Monday, November 19, 2007

A tribute to Julia Wilson Carroll

Julia Wilson Carroll
On November 11, 2007, Aunt Judy's ashes were placed in the earth next to her sister Leona, my mother, in Nichols Connecticut. I prepared this to be part of the eulogy that my sister Julie (named after our aunt) delivered at the mass in the parish church with her own additions and edits.

“If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate,” writes the Apostle Paul.

Paul’s “Apostle Paul” crossed my desk sometime between when the medical students in Tucson had learned all they could from her physical remains and arranging this service to honor her memory and her life. And I thought to myself: yes, this is Aunt Judy, Judy as she ought to be remembered.

Here is a very modern translation (by Eugene Peterson) of those verses from one of Paul’s letters to the Christians in Corinth:

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others then for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
[And] keeps going to the end.

Judy Carroll would certainly be embarrassed to be remembered by quoting this famous praise of the highest love-she was a private woman who would never dream of using fancy words to describe her interior life. But even if you just spent a day with her, it was clear that her interior life, nurturing and relying on her connection with God, was part of her ordinary life, like getting out of bed.

Almost everyday of her last years in Green Valley, she craved out time to sit quietly in the back of Our Lady of the Valley church. It was part of her routine, like having lunch with Ken and Lee, playing bridge or watching her beloved Yankees on TV. When we visited her, she might mention, almost in passing, that we were near the church, and that, yes, this is where she parked, a spot that was shaded, protection from the desert sun, and not too far to walk to rear pews, to sit in silence in the presence of the Sacred.

There were times in Judy’s life when she could not get out of bed, during her bouts with serious illness, tuberculosis, cancer, and crippling osteoporosis. It was then she showed us in real life terms what Paul praises: she put up with an enormous amount of pain and suffering but she trusted God always, always looked for the best, and never looked back.

Judy was our mother Leona’s only sister, her only sibling, and she was always part of our family. When we were growing up, we lived together. It almost seemed at times that we had two mothers. My sister Elen said that was her experience. And she did take care of Judy with the love and care of a daughter in her last days.

So it is from this bank of shared memories that I have chosen some stories and anecdotes that we can remember today as we pray for her, remember her with love and finally lay her to rest.

I remember, as a child, when our mother would also stop into church for a quick visit. It was during the time Judy was confined to Laurel Heights sanatorium in Shelton for treatment and only a slim hope of complete recovery from tuberculosis. At some point during her confinement, her sister, our mother, made a novena at Saint Theresa’s on Main Street in Trumbull, and she carved out a stop at church in her daily routine. We kids waited in the car. One day she came back with tears and a smile. She said, “I am almost sure that Judy is going to be alright. I may be hallucinating, but I saw the statue of the Infant of Prague move his arm in a blessing.” Whether it was a hallucination or not, whether it was a miracle or the miracle drug streptomycin which saved her, it was clearly the work of God in the eyes and hearts of both sisters.

The story in the family was that this forced interruption in the life of a young woman, in those days, reduced the possibility of finding an eligible young man. And it was probably the case. We as kids knew her rather dashing suitor, Joe Gurbach, who would take her out every Friday night in his sports car for close to 12 years, and we also knew that there never was the marriage proposal that she expected. Judy must have been disappointed, but whatever regret or anger might have existed was entirely gone in her later years. She simply said that some opportunities had been taken from her, but that she still loved her life as it was. Such a bright and down to earth example of what Paul lists among love’s highest qualities: that it doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.

We as kids used to call the seat next to Aunt Judy’s at the dining room table, the “death seat,” because it was there that you got a thorough training in table etiquette. As I think back to the her firm directions, “keep one hand in your lap and not on the table,” “buttocks to the back of the chair,” “look up and answer when you are spoken to you,” I remember that Paul too, before he gets to the word “love” in 1st Corinthians, talks about a lot of Do’s and Don’ts. Certainly there was a well-regulated Christian way of life instilled in Judy Carroll.

There is a picture of her dressing as a nun when she was a St Augustine’s school in the 30’s; there was also a quiet suspicion among us that she might have wanted to enter a convent at one time, but caring for her mother took priority.

She did care for their mother, Catherine, during her last days. It was simply understood by both sisters that their mother would live out her days at home and that Judy would care for her. Judy and Nanna shared a room in our house on Huntington Turnpike and Prosper Place, and it was in that room that Nanna died. We were all home when Fr. Halloran came to give Nanna the last rites, though the doors were shut to children for those events a half century ago. This last gift to her mother was just an expression of what she undertook as her life’s work, caring for others as a nurse, or in Paul’s words, “Love cares for others more than self.”

She did private duty as registered nurse for a wealthy man in Greenfield Hills. When we showed hesitancy in folding our napkins properly, she would tell us that Mr. H. Smith Richardson insisted that everyone at lunch fold their paper napkins properly so that they could be re-used, and that he had more money than God so we had better listen up and learn. She had a number of other very wealthy clients when she worked private duty, but in the last position of her long working life, when she was an industrial nurse for the United Illuminating Company, she showed the same love and care for the more ordinary folks then in her care, whether it was a question of placing someone in treatment for substance abuse or having to tell a lineman’s wife that her husband had been killed on the job. (She told me that this was one of the most difficult tasks she ever had to perform). There is a lot in Paul’s other letters about there being no distinction among the followers of Jesus between rich and poor. Yes, Judy Carroll lived out that ideal too.

Today's mass, lovingly officiated by Monsignor Shea and St. Catherine's parish in Nichols, a town she called home and loved very much, is to pray for Judy and to honor her life. It is taking place almost 16 months after she died in hospice care on May 19 of last year. The reason is that Judy was firm in her wish that her body be given to a medical school so that she could, even after her physical life was complete, make a real contribution to educating the next generation doctors and perhaps relieve the suffering of disease and illness. Judy did know suffering in her life and had a deeply kind regard for others she only knew as fellow humans who shared her lot. The generosity of the final gift of her body cannot be over looked and is a bright example to all of us. Thank you Judy from the bottom of our hearts. Looking at the whole of Judy's life, I would offer an additional line to close Paul's hymn: Love goes beyond life as we know it. You will always be with us Aunt Judy.

And so AJ, although your ashes have already been set along side those of your sister very near here in the Nichols cemetery, I will close with the hymn that is usually sung when the casket is taken from the church to grave:

May choirs of angels welcome you
and lead you to the bosom of Abraham;
and where Lazarus is poor no longer
may you find eternal rest.

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