An Internet Blessing

Fans who have read my latest book, Missing and Endangered, or a much earlier Ali novel, Fatal Error, have been made aware of the very real dangers lurking out there on the Internet. But there can be Internet blessings, too.

The daily group-grope emails that come from family members keep me in touch with far flung siblings, cousins and nieces, and they almost always put a smile on my face. Sometimes we share comics that tickle the funny bone, sometimes we fume over what’s going on in the outside world, sometimes we share memories of growing up in a large family, and more often than not we infect each other with one person’s current and very annoying ear worm. It’s like going to a mini family reunion each morning before breakfast but with the added benefit of no cameras and no mosquitoes.

This morning, though I’d like to share another Internet blessing, a very personal one, that—at this point, is only a few months old. It’s something a very small group of us call the Circle.

I’ve mentioned before that over years of doing personal appearances some of my fans have moved from the fan column to the friend column. Two such women—Janice and Valerie—are from Tucson. They’re the actual fans, but in the past their husbands, Frank and Ted, always came along to book signings as well. While I was busy signing books, Ted and Frank would chat with Bill. We’re all “of an age,” and I always appreciated having those two guys pay attention to Bill rather than leaving him sitting in splendid isolation in the corner of some room. As for the women? Janice is an inveterate collector of all things J.A. Jance—signed books, posters, bookmarks, newspaper clippings, etc. And there isn’t a single holiday that passes without Valerie sending me a lovely Jacquie Lawson greeting card.

Last fall, I’m not sure when, I received separate emails from both Janice and Valerie. It seems that both Ted and Frank were dealing with serious non-Covid related health issues. Both men had been hospitalized and were being treated in facilities their wives were unable to visit. Both women were stuck at home, tossing and turning; worrying and fretting. Although they may have been at the same event and in the same room together on occasion, most likely at the Tucson Festival of Books, Janice and Valerie had never met, but they were both living through very similar versions of hell.

Their emails to me came in, days apart, and of course I answered them at once, but somehow simply answering just didn’t do it for me. After a bit of time passed, I did what my mother, Evie, would have done and stuck my nose in where it didn’t belong. Longtime readers of my blog have heard a good deal about Evie Busk over the years. My mother wasn’t particularly good at minding her own business, and neither is her daughter. Whenever I start coloring outside the lines, Bill always shakes his head and says, “You’re Evieing it again.”

And Evieing It is exactly what I used as the subject line of the email I sat down and wrote to both Valerie and Janice, introducing them to one another and suggesting that, due to their strikingly similar situations and physical proximity, maybe they should consider being friends. In a world seemingly focused on all Covid all the time, they were both dealing with spouses with equally serious non-Covid issues. I thought that knowing there was someone else stuck in similar circumstances might be of help. In addition it didn’t hurt that they were both diehard fans of mine.

It turns out my little bit of Internet matchmaking worked, and thus the Circle was born. Since they replied to one another by hitting the reply-all button, I was able to see each of their messages and ended up up being included in their blossoming on-line friendship. We learned a lot about each other in the process. My perception of them was that both couples had been married forever. With Ted and Valerie, that’s pretty much true. They met doing computer dating in 1966! I’m trying to figure out exactly how that worked and wondering if they turned up on their first date carrying matching punch cards. Janice and I had both had unfortunate first marriages. Janice followed her first bad one with two good ones, and one of her weddings was on a reality TV program. I don’t know all the gory details about that either.

Over time we realized that we’re women of much the same age with husbands whose health situations are more precarious than our own. In the process of getting to know one another and sharing our concerns about that, our Circle correspondence turned out to be as much of a help to me as it was to them.

Then November came along, bringing with it a heartbreaking email from Michelle, a fan I had never met who lives somewhere in rural Texas. After a dental visit in October where oral cancer of some kind was discovered, her husband, also named Ted, was referred to an oncologist who scheduled him for immediate surgery. With the surgery over, he was sent to a rehab facility where he came down with … you guessed it … Covid. Michelle’s email was a desperate cry for help. Here she was, facing this awful crisis all alone while living on a small ranch, miles away from the facilities where Ted was being treated, and with no kids or relatives anywhere nearby to help. What to do?

