Thursday, December 29, 2005
A Good Big Brother?
This is the text of the eulogy I gave a Judy's memorial service. I'm sure Pastor Mohr was getting uncomfortable with the length, but he endured me. He then gave an excelent service with a great message.
A Good Big Brother
In May of 1962, my life was changed forever. For on the 21st of that month, I went from being the baby in the family to being a big brother. I did not ask for the job, didn’t have any training, and really didn’t even know what it meant. But I was now a big brother. I had a baby sister and my parents named her Judy Anne. My guess is she didn’t get any training as being a little sister either.
Actually one of the earliest memories I have is of being at my Grandmother’s house and seeing a little baby crying – I guess it was Judy. I do know that she and I were both “Opps” babies – Mom and Dad were planning on only 3 kids, but we slipped in. As the younger children in a gaggle of 5, we maybe didn’t have all the privileges granted to the older children (there are fewer pictures of us, we didn’t get to circus, etc. ) not that I’m complaining – its just the way it was. With this, I guess that meant Judy and I had more time together. I lately have wondered if I was a good big brother or not for my baby sister.
I do know Judy quickly learned the role of little sister. Oh she knew how to push my buttons and she could be a pest. It seems she was always being drug along. I remember she would be in the back of the station wagon when I got picked up from little league practice, she rode the same school bus, she was always crammed in the back seat with my other siblings on family road trips (I had to sit between my parents, but that’s a whole other story.) She had a stubborn streak – I guess she got that from both parents and grandparents, I never understood that, I guess my DNA avoided that stubbornness gene as I am the most flexible, open minded, easy going guy there is. (I pause here for some uproarious laughter). She also avoided confrontation – she wanted peace and harmony.
Also, she was Daddy’s girl. My mother frequently complained that Judy and Dad were “2 peas in a pod”. Judy coined the term “perfect father” and used that for all it was worth. I remember even as a very young child, that they had a special bond. There was a goodnight kissing routine that Judy and Dad had, Judy was Dads girl. I remember that I could be sitting around having not seen Judy for hours and she would complain to Dad that I was picking on her – and I got in trouble.
Some memories growing up that Judy and I shared – good and bad:
1. When we went to Cedar Point, we had to wait for Judy to ride some kiddie land rides for a while before we could go to adult rides.
2. Once we had a sibling fight on something in the winter – I was banished to the outdoors. She stood at the kitchen window sneering at me, I made a snowball and threw it at the window, the window shattered, I was in even more trouble.
3. Judy was not an athlete – I was, Judy was coerced into going out for volleyball where she didn’t make the team, she became equipment manger and hated it, but she stayed through it.
4. Judy was in my shadow in high school. We kept our distance, but always were there for each other as needed.
5. Judy was really into band – she played baritone sax and was quite good at it. She was also the band task girl. She organized music, organized uniforms, helped on fund raisers, matched in all the parades (even when there were only a dozen members at summer outings – she was there.
6. Judy and I chopped a lot of wood and unloaded tons of coal to hear the house during the energy crisis of the 70’s. I never appreciated the work she did then until much later.
7. Judy spent a lot of time in her room reading and exercising her imagination. I know she had an obsession with Shawn Cassidy as she must have had 20 posters of him in her room. Even over the bed, When Rudy was dating Linda and he got her room for the night, he would talk about waking up at night and seeing a picture of Shawn Cassidy staring at him – nightmares.
8. Judy went off to college – Bluffton. She made lifelong friends there and eventually met her husband. I gotta confess that she struggled to find an identity. She bleached her hair to become blonde – it didn’t work, it was more orange than blonde.
9. Judy had some strange friends in high school. She seemed to attract the strays. She violently defended her friend Brent as Pa-body, not Peabody. Although he was a Peabody, and I teased her by calling her Sherman, Oh I wish I could set the wayback machine.
10. She was not very good at sneaking around. It seemed whenever she drove to Fulton county when she shouldn’t the car would break down. While I remember distinctly my brother Tom getting in trouble for such acts, Perfect Father would be understanding to Judy.
11. Judy got a job as a waitress at Johnny’s Steak house during her college breaks. I had to pick her up or drop her off if her hours ever ended between midnight and 5 AM (which happened a lot) she always got me an omelet or something when I picked her up.
12. She pierced her ears, and they got infected, she had a terrible reaction to a tenuous shot and her arm swelled, she got bit by Wiley and her hand swelled up – for the whole she was healthy. Until that damned cancer.
