I lived 1500 miles away from my sweet sister Judy and managed infrequently to find time to visit, more often calling her by phone. Judy passed away in October of 2008 just before her birthday. She had lived much of her adult life in a house, a group home, with seven other Down Syndrome adults. She worked in Newport, RI and was so very proud of that. My parents visited her often, until their deaths. Judy got to travel all over the country. She’d save the money she earned and wherever her goal was for, she’d travel with staff and have a blast. She went to the Bahamas, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and other locations across the United States. One thing we both shared a love of was flowers, bright and cheery flowers.
Judy was born with Down Syndrome and yet was quite a remarkable girl. We were very close and she’d ask me to take her to the movies, or shopping, and even hockey games to see the Boston Bruins play at the then Boston Garden, now a new construction called TD Garden in Boston. Often we’d play street hockey near our home and she laughed so hard whenever she hit me with the puck instead of the net. She was a rascal and loved to tease or play jokes on those she cared about. I can still envision her tiny 4’8″ frame, with hand on her right hip and her left hand snapping her fingers all the while saying, woohoo!
Two years prior to her death, she began the early stages of Alzheimers. It was so difficult for me during those final years of her life, especially long distance with her in Rhode Island and me in Florida. She often didn’t know me and I couldn’t supply her with hugs over the phone; although I knew that I probably needed them more than she may have.
Then late one evening, staff at the group home called me to say it wouldn’t be long. I cried hard and long; Martin hugging me and with tears right there with me. I tried finally to get a little sleep but before I did, I lay awake and prayed. I remember envisioning talking to Judy and saying, “It’s okay to let go honey. You can let go now; you don’t have to suffer any more. We’ll be just fine. Good night and remember I love you!” That was about 12:15 a.m. A little before 2:00 the phone rang and I jumped up from bed to answer knowing who would be on the other end. Judy had passed calmly and gently at 12:30 a.m. Coincidence? Maybe not …
Up in Rhode Island, sitting in the funeral home, I expected the viewing to be grievous, without any positive uplifting influence. I was wrong. So many visitors arrived to give their farewells, tell stories of their times with Judy and to inspire us about her life. They told how she really lived life, not begrudging it while she faced her challenges. In fact, everyone said distinctly how Judy always had a smile, a wink and the darnedest funny, yet adorable sayings.
Each visitor recounted how Judy touched their lives in some remarkable ways. Ms. Betty, the Head of Nursing said, “The group home was really boring before Judy came to live here. She arrived and brought excitement with her. When she arrived, she shook things up and rocked their world! Judy loved music and loved to dance and somehow with her easy style, she managed to charm everyone up on the floor with her. There was always so much laughter with her around – everyone loved her! And we all will miss her greatly.”
Dr. Benjamin, who is now a clinical psychologist, revealed his first days years ago as an intern for the group home Judy called home. “It was getting to the end of my shift and I was getting ready to leave for the night. I was saying good-bye to everyone. Judy cozied on up to me and asked, ‘Can I go too?’ I laughed so hard; she was just beautiful.”
Judy ‘rocked’ their worlds alright; they loved her as much as she loved them and they will miss her perhaps as much as I will. There may be a misconception on who actually was handicapped, Judy or the rest of the world who didn’t understand her or her disability or how to live life with zest and flare facing those challenges.
The ancient Greeks considered butterflies as the souls of our loved ones who have passed away, returning to watch over us. Next is a true story of what happened to me and my husband as we spread Judy’s ashes over the water at the beach of Ft. DeSoto in Florida. We walked along the beach looking for just the right place to say good-bye and spread Judy’s ashes. It was on the beach across from the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and there were several folks on sailboards out in the Bay. Martin and I talked about how Judy would love that and we smiled.
I let her ashes go, turned and walked away hand-in-hand with Martin down the beach. At that very moment, a large beautiful butterfly flew around the both of us in a figure eight. Our car was parked a few yards away and I’ll be darned if that butterfly didn’t fly around our car twice, no other car, just our car, and then flew away. I think she was letting us know she was happy.
A couple of weeks later, Martin and I returned to Ft. DeSoto and walked along the beach a long
time enjoying the day and taking pictures. The warm day provided full sun, gentle breezes and absolutely clear blue skies and was picture perfect. We started heading back along the path on the beach when suddenly Martin asked me to look down at something. Before us on the sand were several sand dollars – not too strange – however the shape they were in was unique. They spelled out the letter “J” clear as day – see photo. Never before nor since have we even sand dollars that were not broken and certainly NOT in the shape of a “J” … I’d prefer to believe she’s happy and in a better place and she may just be singing and dancing with angels and rocking their world!