This incredible woman Judith Senior Barchilon died the other day. She was responsible for bringing a smile to my father’s face and for joy in him that I had never previously experienced him having. Their love story is important, even though it has sadly ended. Their love hasn’t ended just their being together in this world has-—and it is very hard.
Judy was a very private person, I still don’t know enough about her, even though she and my father have been together for the last twenty years. I hope to learn more about her from her grandchildren and daughter and my father as I want to honor her memory accurately.
I always tell folks who are lonely or who have given up on love, my father and Judy’s story. My father was 75 years old when he reconnected with a woman he briefly dated while they were both getting their doctorates at Harvard post WWII. Judy and he had a date or two, but it didn’t work out for them at that time.
I’m glad it didn’t work then, because otherwise, I wouldn’t be here, and you wouldn’t be reading this. My mother and father needed to be together for my sister, my brother and myself to be born. It’s very hard for a marriage to survive the death of a child, and my parents’ marriage didn’t. Post my parents’ divorce my father dated a series of women and even married one woman. She promptly forbade me from entering his home, once they were married. I was eleven at the time. That marriage, was over right after I was forbidden entry to my home.
My father never gave up on love. He is a Moroccan, Mediterranean Man, full of intelligence, vigor, desire, passion, loyalty and persistence. These qualities led him eventually to Judy. One day, over his morning coffee, he was reading his Harvard Alumni journal when he saw a byline by Judith Merrill. He read the piece and recognized the writer as the woman who he had briefly dated over 40 years previous. He saw that she was living in Colorado Springs. Since he lived in Boulder, he sent Judy a note and asked her if she remembered him and would like to get together for a cup of coffee. The answer was yes, of course, she remembered him, and yes to the cup of coffee.
Well pretty soon they were living together and a few months later they were married. This 20 year love story has been such a gift to our joint families. My brother and I, as adults, got to experience a softer, kinder, happier man than we’d ever known. The two of them were inseparable. Knowing how bereft my father will now be is heart-breaking for all of us. At 94, he is recovering from his recent hip fracture and minor heart-attack post the surgery for his hip repair. He emerged with flying colors from this health crisis and is healing physically. Judy died within six months of her lung cancer diagnosis, just a month shy of her 86th birthday. She never smoked, was an amazingly health-conscious, fast walking and fit woman for all the years we knew her.
At one point with my father, while he was in the rehabilitation center that Judy and he were sharing a room at, he said: “We didn’t do anything wrong. We just wanted to live our quiet sedate lives together.”
And, of course, death is not fair, nor is it about doing something wrong, in this circumstance, it’s just plain sad and unfair.
For Judy’s daughter and her grandchildren, the extremely quick and terrible decline in Judy’s well-being that led to her precipitous death, is also extremely sad. We are all so sorry to have lost Judy. What is not sad, is how all of us as a family, a co-joined family have taken care of each other. Even though the systems in place for caring for elderly folks, needing more care than they can give themselves, is woefully inadequate, we found a place for both my father and Judy to convalesce together when they were most vulnerable. Between my brother, his partner, my daughter, my youngest son, Judy’s daughter and family and myself, there were daily visits, extra care, foot massages, flowers, music, hand holding and a constant circle of folks present to offer love, and support.
This has been no small feat. This time of my life is about caring for family, so I’ve been able to spend a month at a time in Colorado and give respite and support. I will head back to Denver in a few days to spend the next month living with my father in his and Judy’s condo. Since Judy died, my children have been making meals for my father, along with my brother, and have spent time with him and slept there as well. He has not been alone, nor will he be from now on, which is how it should be, but not how he wanted it to be. He wanted to be with Judy. We can’t do that for him. But we can honor Judy by loving my father and by keeping him close and being there for him as he navigates whatever time he has left to walk this earth.
My brother wrote the following to let our extended family know about Judy’s last moments:
“I am very sad to inform everyone that Judy passed away early in the morning on the 7th. The situation had become quite difficult for her, and I think the struggle was too great. She showed incredible courage, grace, and wisdom in her final days. She decided she wanted to be off life support, and requested that dad, Lynn, and myself be present. We were with her as the oxygen mask was removed and she was able to speak a little. Her final words to my father were “you’ll be all right”. Even as she was passing, she was concerned for him and acting to protect him. Tom, Lilly, Kathryn, Shira, and Ethan were all with us too. As a family, we were present for Judy as she let slip this mortal coil and finally found the rest and peace she had been wanting for so long. It was very hard for everyone, but there was also an element of great beauty as well. Judy chose to go at a time when she could say goodbye to all of us. We stood silently with her after she passed, paying tribute to the most wonderful woman in the world, and honoring her courage, intelligence, determination, resilience and beauty. She chose to donate her body to science, and did not want a funeral. We will probably have a celebration of her life at some point in the future, and we will let everyone know.
Dad is heartbroken and devastated. He is also handling it incredibly well. I was expecting him to be suicidal, but he isn’t. He said Judy told him to live, so he is going to do that. Ethan and I spent the night with him when we came back from the hospital. He surprised us both by saying he wanted to take us out to breakfast the next morning. We went to Zaidy’s one of their favorites, and spent the morning talking about how wonderful Judy was, and sharing stories of her. Dad moves fluidly between crying deeply (very healthy I think) to remembering and celebrating her. He needs a lot of help right now, both physically and emotionally, so we are not leaving him alone. Ethan is there 24-7 until Sunday night, Shira and I are alternating days coming in as well, cooking, holding, loving and being with him. Nicole is flying out on Wednesday, and will move in to the apartment for a month to take care of him.
Long term, I think dad is going to move back to Boulder and move in downstairs. He told me that Judy had often made him promise not to be a burden to his children when he aged. I told him that wasn’t Judy’s choice to make, and that we all loved him very much and would rather have him with us than not. I also told him that having him in Boulder would actually be easier than driving an hour each way every time he needed help (which has been pretty much daily for a long while now). He agreed that he thinks it is a good idea. He likes being in the apartment and being reminded of Judy, and we will let him enjoy that for as long as he wants, and as he continues to heal and strengthen. ” ~Paul Barchilon
Judy and I were about as different as two women can be, on the outside. I’m large, she was petite. I’m loud, she was soft-spoken. How we are the same has to do with our love for our families and our tremendous interest and desire to love and honor those who are part of our lives. Judy always made sure each member of the family had “special” time with my father. When I came to visit, she’d make sure my father and I always had our own dates together. She also made sure, the two of us did as well. We would get mani-pedi’s together and walk around their neighborhood. I could never keep up with her, she was the fastest walker I ever knew. She’s outpaced us all now, walking on the other side, with no encumbrances. I just put up the hummingbird feeder outside my kitchen window, in honor of her. She was a hummingbird, giving joy and full of nectar, she came in a small package but had an enormous heart and wow, what a great flyer! She is and will be missed.