13. Judy did have the ability to embellish a story. She sometimes would be known to add a little bit of a spin to tales, I guess the youngest sometimes do that to get attention. I’m still not sure that all kids had to do the Bluffton Beaver song.
14. Judy came, with kids in tow to my father in laws funeral. Because that’s what sisters do. I remember the kids getting shaken up at the 21 gun salute, but Judy was there to comfort them.
Judy’s greatest pride and joy was her family. She was a wonderful mother, a good wife, and an excellent teacher. Through the tough family times of the 90’s she really showed her character. Our mother died of that damned cancer too. I remember Judy was there for Mom, I will always remember an afternoon where Judy was feeding Mom a banana shortly before Mom died – I thought to myself how the daughter had become the caregiver. Once Mom was gone, Judy was there for Dad. I think she came up at least once every 2 weeks. Kids in tow. She then had her last child, John David, and he was in tow with the others.
She always had kids in tow. She did all she could with the kids. She took them to foreign language classes at Glann School. She attended swim meets, she had them in youth group activities. She took care of Dad from afar as well as being a mother. When Dad had his firs heart attack, she was there. When we were on a vacation with Dad, she came up with her kids to help clean the house. That’s when Alexander did his toasted marshmallow imitation.
She was there for Alex while he recovered from his burns. She spent hours at the hospital, sleeping there on couches, she went to therapy with him, she sacrificed a lot as that was Judy. I know Alex was there for her during the last few years, so that bonding lasted throughout her life and in her battle with that damned cancer.
In November of 1999, I found my father dead in his recliner. It was difficult for me, but devastating to Judy. She insisted on helping prepare the casket for the funeral, she never got over the death of her perfect father. For some reason Dad named me executor of the estate. On a side note, sometime in the late 70s my parents morphed into auction and garage sale pack rats. They bought other peoples junk – I know Judy had to unload a lot of it and find a place to stuff it. Well, most of that stuff was still around as we cleaned up the estate. She and I worked on putting together a family memory album and photo montage – that is therapeutic for me. Thus the montages today, one thing I have learned through those tasks is that our family has had some very bad photographers over time – its not your eyes folks, they blurry pictures.
Judy was there to help on the estate (and she frequently drug along the kids.) Linda and Rudy were there too and we worked hard at closing the estate. I think that was when I really started to respect her. Although I always had cared for Judy – this time she was not only there for me and with me, but I was really proud to be her brother.
Then that damned cancer came into play. I know I was in denial in the beginning. When she had the initial surgery, I thought it was routine. I didn’t understand the tenacity of that damned cancer. Judy was in a fight against an enemy that she could not win. But what an inspiration. I have lost friends and acquaintance to that damned cancer, and they all are inspirations, but its different when its your baby sister and you’re the big brother. What was I to do, how could I help?
Well, Judy wouldn’t’ let it slow her down. She did the chemo and treatments, I know she was often exhausted and would sleep for long periods, but she was home with her kids. She had quite an emotional roller coasted, with success, remission, regression, now treatments, husband working on the road, 4 teenagers, etc. When she found the Zion institute, her hope was renews, actually in October, I thought she had it licked. But that damned cancer was too much. I know she found time at the end to write each of her children a special letter – she loved her family. I was honored to go to Zion and bring her home via her first ever train ride. She was so happy to be going home, I think she knew this was her last Christmas and that the damned cancer was taking its toll. But she was there, for Christmas, for her family, and then she was called home to be with the Lord. Finally, peace.
As Eugene and I were doing errands on Wednesday afternoon. He talked about her last minutes and that she went quickly and peacefully. Her last words were: “I Love You Eugene” With those words, she said a lot. She transferred her hopes, trust, and dreams to her husband that the kids would be taken care of and that she loved them. She lives on in us, its going to be difficult for the kids and Gene to keep Judy’s spirit alive. She won’t be physically there to provide guidance, direction, reminders, corny jokes, or her smile. But she is there with the holy spirit. I’m sure there was more I could have done, but I can’t go back in time. I hate that damned cancer more than ever. But I now have a responsibility to carry on Judy. She is in all of us who are here today and we need to keep her spirit alive.
I know I’m a better person for having had Judy as a sister and 5 wonderful nieces and nephews. But I still don’t know if I was a good big brother, one thing I do know is that Judy was, and is, a wonderful baby sister. I can’t believe she’s gone, but I have to remember she’s gone only in body, in spirit she will live inside of us forever.
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