Judy’s Story

When I published the Looking Back essay to the Year on the Road–Again site, I asked for personal anecdotes from 2012 by readers.  Most were light remarks from people pleased to see the blog resurface.

But one reply so speared my heart I could not simply approve it to appear in the comments.  Sheri’s message appears next and is followed by thoughts that came to my mind.  

“2012 was a strange year for me, punctuated by the sad passing of a dear friend. One of my roommates from college contracted pancreatic cancer in 2011 and died 10 months later. The odd thing (besides seeing the first of my close friends die — prematurely at age 65 by the way) was that she had no family. Having been divorced in her thirties with no children and having survived her unmarried brother and parents, she had no kids, grandkids, siblings, parents, or even nieces or nephews. I mean, who dies with not even an estanged brother or sister out there somewhere? Anyway, her closest college friends (four or us) formed a little family and saw her through to the end. I made seven trips to NYC in 10 months. The others lived there and were present every day from diagnosis to death. And here is the thing I will never forget. My friend Judy loved her life (as a very successful lawyer, charitable and active supporter of the arts in the most exciting city in the world, and one of the smartest, strongest people I have ever known). She loved her own life more than most people I know but NEVER, not even once, said “why me?” or carried on about what was happening to her. She simply remained optimistic until the end that she had more time (she didn’t), and tried to make all of us feel comfortable with what was happening to her. Then, when it was apparent she could fight no longer, she switched to saying good-bye and planning her own funeral and memorial service – – something quite memorable, by the way, as we held it at Jazz at Lincoln Center at her request and the tributes to her were nothing short of inspirational.

If I were a deeper, more spiritual person, I might be able to extract some wisdom from the experience. But I’m not. I just feel she got gypped and didn’t deserve such an abrupt ending to such a joyful life. Guess there is no one to see about that. Oh, of course, there is the obvious life lesson – – nothing is more important than one’s health. And I know Judy would have gladly traded all her considerable material possessions for more time. More time to just work, play, be. I don’t know if I could ever be as brave as she was . . .”

The bouillabaisse of ideas was too much to separate the first read, and after a few days, I decided that too few people would sample the soup if the message were posted in a Comments sections, especially after most people would have already read the day’s essay and moved on.  So I decided Judy’s Story should be its own blog (and Sheri my first guest blogger)

Although there is an implied permission to publish a comment, there’s an intimacy in Sheri’s words that prompted me to ask again, and she agreed her comments were public.

Several of my thought fragments are still prompting further stirring.  I share my unfinished thoughts that they may prompt you to weave them further for yourself and share what you care to.

The moment in the essay that got me the most choky was that one can have a set of friendships so bonded that they would create a support family for the end time of the life of one of them.  This seems something that women are so much better at than men. And why that should be so is a topic worth examining for its own sake.

I have long believed that cancer’s single gift is that of warning.  A cancer death is not instantaneous.  There is time to get ready–to deal with the business of the end of life.  We all know that we need to deal with the disposition of assets and cherished objects.  

Moreover, it is a time to make things right.  To apologize.  To forgive.  To say the unsaid.  To express the inexpressible.

And, I suppose, to come to terms with the meaning of one’s own life.  To note what legacies will endure and which ones will not.  I imagine it is the actions that affect others psychologically that are lasting and the ones with material effects which are ephemeral.

Final days are a time to take pride in accomplishments, and to forgive oneself for unwise choices.

I cannot recall who it was that said, “We all die alone.”  In one way I suppose that is true. In one way Judy died alone, having outlived every member of her family.  Yet, an instant family was born to fill that space.

We live our entire lives as though we are immortal and indestructible.  I know I do.  I wonder when it will dawn on me that it is otherwise.  There is a part of me that believes it will not be until the last beat of my heart.  In fact I kind of hope so.

I am told Americans fear death as almost no other culture.  Others view death as one cycle of life.  In fact billions of people believe that corporeal death is not the end of anything except the body.

Judy must have been a good woman to have inspired her friends to close in around her to nurture and comfort.  How I would like to have known her.

Of course if this touches a grace note you’d care to share, we’d all welcome hearing from you.

 
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About allevenson

Writer (of stories, journals, email dialogues), Reader (of books written by friends, recommended by friends, and works-in-progress of friends), Hiker (never met a trailhead I didn't like), Biker (more scenery for the buck than hiking) and lately, Blogger (about my Year on the Road at www.allevenson.wordpress.com).
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10 Responses to Judy’s Story

  1. Evelyn W. says:

    What a wonderful story. We will all eventually pass over to the other side. Death is guaranteed no matter what your beliefs on life and death are. Thanks for sharing this person’s experience.

  2. Colleen Rae says:

    Like you, Al, I choked up when I read this. Judy was indeed a marvelous and upbeat woman. It reminded me of my friend, Tina who I knew through our AIDS work together at the Ctr for Additudinal Healing in Sausalito, CA. She was with my son when he died of AIDS. She had gently helped many make their earthly transitions and at age 63 she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Her two daughters rallied around her and took her to specialists and experts. She had surgery at one point but to no avail. She did live 9 or 10 months longer after diagnosis but throughout it all, with her daughters constantly searching for new techniques and treatments she stayed positive. At the end, her daughters said she welcome her transition. I find her courage and positive attitude a refreshing and unusual example of waht we humans can be all about. She and Judy are great examples for all of us to live up to.

  3. L says:

    Welcome Back Al, we’ve been waiting.

