They were sitting in a doctor’s office at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center when told the news.
It was the spring of 2004, just over a decade ago.
They had expected that Lois “Tot” Schultz Ashworth would be diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease. All the tests and symptoms pointed that direction.
But it’s one thing to think the worse, and totally different to be given a death sentence.
“We knew what the ultimate end was going to be,” Sam Ashworth said.
For the next three years, Lois Ashworth, a flamboyant woman and retired teacher from Lakota Local School District, and her companion for 21 years and her husband for 10 years, Sam Ashworth, fought the disease with every ounce of strength. They even formed a group called “Team Tot.”
You already know how this story ends.
Ashworth, 12 days shy of her 62nd birthday, died on Jan. 13, 2007 after losing her battle against ALS. During her memorial service — fittingly called “My Life In Song” — her contributions to Middletown, where she lived, and West Chester Twp., where she taught, were celebrated through music, memories and an emotional slide show. I was there that day, and now, more than seven years later, I think of “Tot” every time I drive by the West Chester Church of the Nazarene.
You consider yourself a lucky person if you have the opportunity to meet one person like Lois Ashworth in your life.
And, for me, the strangest part is we never talked. The day I interviewed her, ALS had already stolen her ability to speak, so she answered my questions on a computer. It was one of those days that made me proud to be a journalist because it opened Ashworth’s door — and her life — to me.
Sam Ashworth divides his wife’s struggle with ALS into stages: Diagnosis, treatment, and finally the “gradual decline” when she was bedridden the last year of her life.
He said the disease came on slowly and now, looking back, he remembers his wife having trouble with her throat and her ability to walk upstairs. His wife tried alternative medicines and visited specialists in Atlanta and Colorado.
But ALS won out as it always does.
Throughout the three-year battle, Lois Ashworth never lost her zeal for life.
“She just stayed positive until the very end,” her husband said. “We just dealt with it on a day-to-day basis.”
One of the Ashworth’s closest friends is Ann Mort, a Middletown businesswoman and longtime volunteer in the community. She spent much time in the Ashworth home, and she remembers “a private conversation” she had one day with Lois. As Mort talked, Ashworth, who had beautiful handwriting, responded in her journal. Then Sam stopped by, looked over her shoulder, and she quickly closed the book.
“She let him know that it was a private conversation,” Mort said with a laugh. “She found a way to communicate.”
There was another time when the Ashworths and Dick and Ann Mort had dinner together at the Manchester Inn. By this time, Lois was too weak to walk, so she was carried by her husband.
“…in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part.”
They had dinner together, though Lois, because she couldn’t swallow, didn’t eat. She never complained, Mort said. Not once.
“She was solid to the end,” Mort said. “She showed us a classy way to die.”
She died the same way she lived.
Source: journal-news via Kristi Jo Jedlicki
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