Just over a week ago, Brantley called me at work to tell me of the sudden and unexpected loss of a dear friend. I’m still trying to process it all; the fact that she is gone from us; the amazing sweep of her soul. Julie and I didn’t see each other every week, or sometimes every month, but over the years we had exchanged house keys, shared holidays and ball games, and always hugged in greeting. If you have ever read one of my books, you can thank Julie.
Julie was the person who finally convinced me my first manuscript was good enough for publication. She had a way with things like that. She could look you right in the eye, give you a slight, compassionate smile, and convince you that you could do anything. You see, Julie believed in people, in their endless potential, in their deep-seated ability to do what was right. I believe that was what drove her passion to advocate for the causes she believed in, no matter how steep the climb.
Just after I learned of Julie’s death, I got the weekly email from our church that outlines the service for the coming Sunday. We would be celebrating All Saints Day by remembering all who had passed during the year. I thought about not going to church that Sunday. I didn’t think I was ready for the emotions that could come. I decided to go and sit in the balcony, just in case I needed to leave. Our pastor delivered a message that was fairly simple for his usual style. He reminded us that we would always have regrets when it came to losing those we love, but that life is never simple or logical, and the path of forgiveness is there for both the giving and the taking, particularly to quell the pain of things left undone. It was exactly what I needed to hear, and yet I’m still left with the continuing cycle of things I wish I had done. I wish Julie had seen our new house, even if we didn’t have time to clean before she and her wife came over. Julie truly celebrated other people’s good fortune, and I know she would have looked around the place and said our new house was “awesome.” I wish Julie had met Charlie and Blue, our two new dogs, because she loved dogs so much. And I wish I had told her more about how she inspired the character of Aunt Julie in Finding the Grain, not in just the use of her name, but also how I thought about the character, and the fact that I wanted to thank Julie in some way for all she had done for me.
In these recent days I’ve been reflecting on the character of Aunt Julie and the Julie I knew, on why Aunt Julie was the one character in the whole book who was actually named in tribute to a real person. There are the obvious answers; that I wanted to thank Julie in some way for encouraging me to try to get published; that in my mind the character of Aunt Julie looked very much like the real Julie. But I think there may have been more going on in my sub-conscience thoughts. Maybe the real Julie was drifting through my mind, encouraging me in the ways she encouraged everyone she knew, saying you are good enough for this, you deserve it because you’ve worked hard for it, that great rewards require honest effort, and that no matter what happens, I am so proud of you, and I’m proud to call you my friend.
That was Julie, the Julie that I loved and I will always be proud to call my friend.
Peace to you now, my dear friend. You will be in every story I write.