In November of 2009, my wife, Judy, was diagnosed with stage 4 non-small-cell lung cancer and given a prognosis of one to two years to live. She endured many sessions of chemotherapy as well as radiation treatments without complaint, and with her faith intact. In fact, her faith grew tremendously during this time. She also was very bold in talking to doctors, nurses, nurses’ assistants, other cancer patients, and anyone else she could talk to about the Lord and salvation.
On January 7, after a courageous battle, Judy lost that battle and went home to be with Jesus.
But who was Judy as a person? What was so special about her?
As I wrote the eulogy that I gave at her funeral, I struggled with how to begin talking about who she is, and then around 3 am on the day before her funeral, it came to me. If I was only able to say one sentence to best describe Judy what would I say?
I would say this: Judy touched people’s lives in special ways.
So many people told me stories about something Judy did for them that they never forgot and that was the reason why they traveled from Chicago, Minneapolis, New York, and other places to be there for her funeral. Here are two such stories.
On January 23, 1976, Judy touched my life and we began a journey of deep love and total devotion to each other.
This was our first date, and we dined on shrimp tempura at Sam Mee’s in Chicago, went to a bar and listened to the group Aliota, Haynes, and Jeremiah, and fell in love. For the next 35 years we did everything together. That’s why on the night she passed, I needed to be there with her, at least until she stepped into eternity and I had to let her go, the saddest day of my life.
She also touched other lives.
A church we attended was reaching out to the poor neighborhoods of Madison, Wisconsin, and there was a family of a single mom and three or four children. Her youngest had a terminal illness but wanted to celebrate one more birthday. The mother told us that the doctors said she would not be alive for her next birthday.
This didn’t deter Judy, as she said, where is it written that you only had a birthday party on your birthday? She told the mother to invite who she wanted to a birthday party, asked her the child’s favorite cake and ice cream and what kinds of things she liked.
Judy could only do one thing, and that was go all out for the party. She baked the cake and other food, got balloons, streamers, party favors, and birthday party games, and some presents. We sang happy birthday, played games, and she opened her presents. The joy Judy got was seeing the smile on that little girl’s face. The girl died shortly after that, and I believe to this day that when that mother thinks of her lost child, she thinks of that birthday party.
At Judy’s wake we showed pictures of her that represented her life. As I reviewed the pictures, I was struck by how many of them showed Judy with either family members or friends. This was her great love in life. She loved being with her family and friends. Nothing was more important to her.
But it was more than that. A hospice nurse said Judy was a momma bear. Personally, I see her more as a mother hen brooding over her chicks and gathering them under her wings for protection. She brooded over me, obviously thinking I needed a lot of help, and over her sons and her grandchildren. She prayed for all of us all of the time and wanted nothing but the best for all of us.
But Judy’s wings were so big that she had plenty of room to brood over her friends. She prayed for so many of them and we spent a lot of time talking about each of them. She loved our small group tremendously. Even when she wasn’t feeling well and she went to our group, she left energized and lifted up and was glad she went.
Even as recently as the Monday before she passed, our dear friend Sue was at her side from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. At eight, Sue and I were in her room and Judy opened her eyes, looked at Sue, and said, “I love you, now go home,” and closed her eyes again. Sue and I looked at each other and laughed, and Sue obeyed. That’s how much Judy worried over her friends.
Judy joined our Branch of the Lord Prayer team at church and when she received a request she brooded over it, looked up Scripture, and wrote a prayer specific to that request. She viewed it as a sacred responsibility to create the best prayer she could.
The obituary said she loved cooking, gardening, and knitting. Many would call these hobbies or interests. I came to learn that to Judy, they were acts of love. Whether she was cooking a meal for someone coming to our house, making a pastor appreciation meal, or catering a reception for two poor people who wanted to be right before God, and get married, she put her heart and soul into the preparations. She did these things with love, and that is why everyone loved her food. She did the same with knitting and gardening.
Judy touched so many lives in so many special ways, and her light showing God’s love for us still shines so ever brightly today.
You might say our journey has come to an end but I would disagree. My love and devotion for Judy continue to grow, and I know someday Jesus will call me home and waiting for me at the gate of heaven will be Judy, and she will give me a big hug and a kiss. She will then put her hand in my hand and lead me to the kitchen and say, “Here is what I need you to do to help me prepare a meal for the saints.” Some things never change.
So today I am sad but not depressed, heartbroken but not distressed, mournful but filled with hope and joy, knowing she is in a better place, cured of her cancer and with her son she lost when he died at 3 months from SIDS.
I end with a quote from Martha Washington, in a reply to Governor Jonathan Trumbell shortly after the death of her husband George, which speaks to my heart:
“For myself, I have only to bow with humble submission to the will of God who giveth and taketh away, looking forward with faith and hope to the moment when I shall be again united with the partner of my life.”
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