My cousin Judy never, ever sought the limelight in her life, so I wanted to cast the kliegs on her, just this once. I owe her that. I attended Judy’s funeral on Monday. As usual, when asked to say a few words, I couldn’t do so without totally losing my shit, so I decided to say a few words about Judy here, where my eyes can leak in private.
I owe my life to Judy. At age eight, I had all of the symptoms of an appendicitis. My mom rushed me to the hospital that January afternoon in the midst of an ice storm. Judy worked there as an X-ray technician. It was Judy who connected us with the right doctor and fought to ensure they didn’t send me back home, as they were trying to do. Thanks to Judy’s feistiness, I got the surgery I badly needed. In those days (a lifetime ago) they kept you in the hospital forever, it seemed. I was there for 10 days. Judy visited me daily without fail. I always looked forward to seeing her. She was the steadfast ally I needed at that time.
Judy was a quiet, private person. On the rare occasion that Judy would talk with me about her job, she would share her rage over the children and women she X-rayed, who were clearly victims of physical abuse. Judy’s highly charged emotions over this–usually dormant–stayed with me. Made an impact. Later in life, I worked for projects in Northwest Florida like Children in Crisis and Shelter House, advocating for protecting children and domestic abuse victims–the vulnerable among us–from further cruelty.
When I was a kid, Judy had her own boat, and she would take us boating and fishing on the Fox River and the Chain o’ Lakes. It was Judy who taught me to fish. She seemed to intuit the magic spots where the fish were always biting. I can remember one instance where I could barely keep my hook baited long enough to handle all of the fish I caught. Judy also taught me to clean my own fish. Anyone who knows how squeamish I am finds it unfathomable that I clean my own fish–I can’t even watch surgeries on TV. During one of our fishing adventures, we were caught on the Chain o’ Lakes when a storm arose out of nowhere; it was Judy’s masterful boating that got us back to shore unscathed in that terrifying, wicked weather.
A hysterectomy in her 50s set Judy off on the medical odyssey that she suffered in silence. The blood transfusions at that time weren’t as closely scrutinized, and they gave her hepatitis. She was unaware she had hepatitis until her liver failed. The liver transplant they gave her was from a cancer patient. Adding insult to injury, she had to go through chemo. She endured so much pain the past two decades of her life with little complaint, other than yearning so for another dog that she physically could no longer care for. It broke our hearts that she couldn’t have that dog. I’d like to believe that now she is surrounded by the black flat-coated labs she loved so much in this life–her show dogs.
Judy never married, and never had children. She is the final person with the last name of Anderson in this lineage, which makes her passing the exclamation point on a storied family with more impact than you can imagine on the history of Elgin, Illinois. Wing Street. McLean Boulevard. In fact, the hospital where she worked–Sherman Hospital–was named after the side of our family that included a Civil War hero with the same last name. I doubt her co-workers ever knew that. Judy preferred to remain in the shadows. In fact, she’ll probably haunt me for casting the kliegs on her today, but as I said, I owe her that.
God bless you, Judy.