It was on the late bus coming home from high school: I invited her to the slumber party for my 14th birthday cause I felt impolite planning it in front of her with my friend. She confessed (years later) that she fought the urge to scrub the freckles off my face. She thought Comet might do it.
That birthday party featured ghost stories read dramatically by Jude, in the dark with the requisite flashlight. We giggled, danced the the can-can, gorged on potato chips and pop. And giggled some more. My father pounded on his bedroom floor above us: “Don’t you know decent folks have to get up early in the morning.” That not-so-slumber party solidified a wonderful relationship —BFF -best friends forever. We created the standard. We were a trio, Ellen, Jude and I—Ellen with her intelligence and passion for literature and art, Jude with her intelligence and passion for drama and music, and me with my intelligence and predilection for underachievement. We were in the drama club together, the glee club together, we contributed to the Yearbook. We sang Christmas carols in the halls of Brock High school and had coins thrown at us for our efforts. Not to us, at us. Jude was the only one who could really carry a tune.
Jude sang at my wedding, filling St. Mary’s church with her power and talent. She was the second person I called, after my grandmother, to tell that my eldest, Melanie was born. Jude was still in bed, hungover from a campus binge. Two hours later she was in the hospital to hold her first god-daughter for the first time.
She was always there for me like that—celebrations, tragedies and sad, drunken calls at 2 am. Mostly mine. The births of all three of my children, marriage, separation and aftermath of not one but three relationships, my sister’s death, my brother’s accident. She was my constant; she was my rock. She was my Jude.
When I chatted with some of you earlier, I got the sense that many of you felt the very same. Jude had that gift of making everyone feel like you were the most important person in her universe. Skyla, Jude loved you especially. She gave you the love that would have been bestowed on the child she never had. Doris, you and Jude were Thelma and Louise on those stateside road trips and Pete, no sister was ever as proud of a brother as she was of you. And she was so happy that when you married Liz, you married a family that love and respect you unconditionally.
Take a look at that box. I cannot believe that the essence of Jude has been condensed into this small wooden vessel. Jude was a big, beautiful woman. And those of us who love her know a woman of substance is required encase a heart of that enormity. And this small box contains all that is left of her earthly presence.
One of her favourite stories was of one of her students snuggling under her arm for a hug, “Miss Bagshaw, you’re just like a pillow.” Each of her students felt that love, that feeling of being the centre of Jude’s universe. She taught, she cared, she co-wrote and directed musicals at Glen Street school for 30 years. Glen Street was not an easy school. Most of the students were living in poverty. Many struggled with English as a second language, there was domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse. And she repeatedly got cards, letters, phone calls and Facebooks posts from hundreds of former students who thanked her for the profound and ongoing impact her presence in their lives had on them. Kids who couldn’t read who are now graduating from university, a young people were comfortable confiding in Jude, trusted in her to help. She believed in her students. She believed in their dreams. Her heart—her giving—was that huge.
And our hearts hurt today because of the loss of this wonderful person. But there is a reason for that hurt. You see, the reason why this box is so small is because a part of Jude’s enormous heart has attached itself to each of our own. It has become divided amongst the many, many who loved her. And that attaching hurts. But over time, the pain will go away. And that heart will grow—so don’t be surprised if you gain a little weight in the next while. And don’t be surprised if you find yourself becoming more open, more kind, more loving. Embrace that. Yes, the weight, too. This is Jude’s ultimate legacy. It will never make us as good and kind and loving as she was. But it will bring us closer.
Jude with my son, Antony. November 13, 1987