  4. David L says:

    I had a daughter-in-law who planned the celebration of her death, right down to the words to be spoken, and again it was a protracted cancer. Collette was a woman who knew who she was, fully acquainted with her reflection and satisfied with what she had done at forty.

    Judy also appears – and she does today in the words above – to be a strong person: well put together and aware of the world she inhabits. I think that is the principal accomplishment for somebody wanting to die right, to face the end of this “cycle” in peace, satisfied with their status.

    My father outlived his friends by well over a decade and welcomed death, though not in pain when it came. He led a robust life never thinking about legacy but reaching out to a broad experience, turning new corners at 70 and 80, and always making new friends. While not in Who’s Who, I always considered him accomplished, noting again when he died – peacefully and satisfied – that he was full to the brim with where he had been and what he had started and mostly completed.

    Judy appears to be of that ilk. A person who filled her life with experience and friends – good ones too as clearly demonstrated – and while early to leave, satisfied with what she had done.

    Thanks for the story, Sheri and Al – timely as we face the new year.

  5. Dave Bauer says:

    Both your message and Sheri’s story are timely ones for me, since I returned home Saturday afternoon from a memorial celebration of the life of a dear friend, colleague and fellow sailor, Paul Kinney. Paul died at age 87, not from cancer, but from Alzheimer’s Disease and accompanying maladies. None the less, he displayed the same indomitable spirit as did Judy in which the power of their minds transcended physical challenge. It seems to me that both individuals provide clear evidence for the presence of a spiritual self in human life that transcends the biological and that continues to permeate human consciousness beyond death.

    To be more concrete in Paul’s case, I am including below an excerpt taken from the obituary published at the time of his death. (1)

    PAUL T. KINNEY Soldier, Scholar and Sailor Paul T. Kinney, 87, passed away Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012 in Chico. He was born Sept. 27, 1925 in San Jose, CA. During WWII, Paul enlisted in the Army while he was 17 years of age and still in High School. After his basic training, he was assigned to Company C, 432rd Reg. 106th Inf. Division, which was in the middle of the Battle of the Bulge. Paul was a “runner”. The runner’s job was to carry communications between the front lines and command posts in the rear. This required him to be frequently exposed to enemy fire, and consequently Paul was wounded twice, earning two Purple Heart medals. His second wound was caused by shrapnel from a German artillery shell and was severe. He was incapacitated by his wounds and left lying unconscious in the snow on the battle field. The front lines were fluid, and neither side was taking prisoners. When Paul regained consciousness, a German soldier had a boot on Paul’s wrist and was removing a watch. Fortunately for Paul, he decided not to shoot him and took him to a German military hospital, where he was treated and retained as a POW until he was liberated in 1945. After his liberation, Paul was a patient in a military hospital near his home in San Jose, where he spent two years in recovery. While hospitalized, he earned his High School diploma. Following that achievement, he enrolled in San Jose State College and earned his B.S. He continued his education at USC, where he earned a PhD in economics in 1957. After completing his PhD, Paul and his family moved to Urbana, IL, where he was an Assistant Professor of Finance at the University of Illinois. While there, he discovered the new technology of computers. After seven years in Illinois, Paul wanted to return home to California. From 1963-1966, Paul was a Professor of Finance at California State University, Fullerton, as well as the Director of the computer center. In 1967, he was appointed the acting Dean of the School of Business Administration at Fullerton State. In 1968, he came to Chico State University as head of the newly created Division of Business. Paul’s goal was to create a School of Business that would meet the high standards established by Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International (AACSB). In 1972, admission to the (AACSB) was achieved, and Paul was appointed the first Dean of the College of Business at Chico State. He continued in this capacity until 1979. Early in the development of computers, Paul was instrumental in acquiring the necessary space and hardware for a computer laboratory for the College of Business. He was a pioneer in the use and development of business simulations designed to be used in the classroom, which became popular with other Schools of Business. Under his leadership, Chico was designated the first Small Business Development Center in the nation. In 1980, Paul returned to teaching in the classroom and research. He continued this until his retirement in 1986.

    To briefly clarify the nature of the wound that Paul suffered during the Battle of the Bulge that led to his unconsciousness, the piece of shrapnel entered and destroyed one of his eyes and damaged a part of his brain.

    (1)Downloaded from the obituary in Chico Enterprise Record at http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/chicoer/obituary.aspx?n=paul-t-kinney&pid=161185189 on January 12, 2013.

  6. Sheri Cohen says:

    Thanks to everyone for your kind and thoughtful comments. And thanks to you, Al, for the opportunity to address and expand on this topic. Sheri

  7. Colleen Rae says:

    Many of us are constantly reminded of the resilience of mankind. We are capable of herioc and mind-boggling behavior. We often amaze each other and ourselves at our flexability and innovation.

  8. karen wittgraf says:

    I have been waiting for more stories, Al. Found this one online and still tearing. Yes, we all fear death..for many reasons, but I think the fear is often based on how our loved ones will cope with our loss. Life cycles- yes. Natural. Yes. Acceptance. Much harder..
    I’m waiting for your next story,
    Karen

  9. Jim Brady says:

    We “fear death,” as it were, because we think of it inter vivos. In living, we have the opportunity, if not the burden, of re-examination, in the negative – recrimination. In death, there is none of that, irrespective of your religious beliefs, There will be no post-death comparitor. This suggests, I think, that we spend too much live-energy on the thought of death and its consequences. When one is dead, one is dead, if there is something after that, prepare yourself going forward, not in retro-thinking. We should spend one’s energy in the NOW – the happiness of the NOW (or, sadly, the terrible unpleasantness of being human, if that’s what makes one happy).

    jcb

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