Dr. Cindy.

August 11, 2012 § 11 Comments

Her disabled body was the first thing you would notice when you met Cindy, and it was impossible to overlook the crutches, and the power chair, or the difficulty she had lifting her head to look you in the eye–but you would quickly forget her frailty in the presence of her mighty personality. And Cindy encouraged the rest of us to forget.

Cindy painted her disease as a minor inconvenience. When filling out a form that asked about special needs she always checked NONE.  “I can do anything anyone else can do, just more slowly.” She refused to give chronic illness oxygen by talking about it or complaining.

The only regret I ever heard her express was sadness that no man had ever loved her. If only one had looked past her disability and seen her.

Cindy’s death stalked her from childhood. She fought it and lost, but even this close to her death I can’t think about her without smiling. Cindy was so much more than a  body visibly self-destructing.

She had an agile and active mind. Surgeries to repair hips and spine started early and her biggest fear was that in fixing her body her one sharp tool would be compromised. As she climbed up out of the anesthesia she always had her father quiz her on math. He tended to go easy on her. “Four times five. ” Cindy would roll her eyes (her eye rolling mechanism worked just fine).”Da-ad…at least do fractions!”

In her twenties she asked her doctor about his other patients of about that age with the same condition, how were they doing? (Cindy was competitive). The doctor answered reluctantly; there were no other patients who had lived into their twenties with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. She was the sole survivor.

I realize I am dwelling on the very thing she rarely talked about, but one last story about Cindy’s illness. She took a trip to Lourdes with a priest friend. I don’t think she was expecting a miracle; Cindy was practical, but she wasn’t expecting a reverse miracle, which is what she got. While in that place of spontaneous recovery Cindy broke a hip. She joked that she was the only one to visit Lourdes and make a withdrawal from the pile of cast-off crutches.

What was Cindy besides a bad-luck body? Cindy was perhaps the sunniest person I have ever known, and the mind that demanded fractions was the mind of a natural teacher. She earned a PhD in education and used it to launch a thousand classroom teachers. Unlike many academics Cindy stressed real-world experience and had her students in classrooms as early as possible. Although teaching an elementary school class of her own would have been impossible she was  adopted by the classes she visited weekly. I went on a visit with her and watched as twenty-four kids mobbed her.

Cindy made my life a better place too. She sought me out early in my career as a children’s book author. She arranged my first school visit. No matter where she went she suggested my books for state lists and created speaker spots for me at conferences.

Cindy died last Saturday, two days shy of her 54th birthday. The named cause was pneumonia but it was the arthritis wearing her down day after day, knotting her fingers,  breaking her bones, that ultimately killed her. The news came to me from one of her students–in the last few years she had been teaching in Ohio and I saw her several times on Skype when I spoke to her classes. She was always surrounded by the eager faces of education students, the children she never had.

The countless teachers she launched are Dr. Cynthia  Bowman’s legacy–that and the memories we keep of her. Our mutual  friend, Joan Kaywell, says she consoles herself by imagining Cindy, now free of her cumbersome body and dancing, a drink in each hand.

Perhaps sometimes Lourdes takes a while to work.

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§ 11 Responses to Dr. Cindy.

  • deb reilly says:

    Thanks for sharing a portrait of someone who made a difference.


  • robinecker says:

    Wow. I, too, had an example of a miraculous human being similar to this amazing woman. She was my cousin, Peg, and I lost her last September to ovarian cancer. So much of what you say about your Dr. Cindy could be said of Peg.


  • craig reeder says:

    that was very moving. i’m sure it was a terrible blow for you to absorb as well. thanks for sharing her spirit with us all.


  • I remember Cindy’s name on our list of influentials and never knew what her history was. Thank you for sharing this and what a wonderful person she was.


  • A person to inspire.
    Most of us have been touched in some way by someone like Dr. Cindy, but you are expressing her connection with you so eloquently.
    As for why someone didn’t take the step & date- look at us.
    Who among us took that step in our dating years.
    Occasionally we know someone who did.
    That instance is rare.

    Lovely essay & thank you for it.


  • KM Huber says:

    I doubt there is a line that makes her smile more than ” forget her frailty in the presence of her mighty personality” unless it is “Cindy was perhaps the sunniest person I have ever known.” Yours is a telling testament to friendship and no doubt she continues to toast it.


  • Kathleen says:

    Thank you, thank you, Adrian, for this remembrance. You described the Cindy I knew. Kathleen


  • Nancy mcCracken says:

    What a lovely tribute! This is the Cindy I’ve known since she came to study at Kent State in 1991. Her love of life and laughter remained strong right up to her last days. Thank you for writing these Cindy-stories.


  • Sue Cronkite says:

    What a wonderful story of strength and courage. I’ve known people with rhumatoid arthritis, and this fills my heart with hope for others.


  • SCG says:

    A truly inspirational story. Cindy is forever cherished by those she touched. I know her story has touched me. Thank you for sharing and honoring her in such a caring way.


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