Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

In Memory, Neighbor More Than Stranger

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

In Memory, Neighbor More Than Stranger

Article excerpt

Byline: Nicole Johnson McGill, Times-Union staff writer

I entered the funeral home and, in a small room not far from the entrance, Judy's family and friends were gathered and talking in quiet voices.

It was not a funeral, I realized, but a memorial service. Chairs were lined around the room in a large circle, and after the greetings and hugs, everyone sat down.

Judy's sister-in-law stood and introduced herself and said we would all have the opportunity to say a few words. I began to think about what I would say, and I felt so out of place and embarrassed because Judy was practically a stranger to me.

I was embarrassed because Judy was my next-door neighbor. Her door was inches from mine. Our lives were separated by one wall -- a very thin wall, I'm sure she'd say -- and yet, I had not gotten to know her.

What would I share about this woman with whom I rarely talked and barely knew?

Judy certainly knew me. She read this column every week and often left us notes on our front door whenever I wrote one she liked. One note was particularly long as she shared a bit of her past, her childhood and her family. She was a great writer.

When my family made too much noise, her note would say so.

She'd write me, and I'd write her back. I thought it was strange, but I went along anyway. Other than the handful of times we actually saw each other coming and going from work, that's pretty much how we communicated for a couple of years.

Several times Judy left presents. There were Christmas cookies during the holidays and Easter baskets in the spring. Once, when we came home one evening, there was a grocery bag of juice boxes and pudding cups. They were still cold.

When I told my children that Judy had died, they took it hard. It dawned on me that they didn't know my grandfathers when they died. …

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