Julie was my friend. We didn’t know each other very long–just a few years–but in those few years she made a lasting impression on my life. When I helped start a community newspaper in the town where I live, Julie was the mayor’s administrative assistant. She also used to teach English. Her daughter Kathy says Julie was an “appreciator of expression, interested in art, and the creative process….she was my muse and my mentor.”
Julie saw from the beginning that I was more interested in the creative process than in churning out the news. She was also, I realize, my muse and mentor. When I wrote stories, I wrote for Julie because I knew she was reading and appreciating. She encouraged me when she saw that I was writing against the wind, struggling to make the paper a worthwhile entity. When we did our first focus group many people showed support. But then the reality set in that a newspaper runs on advertising dollars. The uphill battle had begun.
There was another uphill battle. I was the new editor and there were people who were dissatisfied with local politics. They wanted the newspaper to somehow make it all right. Julie knew what I was up against, but she never entered into the fray. She remained loyal to her boss, to the city, and though we never talked directly about city politics, I gained insights from her I might not have had.
Each month Julie prepared the council minutes and would drop them by my office or I would go to her office. We would laugh and talk for a few minutes and then we’d go back to work. If I had questions about the minutes, I would call her. On council days, she sat behind the council taking notes. I sat in front of the council taking notes.
I left the paper after 15 months to have more time to take care of mom. Julie told me she was disappointed I was leaving, but for the next year and a year we exchanged brief, intermittent emails.
In early summer, Julie called me and said that she and Ron were celebrating their 20th anniversary. She wanted me to photograph them for the anniversary announcement they would put in the regional newspaper. Then, in her straightforward, characteristic style, Julie said, “I’ve been diagnosed with lung cancer.” She said she wanted the photo for the announcement, but also for her family in case “she didn’t make it.”
We met at a local arboretum rose garden in June. Julie loved flowers, like she loved music, art and travel. She and Ron had traveled to Vienna the previous summer with their choral group.
They posed naturally for the camera, talking with each other as they gazed into each other’s eyes as if I wasn’t there. Then they would each turn and look directly into the camera. There was no guile, nothing forced, only compassion, love, sympathy, heartache, clarity, sorrow, and joy in each other’s company. It’s a moment I will not forget.
Julie was planning a trip to Wyoming to attend her grandson’s wedding. When they returned I would drop the CD of photos by her office. But then she had to go to Seattle for chemotherapy. By the time I took the CD to her, the change was startling. She was sitting at her desk hooked up to oxygen. Her voice was raspy and I knew then how very ill she was. “But, here she is still working,” I thought. She was poised, matter-of-fact. I wanted to give her the photos as a gift, but I knew that she expected to pay something. I charged a minimal rate knowing that if I gave them to her it was like I was saying, “I know you are going to die.” I did not want to acknowledge I was going to lose my friend when I wasn’t paying attention. I told her I would call soon.
Julie died Sept. 3 and I didn’t know for another week. I received an email from Ron requesting the CD of photos because he couldn’t find the one I gave Julie. He assumed I knew that she had died. I was stunned that it had happened so fast.
What I didn’t realize at the time was how much I would miss Julie, how much I would come to appreciate the beautiful friend she was. I had taken it for granted that Julie would be here, that I would see her again, that I would get a chance to say goodbye, that she would have many months. Instead, my first thought when friends recently suggested I start an online newspaper, was, “I wish I could talk to Julie.”
“I could always ask her about anything,” Kathy says. “And she’d have something really valid to say–or to think about. I’m finding more and more, that is the quality that so many people came to appreciate most about her. She would help anyone, if they wanted to know the answer. She would give so freely.”
Julie wrote in May in response to an email from me.
“Wow, 101. That makes me feel really young! I’m glad to hear she’s doing well, glad for you and for her.
I’m doing well except for allergies that have been sitting on my chest all Spring.
Work is about the same, very busy at times. I’m excited about the Library moving. Michael deserves to have the bigger, better space. We have been working toward that for years, and finally the Director and Board are behind it. That’ll put the Court in the old library space, and we’ll fix up the old Public Works office for the Youth Center. The logistics of all of that will keep us pretty focused for the coming months. Fun!
Then there are Ronnie’s gigs and Kathy’s family and a Wyoming grandson getting married this summer. It’s all good.
I haven’t made any announcement yet, but I am thinking about retiring at the end of the year. I’m getting tired.”
Little did we know, Julie. We will sorely miss you.
Note: I’m aware of the tragic irony between the title of the previous post and the content of this post. It’s just the way it happened.