“Gentle, she was gentle,” John Ricker quietly emphasizes as he speaks about his wife Donna. She was 58-years-old when she passed away from the delayed effects of chemotherapy and radiation used to treat cancer.
While Donna’s essential tremor was present since her youth, she was active throughout most of her life. She walked four miles in the morning through the woods of Foxborough, Massachusetts where she and John lived. “She enjoyed bike-riding, loved the woods and nature,” says John. “She also loved flowers and gardening and her cats.”
She cut designs for Morse and Beggs Monument Company, a business based in nearby North Attleboro that has been owned and operated by her family for three generations. John Ricker inherited the business and continues to make monuments and markers as a lasting tribute to loved ones in the community.
In a way, it’s fitting that someone like Donna, so caring with others, receives this tribute to her life. John shares how she took the time to speak with customers that had lost a family member or friend. “She was always there to talk to. She was gentle and loved to help people,” says John. “That’s how special a person she was.”
Notably, helping with the family business was not her primary line of work. Donna excelled as a dental hygienist with a gentle touch, especially with kids in the chair. Her profession also led to meeting her future husband. “She cleaned my teeth while I was in the dental chair,” John says warmly of their first meeting.
Clearly, her kind demeanor left a strong impression. As the saying goes, things happen in threes. Their paths crossed again when John decided to look up Donna three years later. They began dating over the next three months. They married three months later and the union lasted 19 ½ years until her death.
Aware of her family’s history with ET – Donna’s mother, uncle, and grandfather also had the neurological condition – Donna was a member of an ET support group in Western Massachusetts for a time. John says, “She brought life to the group.”
For Donna, essential tremor slowly became a challenge in her latter years. When she delivered reports in school as a child, her ET became more apparent when she grew anxious or nervous but it was manageable. As tremor in her hands grew more pronounced as an adult, she gave up her work in dental hygiene, carving designs for the family monument business, and even sewing in her leisure time.
“She was mad at ET because she lost dexterity with her hands,” says John. “She didn’t like it. The late effects were pretty severe.”
Health was foremost on Donna’s mind. Described by a friend as “earthy crunchy,” Donna was reluctant to take conventional medicine to treat her tremor or even common ailments. “She didn’t even take aspirin,” says John. For ET, she tried acupuncture with limited success and read extensively about deep brain stimulation but was unsure about its use.
John remembers his wife not only as a gentle soul, but also as someone that was full of life. “I loved being with her,” he says. “She loved dancing and loved music. She was like a kid in many ways. She lifted your spirits. She is sorely missed.”
Donna’s friends and family participated in the 2014 Essential Tremor Awareness Month Walk in her memory and they plan to remember her again with the walk planned for March 2015.