54: A Friend in Need

54: A Friend in Need

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Happiness

A Friend in Need

In giving you are throwing a bridge across the chasm of your solitude.

~Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

I sat in the car, tears welling in my eyes. I did not want to push the garage door opener. I wanted to turn on the car engine and just fall asleep. Then I would go where my husband was and we would be together again. It had been several weeks and every morning I was leaving for work a full hour before I could even enter the building. The hardest part of the day was pushing the garage door opener when I returned.

Vern had died of bone cancer and life’s purpose ended for me. No one needed me. My sons were on their own and I was alone. I wasn’t sleeping well, had no memory of day-to-day activities, and eating? Well, let’s just say everything I put in my mouth was wrong.

I was far too early to arrive at work so I stopped at a 24-hour market and picked up some bananas.

When I arrived at the parking lot, I saw one other car parked, in the handicapped space. It was Judy who worked in the clerical pool. Well, at least I had someone to visit with until it was time for her to start work.

I went directly to her cubicle and said good morning. She had a wide smile in spite of all her problems. Judy was tiny, several inches less than five feet. Besides losing a leg to bone cancer, she had two children still at home, a son with heart problems and a developmentally disabled daughter. Her ex-husband lived directly across the street from her and continually had her seeking the advice of an attorney. With all the negative karma in her life, it was no wonder she had developed bone cancer. But after her leg was amputated, she was still alive. And her fire, determination, and spirit made you sit up and take notice.

“Want a banana?” I asked her as I opened the bag.

“Oh wow!” she exclaimed. “I needed this potassium!”

We chatted a bit and she asked if I would stick her lunch in the fridge on my way back to my desk.

Several weeks later, I was still arriving early. Sometimes I would pick up a breakfast sandwich or a doughnut. But most often I brought a banana. One morning Judy was busy typing when I arrived.

“Are you working already? It’s not even 6:30 yet!” I asked her.

“This is personal,” she responded. “Kerri wants to go to summer camp and I don’t have the money. Can you help me? I need to write a letter explaining why she needs a scholarship.”

Judy was not a writer. She could fill out forms and perform clerical functions, but writing escaped her. I knew Judy’s financial hardship and was happy to help her.

“Consider it done,” I said.

Two weeks later Judy joyfully reported, “You did it! Kerri got the scholarship! She gets to go to summer camp.”

Later Judy lamented that she was unable to find a dress for her son’s garden wedding. She was extremely small and her prosthesis created a hip bulge. She was tired of wearing skirts and she really wanted a dress. But dresses large enough to go over the prosthesis were too large on top. And dresses that fit her on top were too small over the hip. Additionally, she was so tiny that she could almost wear a child’s size.

“Why don’t I make you a dress?” I volunteered. “You pick out the fabric and I’ll fit it to you.”

I had sewn for my whole family since I was thirteen years old and had fitted a sister with scoliosis. So I knew that fitting the hip would not be a problem.

Judy loved the dress. She brought in a photo of her son and herself (wearing that dress of course) and displayed it on her desk.

One morning Judy was crying when I arrived. The summer heat was wreaking havoc on her stump. She showed me the portion of her leg that was fit with a stocking and then slid into her prosthesis. It was so red that I thought it was bleeding. I knew how Judy felt about not wearing her “leg.” She valued the limited independence it gave her even if she did need to balance near a wall while she was walking.

“Judy, take that thing off!” I advised her. “You can’t put yourself through that. Just use your crutches or a wheelchair until your rash is gone. Are your crutches in your car? I’ll go get them. I’ll push your wheelchair. Or walk you to the ladies’ room. Whatever you need, just call me and I’ll help you. But you cannot wear this leg in the heat. You have blisters already.”

It was not easy to convince her. We then had to lobby her insurance company for a re-fit on her prosthesis. I was now Judy’s official letter writer. The insurance company eventually got her fitted with a child-size prosthesis. Although it fits her better, she has never been able to wear it in the summer.

In the meantime, my early morning hurdle was getting easier. I still missed my husband and cried buckets, but not every day. Judy’s small requests for assistance were filling a gap in my life that I urgently needed. She needed me. We got another scholarship for Kerri to go to Hawaii. I put Judy’s lunch in the fridge, brought things from her car, and took her shopping in her wheelchair. I pushed clothing racks out of the way in order to get the wheelchair through. My husband had been in a wheelchair too, so I knew what to do. I was Judy’s cheerleader and she became mine.

In time I realized that in caring for Judy, my grief was easier to live with. I no longer felt that I was going to fall apart when I began each day. I was starting to look forward to the next day. It has been almost twenty years since I took Judy her first banana. We have gone through breast cancer, marriage, divorce, plastic surgery, the arrival of grandchildren and several family deaths. I truly don’t know which of us needs the other more. But I do know that to overcome grief, I had to look outside myself and do something for someone else. Judy needed me and I needed her.

~Linda Burks Lohman

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