Growing up, my folks had a round oak pedestal dining room table. The truly magic thing about round tables is this—there’s always room for one more. And so our Circle—that small email support group with Judy, Janice, and Valerie—expanded to include one more, Michelle. At first she kept referring to me as Ms. Jance. I finally convinced her that as far as the Circle was concerned, Judy would do just fine.

For months now, we’ve kept each other in our thoughts and prayers. Our notes back and forth haven’t just been about health issues. We’ve talked about things going on in our lives, and it turns out we have a lot in common. A discussion of hobbies means that Valerie now has one of Bill’s oil paintings—one featuring one of our bright prink roses—hanging in her Tucson home. We learned that before the pandemic,Ted and Valerie and Janice and Frank had often eaten at the same Tuscon-based casino without ever having actually met. It turns out Michelle, too, has a favorite nearby casino where she can find respite, camaraderie, and comfort.

In our emails, as we followed updates on Texas Ted’s condition, we also discussed the good, the bad, and the ugly of getting older. We’ve talked about pets. Janice and I are into dogs. Janice and Frank have a recently rescued canine named Benji. Michelle favors kitties. We’ve discussed plumbing issues—problems with broken pipes, non-working pumps, and inside water leaks. While attempting to replace a smoke-alarm battery in the middle of the night a week or so ago, Tucson Ted missed the last step on a ladder and landed on Valerie. Neither of them was seriously injured, but Janice and I both chimed in touting on the soothing magic of Arnica when it comes to painful bruising. And it turns out aging parents aren’t the only ones with health issues. During this time Ted and Valerie’s son in Colorado also had a scary non-Covid hospital encounter.

Eventually both Tucson Ted and Frank recuperated enough to come home, but all the while, Michelle—the hero of the piece—continued to wage her lonely battle. With Ted being moved from facility to facility far from home, she sometimes drove up to three hundred miles a day, just to catch a glimpse of her husband through the window of his room. She sometimes made those solo journeys on rural roads in terrible weather conditions. Does anyone remember what winter was like in Texas this past January and February? On one of those drives, she ended up spinning out. She wasn’t hurt, but her vehicle was totaled.

Two weeks ago, Ted’s doctors in Texas were talking about releasing him from his most recent rehab facility. Michelle was concerned about that because, the last time he had been sent home from a hospital he hadn’t been ready and had to be rushed back by ambulance a day or so later. Then a week ago, with his proposed release date only a day or so away, a late-night call came from the hospital telling Michelle that Ted was gone. It was days after learning of his death before she was finally able to speak to one of his nurses. She said that Ted had been doing well and chatting with his night nurse earlier in the evening. An hour or so later he was found to be unresponsive. The doctors say that it’s likely that he suffered a stroke while sleeping and simply passed away. At that point, all of Ted’s personal effects had gone missing. That same caring nurse went searching for them. Eventually she found them stacked on a wheelchair and tucked away in a closet. She was the one who made certain they were returned.

So now Michelle is dealing with all the aftermath of Ted’s final illness—starting with filling out all the necessary paperwork, sorting through files, and making arrangements to sell their home. Ted’s son is currently visiting from out of town to help her. Both Janice and I have some experience with the death of a spouse, but at this point the other members of the Circle are making sure our affairs are in order.

Of the four of us, I’m the only one who ever knew my mother. I’ve met both Janice and Valerie. Although they live only a matter of miles apart in Tucson, vaccine considerations mean that they have not yet met in person, and none of the three of us have ever laid eyes on Michelle. Nonetheless, we know her and care for her, and we’re all grieving for her. Wherever she ends up, she’ll have the Circle lingering in the background and cheering her on.

My mother never in her life sent a single email or signed up for Facebook, but with the Circle, Evie Busk definitely has an on-line presence, and I’m pretty sure she would have put her personal stamp of approval on our little Circle.

And it turns out there are times when my Evieing it can be a real blessing.

