Monday, October 26, 2015

The Truth in Judy's Eyes

Her brown eyes looked absorbed in fear but it was really hard for me to know because I wasn’t the one wearing the drab hospital gown.

The sterile antiseptic smells confused the reality of our family’s new normal.

I’m not sure what I was seeing in her eyes.

Maybe what I was seeing was her thirst. Finally something I could do. The nurse gave me a cup with water and a little stick with a sponge attached to its tip so I could moisten Judy’s dry lips. The morphine minimized the pain throughout her body but didn’t make it go away. Gently I dabbed her lips afraid I was hurting her. A little water dripped down her chin.

When the door of her room opened her eyes became wider and filled with dread, or so it seemed. My cousin directed her gaze from me to her brother who walked into the room full of life.

His entrance ushered in a quip that relegated me back to the sidelines of the aluminum bed rail as he took over and attended to his sister’s dry mouth.

Then someone assured her not to worry, that I would take her children home that night. I didn’t understand why her eyes looked fearful at the thought of me helping. Maybe because when she first learned she had cancer her husband had left her and their two children to figure this mess out. While I’m thinking I just wanted to do something and offer comfort, maybe she felt helpless and vulnerable.

For the longest time I was left with the haunting look of her wide fearful eyes and the quip from her brother. I felt like I had failed at the simple task of moistening her lips and driving her kids home.


But in reality there was so much more going on. In the middle of Judy’s pain it wasn’t about me but it was about all of us, collectively, as a family, cousins, aunts, uncles, sisters, brothers, friends and more. Judy had the cancer, but everyone was affected by it and in different ways.

Does one really know what to say in these situations? It’s so awkward trying to be strong, patient, helpful, respectful, quiet, do, don’t, sit, stand, pace, sleep, eat, don’t, coffee, junk food.

Maybe it really was fear that I saw when her brother walked jovial and unabashed into the room. Maybe she wanted him to rescue her and maybe that's what he was trying to do. Maybe it was her fear and his fear and my fear colliding at the bedside when I passed the cup of water and sponge to him.

Our internal cry of helplessness just didn’t know what else to do.

I mean, a week ago when I visited Judy at this very hospital she sat in bed alert and spry. She rallied. She was eating and joking. After six plus years of radical treatments locally and in Mexico, changing her diet, juicing, wearing aluminum free deodorant, it seemed she won the battle with the enemy. It was a miracle. She beat it. She sat upright in bed with an appetite that said, “I’m coming home soon.”

For six years she fought to stay in her children’s lives and in her own life. In awe, I still see the juicer on her counter and the trays of cookies she was making as she navigated her kitchen with victory.

So how is it a week after the rally, she looked like an 80 year old writhing in pain while I sponged water on her lips?

I guess because that’s what can happen.

During my cousins end days, there was a huge room on the floor that our family took over. It came in handy especially when my uncle had a heart attack, probably from the stress of watching his daughter die. Even my uncle, a retired Sargent and Marine, and two of his sons, Marines, couldn’t stop the cancer.

But Divine orchestration put my uncle in the same hospital as Judy so the family could visit them both.

Imagine my aunt going between floors to see her husband and daughter.

My uncle didn’t die and was able to be with his daughter when she did. And my aunt, the one who seemed the frailest, is the strongest of us all. She prayed to our Lord before, during and after. Why? Because that is the foundation of her Rock solid strength.

  • Perhaps that is why Judy had six more years to raise her children till they were past elementary age.
  • Perhaps that is why my uncle landed in the same hospital.
  • Perhaps that is why we had this huge room to plop in, sleep in, play games in.
  • Perhaps her continued faith gave us all strength and endurance during an experience that is so unnatural. 
R to L - Judy and one of her three brothers
 Dying at forty seemed so young and unfair, but how much she fought to live and lived during those six years. Perhaps her perseverance came from her faith which she learned from her mom.

When Judy sat up in bed looking ready to go home, we all thought she would.

Well apparently she did. Just not to the address we were accustomed to writing letters to.

Judy's presence is surely missed but there's comfort in knowing when we see her, we'll find her on that solid Rock foundation.

I know this story is heavy but it was put on my heart to share.
L to R - my aunt & Judy


We may feel helpless but don’t negate the love in a smile, showing up, holding a hand, serving chipped ice. The ones left behind are often the ones that feel like they failed at saving but we have no control over events out of our control.

A moment such as this is so fragile. I learned the innuendo reflected in the eyes isn’t always what I think I’m seeing. As soon as I learn it isn’t about me, room is made to see what else might be going on. We all grieve differently. Let that be okay too.

Isaiah 63:13

Cousins. Judy is second in from bottom Right 
(holding my sister)

Cousins. Judy is top row at left.
L to R - Judy, me, my sister
L to R - me and Judy 

5 comments :

Debra Levesque said...

What a tribute to your cousin and her brave fight!

Linda Loegel said...

Okay, Tammy Sue, now you've gone and done it. I thought I could read your article with dry eyes, but I'm sitting here with tears streaming down my face. Judy was a delight, she was my godchild, my kindred spirit, my niece. I cried all through her celebration of life service and here I am, crying again. Tammy Sue, you have a talent of touching people with your words. Don't ever lose it.

Tammy Sue Willey said...

Debra, thank you. There is really no easy way to share a sad story other than share it. She was brave.

Tammy Sue Willey said...

Dear mom, aka Linda Loegel, sorry I made you cried. Some of our stories are trying but you keep encouraging me to write through them in spite of. Thank you mom.

Anonymous said...

Well written, Tammy Sue. You get better and better with each post. And such a loving tribute to your cousin. Love, HKBC 1.5