Truman Patrick Howard passed away on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020, after a long, courageous battle with brain and spinal Sarcoma cancer. He was snuggled in bed, holding his lion, with his mom and dad by his side.
Truman was born Dec. 9, 2015, in Brookings. From birth, Truman was a fighter, having been born eight weeks premature and spending 29 days in the NICU. He was also born with a tethered spinal cord, requiring surgery at 6 months of age. After getting through that, Truman was an active and joyful little boy. He was incredibly smart and loved to learn new things, including learning about farms and construction vehicles and building complicated LEGO sets. He became enamored with law enforcement, and required everyone that was willing to play cops and robbers with him.
He loved singing and telling jokes and stories and could frequently be found driving his electric Dodge Viper or peddle go-kart around the neighborhood singing “Life is a Highway” or “Highway to the Danger Zone.” He developed a love for fighter jets after he found out our neighbor was a retired Air Force pilot (who made him a personalized flight suit and jacket), and was further heightened once he discovered the movie “Top Gun” (appropriate clips selected by mom and dad). He even had a fighter jet themed fourth birthday party.
Prior to COVID, he happily spent every Saturday morning at the Children’s Museum, and playing with the tractors at the Agricultural Heritage Museum at SDSU. He loved playing at the different parks around Brookings, and despite his physical limitations, was still able to find joy and fun in the different activities he could maneuver around. He loved counting his coins with dad and getting pulled on the bike trailer, occasionally letting his sister Rosie ride along. He loved baking with mom and doing school activities and taking frequent trips out to Grandpa Craig’s farm to check the crops and help with harvest. He loved playing music with Grandpa Craig and his latest obsession was having dance parties and blasting the music when we were in the car so could “hit the beats.” Nana introduced him to his love of Legos and he became obsessed after that. He could whip the sets up faster than we could buy them. He loved spending time at Nana’s house so he could play with the cats. He went to Grandpa Rich’s house when he needed to play repair shop with his matchbox cars, and between the two of them, they amassed quite the collection of cars. He would often help Grandpa Rich “mow the lawn” which involved the two of them riding the lawn mower around the block multiple times. In the summertime, he could be found playing in his sandbox (built by Grandpa Rich and Dad) or swinging on his swing set (built by Grandpa Craig), or racing cars down the downspout in our driveway.
Even after he was diagnosed with cancer in the summer of 2019, Truman never once complained about being sick. He went through countless rounds of chemotherapy, radiation, five surgeries, and multiple complications in between during the 16 months we were on this path. We spent Halloween, Thanksgiving, his birthday, Christmas, New Year’s, and many other special days in a hospital, but Truman was happy as long as he was with mom or dad.
He preferred to be at home and didn’t love all the procedures, but the doctors and nurses and therapists become a new normal and extended family for him, and he was sometimes as eager to tell them the new story of the day as anyone. Many law enforcement officers gave him “badge stickers” over the past year and it was a rite of passage for him to offer one up: if you were a doctor or nurse he approved of, he would say, “Mom, give them a sticker!”
We spent a good majority of our time working on physical therapy since the cancer in his spine originally took away his ability to walk, and PT Spencer and PT Dan eventually became good friends and co-conspirators of trouble with Truman. He worked so hard in those sessions, and was often so proud of himself afterwards that he could get through it.
It wasn’t work for him – it was play – and we are forever grateful for that. We know it was those efforts that kept him independently mobile as long as he was.
He had so many special experiences along his cancer journey, including police parades and touring the police department and law enforcement vehicles, a special trip to the South Dakota Air National Guard to watch the fighter jets take off and meet the pilots, sitting in medical helicopters for fun, and riding on a Zamboni at Larson Ice Arena and sitting in a Brookings fire truck. We were able to squeeze in a Make-A-Wish trip to Disneyworld right after chemo and before starting radiation in December of 2019, and it includes memories that we will cherish forever.
A first plane ride, staying in hotels with just mom and dad, riding roller coasters, and eating snacks all day. He amazed us with how strong he was on that trip and how happy the experience made him. For all the people and organizations that helped make those experiences happen, we will never be able to express how truly grateful we are – they gave him moments of feeling normal in a very scary and abnormal world.
He was the sweetest boy, and one of his favorite things to do was make cards for other people, or think of something nice we could do when someone was down. Despite his own situation, he was constantly thinking about making others happy. His life was a gift of joy to his family and those that knew him. Our hope is that everyone finds as much joy in life as Truman had on his best days. His favorite song in Sunday School was “This Little Light of Mine,” and that is what he was: our light. Our fervent hope is that anyone who knew him or had the privilege of talking to him, experienced his light and will carry it with them.
We want to thank the doctors, nurses, staff, therapists, and teachers from Sanford Children’s Hospital, the Mayo Clinic, Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare, the Brookings School District, and Kid’s World Learning Center for their ongoing care and support of Truman from his birth to his passing.
We also want to thank local area law enforcement for continually finding ways to make Truman feel special. He would frequently tell people he was “Deputy Truman,” pretended to catch speeders with a radar unit anytime we drove anywhere, and was determined to be a police officer when he got bigger – “they help keep us safe,” he would often say. He was planning to be a police officer for Halloween (with his little sister as a robber) and was planning a police-themed 5th birthday party. We will always remember the special officers who went above and beyond to make him feel special and included. We are grateful to all of you.
He is survived by his parents, Lance and Abbey (Howell) Howard and sister Rosemary Howard of Brookings, grandparents Rich Howard of Brookings, and Craig and Erica Howell of Volga, aunts and uncles Ashley (Howell) and Curtis Van Maanen of Volga,, Emily Howell of Brookings, Jacque (Howard) and JJ Story of Silverdale, WA, cousins Josephine and Madison Van Maanen of Volga,, and Natalie, Landon, and Madelynn Story of Silverdale, WA, and many great-aunts and uncles and extended relatives. He is preceded in death by his grandmother Jane Howard. We hold dear the hope that Grandma Jane and Truman are snuggling and playing until we all meet again.
A public visitation will be held Wednesday, Oct. 28, from 3 to 7 p.m. at the Community Life Center building, adjacent to the First United Methodist Church of Brookings. A private family Celebration of Life Service will be held at First United Methodist Church on Thursday, October 29, at 11:30 a.m.
The family service will be live streamed, and will be found at the following website the day of the service: https://www.605pro.com/live/. The family requires anyone in attendance, at either service, to please wear a mask, practice social distancing, and refrain from close contact. If anyone is ill or immunocompromised, we ask that you stay home out of respect for the safety of others.
In lieu of flowers, the family would ask that you make a donation to the Make-A-Wish South Dakota organization, the Ronald McDonald House at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare in St. Paul, Minnesota, or any organization focused on the study and research of pediatric cancer or sarcoma cancer.
Eidsness Funeral Home is assisting the family with arrangements.