My Reunion With Judy (Excerpted from
edited: Monday, October 29, 2012
By Richard J. Bauman
Not "rated" by the Author.
Posted: Saturday, February 16, 2002
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My baby sister died when she was one day old. No one had been to her grave for 42 years. This piece is about finding her grave and working through grieving her death.
It was July 4, and instead of being at a holiday picnic, or celebrating Independence Day some other way, I was trying to find my baby sister. More accurately, I was at a cemetery in Los Angeles, searching for her grave—a grave that hadn't been visited by anyone in forty-two years.
I was just six years old when Judy was born. She was a "blue baby." She had a heart defect that gave her skin a bluish tinge due to a lack of oxygen. In the late 1940s blue babies often didn't survive infancy.
Judy was born June 7, 1948. She lived just one day.
I didn't tell anyone my newborn sister had died—not my first grade nun, not my classmates. And I never talked to my parents about Judy's death either. A few weeks later my father drove us to the cemetery to visit Judy's grave. It was marked by a little concrete disk and nothing else.
I was confused. Other graves had headstones, but hers didn't. I said something about that, and my dad replied, "Maybe someday we'll get her one."
Those were the last words about a headstone, virtually the last words spoken about Judy, and it was the last time anyone visited her grave until July 4, 1990.
Through the decades, occasionally I thought about Judy, but in early 1990 she was more and more on my mind. "Finding her" became an urgent matter—almost a compulsion.
A great sadness fell on me when I thought about her being alone all those years. She had never been acknowledged, had never been part of our family. We had abandoned her.
I became acutely aware, too, of the things I'd missed out on because she died prematurely; all the things we would have and could have done together.
I never got to hold her as an infant. I didn't get to play with her, tease her, teach her to ride a bike or throw a ball. I didn't get to defend her from bullies, comfort her when she scraped a knee, or help her with her homework.
We never shared a secret or a candy bar. I never got to call her names, or buy her a birthday present. I didn't get to check out her boyfriends, have her husband for a friend, hold her kids and have them call me Uncle Richard.
We never had the chance to be sister and brother.
Of course, I idealized that relationship. It wouldn't have been always fun having a sister six and a half years younger than me. Still, I can't help thinking the good would have far outweighed the less good.
Thus, on that July 4th my wife, Donna, and I were at the Cemetery to visit Judy. A few days earlier Donna had called the cemetery to get Judy's grave identification number.
I wasn't worried about finding her grave since we had the row number, T-50, and the grave number B42. Someone in the cemetery office would direct us to the exact location—except the office was closed because July 4th is a holiday.
Standing at the locked office door, I was wrapped in frustration. I came to put flowers on Judy's grave—the first flowers she ever had. I was there to talk to her for the first time. She had waited 42-years for me to show up, I didn't want us to wait any longer. But how would I find her?
My mind drifted to July 1948. I remembered how we came into the cemetery, approximately where my dad had parked, and the general location we had walked to. I told Donna, "I'm pretty sure I know where her grave is."
It wasn't that easy. We spent several hours in the blazing noonday heat searching, but ultimately we found Judy's grave.
I stood next to Donna, looking at a concrete disk in the ground with T-50 stamped into it. I knew Judy was there. I could sense her, feel her--practically hear her.
I knelt on the thick grass, cleared it away from the deteriorating concrete disk. The T-50 was deeply pressed into the disk, but the grave number had eroded badly. Tracing it with my fingers, I nonetheless could discern the numerals four and two. It was her grave. I knelt there, sort of caressing the disk as if it were a tangible connection to my little sister.
And then I was crying. It was as if deep inside me a reservoir had been released. Forty-two years of unshed tears flowed out, and rolled down my cheeks.
When we left the cemetery later that day, I felt some peace. I knew where Judy's grave was, she wouldn't be alone anymore, and my grieving for her was finally beginning.
A few weeks later, we ordered a headstone for her grave. It is black granite with a guardian angel etched on it. Her name, and June 1948 are engraved on it, along with "Always in our heart"--meaning the family heart.
I have visited her many times, and I talked to her a lot. I have written her letters--letters of anger, letters of love, letters telling her about my wife, my family, our mother, father and our older sister.
In the first two years after finding her grave, I visited her grave many times. I still do on her birthday, and a couple of other times during the year. Those early trips to the cemetery helped me move through the grieving process. Each visit I made, each flower I brought, each letter I wrote and read to her, and to trusted friends, each tear, helped heal the tender wound of a six year old little boy of 42-years ago.
June 7, 1992, was an unseasonably cold day in Southern California. There were thick clouds and light rain. I went alone to her grave that day, a special day. I took flowers and a half-dozen, multi-colored helium filled balloons. Using a felt-tip marker I wrote love notes and messages to her on the balloons. I sat on the wet grass at her grave and wrote her a letter, talked to her, told her I loved her, and then I released the balloons. And I released her.
Those balloons danced skyward, seemingly frolicking with joy, as they sailed into the silver-gray sky. I watched them drift higher and higher, until they looked like tiny black dots. Then they vanished into the clouds.
Releasing those balloons, I released me, too. Judy will be missed, always. Still, I came to harmony with her death, and accepted it as part of God's mysterious plan.
As I walked back to my car that day, I felt exhilaration as I never had felt it before. Pure joy. The joy of acceptance. "If this is what heaven feels like," I thought, "Then I want to go there." As I left the cemetery that day all I could think of was a favorite saying:
"For all that has been--thank you.
To all that shall be--Yes!"
A friend asked me what I learned from finding Judy's grave? Many things: No death in a family is a minor event, or a simple loss, and time of itself doesn't heal the pain. I see, too, that small children need to have death and other major separations lovingly explained to them. And they need help in grieving, and need reassurance it is normal and all right to cry and to be sad.
I learned, too, that just because it happened a long time ago it is never too late to grieve losses. While it is painful work, the healing that comes through grieving brings with it serenity, well being and often even joy.