committed to once. Some red tape at the hospital prevented it, which was a good enough excuse for the family to back out of making that hard decision. The thing was, when they put the feeding tube into her the first time the next day, during my dad's visit, he said she sat up, looked at him, and said, "Mike, get this thing out of me." The hospital would not do it and the next morning they called him and demanded to know why he had removed her feeding tube which they found shortly after he left. My father could only reply that he is a paraplegic in a wheelchair, meaning that she had done it herself.

In the end, she starved herself to death. She refused to eat and refused to let them put the feeding tube in again. To me, it seemed the only control she had left was to refuse eating, and she voluntarily ended her prison on the mind. Although tragic, the way she died had a lingering trace of the strength she always showed when I was younger and that I instilled in myself. It's something I will never let myself forget.

When I think of New Smyrna Beach, seagulls, body surfing, crab cakes, Dairy Queen, Tabby cats, biology, and strength of character, I will forever think of Dorothy Howard.

Thank you guys, for letting me share.

© copyright, 1999, Terry Howard
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