Monday, July 11, 2016

Tender Mercies: Sundays with Judi

This may be my only photo. Several years ago, she came to hear me speak about the book "Just Shy of Paradise."
Dear Judi, 
When I got word that you had “graduated” from this life, I was walking in Brooklyn to brunch with my daughter Ginger, daughter-in-law Joanna, and our new friend Lauren. We knew that I could receive the dreaded message at anytime, since I’d heard the evening before that your time was near. So when I felt the buzz in my pocket, I immediately glanced at my phone. When I saw that the inevitable had happened, my loved ones hugged me as I let the tears flow. I agonized that I hadn’t made it home in time. We had rescheduled our flight in hopes that it would make a difference. I had so wanted to sit with you one last time, even if you wouldn’t have been aware. I needed my Judi Berry time.
As we began down the street again, Joanna nudged me and pointed to the name of the street sign a block away, “Berry.” Was that you? Did you let me know that you knew I needed you? Did you prompt Becky to send the text at that moment? Since the beginning of our friendship, the tender mercies have so often been there. Your character and how you’ve handled your often very difficult challenges has taught me so much.

Berry Street in Brooklyn

So often during my NYC week, I thought about seeing you on Sunday as had become my habit over the last couple of years. I had hoped to tell you all about the trip because I knew you would genuinely be interested in what I experienced. In April, we had taken a trip to Mesa Verde just because you had told me so much about it. When I said, I was going you brought out all your pamphlets and said that we could take them as long as we took good care of them. The stop at Hovenweep was my favorite and I couldn’t wait to tell you all about it. You’d said, on your trips you couldn’t sleep the night before you’d be so excited. Every step through Long House, even when we were crawling through a tunnel from one part of the house to the other, I thought about you doing the same thing at a healthier time. Your enthusiasm and your passions were contagious.
Those rock trips, and Native American ruins trips happened before I really knew you. Before we became friends. Now instead of excitement, what kept you awake at night was pain and burning acid that didn’t even allow you to lie down. Remember that one Sunday? I looked through the window and saw you asleep at the kitchen table sitting upright in the chair. I hesitated to wake you, but gently knocked. You told me you had been awake all night except when you had fallen asleep standing at the kitchen counter. You cried when I came and said that you had been praying for someone to come to help. I told you that I would have come anyway, even without the prayer. You reminded me that I don’t come every single Sunday, that I miss a few. And then I told you that perhaps the answer to your prayer was that I’d brought my husband with me, which hardly ever happened. He shoveled all the walks while I helped with some things inside. I was glad that he got to experience what I had so often, to see you reflect on tiny miracles and tender mercies.
Another tender mercy was that the day you were diagnosed with Scleroderma, I happened to be walking through the Budge Clinic picking up my contacts. I heard my name and turned to see you alone in a waiting room. You’d said, “How many auto-immune disorders does one person have to have?” You were holding the pamphlet the doctor had given you, so that you could learn about what awful stuff was in store for you. We hugged. We cried. You courageously went on, handling the best you could what was a very rotten deal. You lost your husband when you were still young. Your body took a beating as one bad thing after another knocked you down, and yet, in spite of that you always found something, a reason to keep getting up. Something to look forward to: a phone call from a son, a new colt frolicking in the field out your window, a visit from a friend, a new book to read ahead of everyone else since your friends at North Logan Library put you at the top of the waiting list, or Shawn, the Bookmobile librarian would bring your books out to your car when you honked, or especially for a day when you felt “good.” Which we both knew meant you didn’t feel quite as rotten as usual. One of the best things to happen in this last part of your life is seeing you come alive again with all the quilting you’ve done. I knew you had made quilts before, mostly humanitarian but you’d had to put that away for a while. So when things got just a little better for you and you got out your sewing machine, you sparkled with renewed passion. I loved seeing the quilts, first in colorful shapes and pieces on your kitchen table, then as patterned squares, then as a top, and finally finished. Your biggest concern had become living long enough to finish the quilts for your grandchildren, your son and his wife, and especially for your last big masterpiece for Justin. But you did it! And you still managed to make a whole bunch of quilts for people who were terminally ill. You had laughed when I told you that I never wanted one of those quilts—not if I had to die to get one. Your sense of humor was so cute. I noticed how you could laugh and tell jokes about yourself, especially to caregivers, doctors and nurses. You always said thank you when people did even the smallest thing for you. You finally learned that you had to give up a little of your independence so you could stay in your house in your beloved town of Paradise. You never took that help for granted, not one little bit.
Some of your friends and your family have thanked me for “being so good to you.” I said, I did things for you because I loved you, but it was so much more for me than it was for you. The truth is that it was me that needed you. Someone else could easily have done the few things I did. But the sanctuary, the refuge, that you provided for me was so much more for my benefit than it ever was for you. Remember how many times, I knocked on the door, waited for the, “come in” and then slumped into your recliner, the chair that had become “Carole’s chair.” Even your sister Linda would vacate the chair for me unless I insisted otherwise. I spent many a tearful Sunday talking about my doubts, my challenges, and my angst, mixed with my joys and triumphs. Even though we both knew that your challenges were so much greater than mine, you still empathized in ways few others could, And I knew without having to say anything that my concerns would be kept between us. You respected privacy better than most of us. I felt such safety, such acceptance and no judgement toward me—just empathy, understanding and genuine love.
Sundays will be hard for me. My church often was sitting with you and sharing stories, concerns and insights—sacred time. I got to witness a remarkable friendship between you and your son Justin as he would inevitably call while I was there. Your banter and discussion with him was so ordinary yet endearing. One of the last conversations I remember was when you were telling him how excited you were to find potato chips without corn oil. You had told me that Justin had found you ice cream without corn syrup. Corn and many other items did terrible things to you, so instead of dwelling on that, you became enthused when you found things you could eat. Dwelling on the positives in life was something you were so good at. I used to tease you that you would get yourself admitted to Logan Regional Hospital just because they fixed the best Salmon in town. I should know since I ate more than half of yours that one time.
Thank you Judi. Thanks for your courage, your heart, your gracious and generous life. Everyone needs someone like you, a Judi Berry in their life. I’m so blessed I had you in mine. You were my tender mercy.
your friend,