And now I find myself reflecting on some lessons I have learned through this experience. I'm sure the list will continue to grow in the months that follow. But, in the moment, here is a start.
1.Stay in touch.
In the year before Judy got sick, both she and I found ourselves seeing less and less of each other. No, we hadn't had a falling out or anything dramatic. Nope, it was as simple as the kids got older, the schedules got fuller and we just sort of drifted apart. As I look back on the past 8 months, I was able to re-connect with an old friend. And yet, even that was bittersweet. As a nurse, it was only natural that I played the "what if" game of being an early detector. What if we had been together more in those months leading up to her illness, would I have sensed her health was more compromised and pushed her to go see the doctor sooner? I know that the What if game really doesn't get you anywhere...so instead, I shall focus on the importance of staying in touch. Make time for coffee with friends, drop in unannounced (as I used to do but had gotten out of the habit), make those ritual summer trips back to Wisconsin to see friends and family. If face-to-face contact isn't always realistic, at least stay in touch through other means. Email, phone calls, facebook: use what you've got but stay in touch.
2. Bake Cookies
During Eric's eulogy (which by the way, rocked the house), he mentioned so many things about Judy but for me, the cookie baking remains a lingering memory. Who doesn't prefer a home baked cookie over a store bought variety? I can think of no better way to show someone you care by offering them a home-baked cookie (or other baked treat). So, there you go, you have been warned...expect more cookies to be coming your way.
Sort of along the lines of staying in touch, yet this is a broader lesson. Honestly, we can't be in touch and close with everyone that we meet. That dilutes the quality of our relationships.. But, we can create a sense of community that supports us when one is in a rough spot. Judy's many communities were well represented on Friday. Beyond her immediate family, I spotted members of Eric's work community, friends from Judy's volunteer efforts, many friends from the girls' school communities. But the one that warmed my heart the most was seeing so many people from our own neighborhood community of Park View. Maybe they had met Judy only while she was out walking her huge dogs through the open spaces. Or perhaps they only knew of her through others stories of her fun filled ways. Perhaps they were part of her amazing Angel Tree. It didn't really matter: here in the suburbs, where we often wonder does anyone know their neighbors any more, was a community that really came together. It is critical that where ever we go, whatever we do...we connect with our community on some level.
By far, the biggest lesson I have learned from Judy during our 14+ years of friendship is to Be Happy. A couple years ago, long before this cancer became known, I shared my gratitude of Judy in one of my Thanksgiving posts. Those observations of her being able to find Joy in the Journey remain stronger than ever. Being happy was Judy's trademark feature. A few of us were included into her inner circle and know that she had plenty of reasons to be less than happy with the way her childhood abruptly ended when she was 14 and her mother passed away rather suddenly. She did not let that define her adult experiences and went on to be part of one of the happiest marriages I have ever seen, raising 3 amazing, bright, and happy girls.
When she was diagnosed, her desire to be happy continued to be a request of hers. As a slightly more cynical type, I thought at first this was a coping strategy more closely aligned with denial. But, as I watched her story unfold, I realized, nope, this was simply Judy's way of approaching her illness. Through this ability to be happy, even when there are 1001 reasons not be...she is showing her daughters that you can make it through tough times.
For Judy, her tough times have ended. Her faith in God and her belief in the everlasting life assures us that she continues to be happy. We honor her and her friendship when we try to find that happiness and joy in this journey...even if we are a bit more of an Eeyore in our approach to life.