BATH — Family and friends of 7-year-old Ruth Merrill struggled Tuesday to find words to describe how a girl with so many physical disabilities touched so many people in such a short life.

“She was literally the light of God on this earth,” said her mother, Meadow Merrill of Bath. “We met her when she was 18 months old, fresh off a plane from Uganda. She was a peanut, yet she had this grin … this giggle and this light in her eyes that drew in everyone she met.”

Ruth, a first-grader at Dike-Newell Elementary School in Bath who loved drawing, being read to and playing dress-up with her sister, Lydia, died unexpectedly on Sunday.

Ruth was born in Uganda and cared for by workers from Welcome Home Ministries Africa, a children’s home in Jinja. She was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at age 1.

Soon after, Ruth arrived in Maine with the help of a local grass-roots organization formed to bring children to the area who need medical attention. She first lived with a host family in Topsham.

In October 2004, Ruth came to live with Dana and Meadow Merrill and their children in Bath. On Tuesday, her mother remembered the day they met.

“We felt that she belonged to us. It was literally as if she was born to us. The feeling was that intense,” she said.

“We knew it was crazy to adopt a (child) the same age as our daughter with such profound needs. There wasn’t a question in our minds that we were meant to do it. The greatest joy and satisfaction I have is knowing we did.”

When the Merrills learned that Ruth was deaf, the family worked tirelessly to adopt her. In the summer of 2005, Ruth and Meadow Merrill traveled to Uganda to finalize the adoption. She became a U.S. citizen on Valentine’s Day in 2006.

Ruth excelled at spelling and was learning how to read and use her computer, which was hot pink — Ruth’s favorite color. She also did schoolwork using an alphabet board — one of the ways she communicated was by sticking out her tongue, which meant “yes.”

School officials called the parents of Ruth’s classmates to let them know she had died. A school counselor stayed in Ruth’s classroom Monday so students could share their feelings.

Christina Dumont of Brunswick, who provided additional care to Ruth, choked up Tuesday afternoon when talking about Ruth’s favorite activities.

She said Ruth loved playing with her sister. One of the last things they did together was finish a book that Ruth wrote about her doll, Rose, going to school.

“It’s a huge loss,” Dumont said. “There are no words to describe it, but at the same time there is comfort because I know I will see her again. She had the best laugh and the most beautiful smile.”

Gregory Vinson, senior pastor at Elim Community Church in Bath and a close family friend, said Ruth was an exceptional little girl who touched the lives of many people.

“She was my No. 1 fan,” he said. “Ruthie was truly an amazing little girl. Our prayers go out to the family and the community at large who knew her. I can only hope and pray that I can live my life like Ruthie.”

Last week, Ruth had developed a cold and had a low fever. On Sunday, she died. Her mother said Ruth’s doctors are baffled.

“There is truly no answer. I have to believe that she was here for the time she was meant to be here,” her mother said. “We loved her while she was here. We love her still and we are glad that she was never alone. There was never a day that she wasn’t loved.”

 

Staff Writer Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at: [email protected]