At the age of 29, I married my husband Al, who was a widower. His first wife, Jane, died of breast cancer. She left behind four children, a loving extended family and an entire town of friends. Helplessly, hopelessly in love with Al, the kids, and with only a slight tolerance for the dog, I jumped into the marriage with both feet. Believing it was the best move for the kids to not be uprooted after the trauma they had already endured, I sold my home and moved into a log house the small mountain community of Midway, Utah that Al and Jane had called home. I really believed that I could come into this charming village, give up my career, throw myself into a life of service, and be a stay-at-home-mom. I also believed that, in turn, the community and friends of the family would open their arms up and accept me. I was hoping that, through them, I could learn about Jane: Jane the wife — Jane the mother of my children — Jane the girlfriend. I decided I’d throw myself into this new adventure and learn to call it home.
Love can be so blind.
After a year of the most difficult time of my life, overwhelmed with kids, cooking, cleaning and all the thankless tasks that fall under the heading of motherhood, I was desperately lonely. I’m a girlfriend kind of girl. I love having friends in my life and I had always been blessed to have an abundance of them. But no matter how I tried, I couldn’t make friends. Determined to pull myself up by my bootstraps, I tried everything. Despite the fact that I was active in the community, church and civic activities, out of some misplaced sense of loyalty to Jane, no one wanted to be my friend. They were happy to let me work behind the scenes on projects, volunteer at the school lunch room and make bread for the bake sale, but no one would accept my lunch invitations, no one invited me to baby showers and no one thought to include Al and I in their social activities. Being the positive, outgoing person I have always been, I kept trying… reaching out as if life was normal but no one heard my heartfelt pleas for friendship that I so desperately needed. I cried a lot.
I was beginning to think that all of Jane’s friends were the most horrible people God ever created. In my pain, I didn’t realize that almost everyone was still grieving the loss of their dear friend, Jane, and I was a constant reminder that she was gone.
Everyone, except one.
Judy and Jane had been very close, dear friends for over 15 years in Texas. Their friendship bonded them together through some of the toughest times in their lives. Judy, a fiery redhead with a personality to match, had flown to Jane’s side during the last month of her life. They were very, very close.
One day, about a year in to my marriage, I got a phone call from Judy. At this point I had only met her and her husband Tim once, very, very briefly. When she called, she sounded weak; ill. “Suzy, I need you” was all she said.
Me? She needed me? Why would she want me when none Jane’s friend’s wanted anything to do with me? But before I could utter a sound, she turned the phone over to her husband who filled in the details.
Judy had just had cosmetic surgery, a face lift. All had gone well when she suddenly she took a turn for the worse and complications set in, the kind that only happen to one in a million patients. Judy developed a blood clot, an infection and a trip to the emergency room. Now out of critical care, Judy was finally home. Emotionally, physically and mentally spent, she needed a friend – but her best friend was dead.
“Look Suzy” Tim said, “Judy’s feeling pretty low. On top of all the medical issues, she’s feeling guilty over having had this elective surgery to begin with. She is home now, stable and on her way to recovery. But I have a business trip to Europe for the next 8 days. I don’t feel good about leaving her alone. All she’s been saying is she wants Jane. Then last night she said, ‘Call Suzy’. I know you don’t know her well, but will you come?”
Without missing a beat, I said “Yes.”
The next morning I was boarding a flight to Austin, Texas, hoping I’d recognize Tim at the airport. It was easy as he greeted me with open arms. When I finally walked into Judy’s bedroom, where she laid propped up with pillows and ice packs, she started to cry. As she poured out her heart to me about her predicament, how she missed Jane and needed a friend, I started to cry too.
Over the next eight days we laughed, we cried, and we talked endlessly about Jane. I read to her, and we joked about her swollen face. In the last few days, I helped make her presentable enough to venture out into public again. As she said goodbye to me, she thanked me profusely, proclaiming she could never have done it without me.
How had she known, this was just what I needed? How was she able, in her time of need, to reach out to me, someone even more needy than herself. My days in Judy’s service were eight of the most fulfilling days of my life. As I filled her cup and helped nurse this previous stranger back to health, my cup was filled too. Spending those eight sacred days with Judy gave me the time and distance to remember who I was and what I was capable of. I gained the courage to face my situation at home again. As I got off the airplane and headed back to my mountain home, I realized then and there that life was too short to be anywhere I wasn’t wanted. Al and I sold our home and moved to Coeur d’Alene Idaho. We bought a beautiful place on Hayden Lake and started over again. It was wonderful. Our kids blossomed and so did I.
Over the next several years Judy and I took a few girly trips together and had a lot of fun. We lavished ourselves in mud baths in Seattle, tried to experience death-by-chocolate in Victoria, BC and walked the beaches of the Oregon coast. Each time we left each other with our spirits renewed and our hearts uplifted. Through Judy, I came to love Jane.
Our lives eventually drifted off in different directions and we eventurally lost touch. Then a few years ago I tried to contact her and learned from her children that she had passed away. She had a very rapidly progressing form of ALS and died shortly after diagnoses. My heart is saddened when I think about her being gone.
But every once in a while I get an email from her youngest son, proudly showing off a picture of their little boy, Judy’s grandson. In the eyes of that feisty little redhead, I see the same fun, joy and compassion I remember in Judy. And it makes me smile.
Thanks Judy, for being the kind of friend that made Jane proud.