40 thoughts on “An Internet Blessing

  1. WONDERFUL STORY
    You took ordinary stuff and wove a beautiful, lovely story. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
    Clay

  2. Well, you’ve brought me to tears and remembering hard times in my own life, though very different than the hard times the Circle women are going through. Blessings to all of you and to that special, caring nurse. This is a good reminder that a few moments of caring and thoughtful action can bring rewards beyond measure or expectation.

  3. I love your caring nature, and the fact that you have such a loving family surely helps. BTW you let a dreaded ‘Tuscon’ slip in during the part of your letter about the casinos!!

  4. What a wonderful story of finding love and friendship in unexpected ways. God bless all of you for being able to find each other and sharing.

  5. I believe this blog just defined one important definition of “Friendship”. Long distance or personal it is the sharing of love, concern, and support. Blessings!

  6. God bless you for your compassion. Extra prayers for Michelle’s strength, peace during this time. Hugs to each in your Circle. Evie would be proud.

  7. This is why I so look forward to your emails. The Circle may a blessing to each of you, but your email today is a blessing to all of us. Thank you.

  8. You are an inspiration to me. This is a wonderful story to read on Good Friday.
    Keep up the good work. Just checked out Missing and Endangered from the local library. Can’t wait to read it. Love all your books.

  9. In 1999 my husband felt something uncomfortable in his mouth and mentioned it to his dentist. His dentist could find nothing wrong. In 2000 the pain got worse and his dentist sent him to an oral surgeon. They did a biopsy and discovered cancer. Shorty after they did surgery, removing a third of his tongue. When he called me from the hospital I hung up on him 3 times thinking it was a wrong number because I couldn’t understand him. We later chuckled about that. (Later they developed a brush test and currently they have a light machine that can identify cancer. My dentist has this machine and I get tested yearly. Back then they wouldn’t rebuild his tongue until he met the 5 year survival test. Well because he couldn’t eat and refused a feeding tube he went from about 250#s to about 130#s. He also got lung then bone cancer. In 2004 he passed away. I cried for Michelle understanding what she is experiencing. I met my husband when we were 20 and he passed away 35 years later. It’s been 17 years since he died and it feels like yesterday. Although he suffered through each diagnosis and subsequent surgery he never complained and really thought he would get well. I miss him every day. I have some very good friends and in laws that I’ve leaned on both then and now. I also saw a counselor who helped immensely. What ever Michelle thinks may help she should seek out. She will be stronger for it. Take care.

  10. Your story and all those in the comments brought tears to my eyes. God bless all of the ladies in The Circle.

  11. What a blessing you are to all of us. Loved reading about the circle. I will pray fo Michelle. She has been through so much.

  12. This makes me so happy. I love your books and have been reading them for years. I saw you in person once at the Olympia Timberland Library years ago. It makes me love you more when I not only enjoy your work but I admire your character. You are kind and caring. So glad you Evied it up for these ladies. Blessings to you on this Good Friday.

  13. This is why you are one of my favorite authors–you are first and foremost a caring person –who happens to write books. A few years back my brother in law and his wife attended a book signing and approached you about advice for aspiring authors. They had written a book and self published it. Dennis gave you a copy and you were kind enough to spend time with them and offer good advice. That is not something many authors would take the time to do. Today’s blog is yet another demonstration of that same caring and generous nature. Thank you for being you. (You were also kind enough to vouch for me when I showed up at your granddaughter’s school thinking the event there was public and I got to stay for your reading.}

  14. Thank you Judy for this poignant blog. Please pass on to the “Circle” from the “Outer Circle” our prayers, sympathy, support and well wishes. At some point in time we all experience very difficult crises. Knowing others care helps getting through those times.

  15. Thank you for such an inspirational blog today. Many of us were brought up to respect the privacy of others and often hesitate to insert ourselves uninvited into the lives of others. But Evie’s example gave you the push you needed and your friends benefited, as did we all. I have never regretted doing the same. We all need all the love and support possible during difficult and even ordinary times. Your blog is a blessing in my life, for which I am very grateful.

    • Sharon, I agree with you that some of us were taught not to show up uninvited when someone we know is having a tough time. It’s hard to know what to do, but I think we should at least try. A phone call or something left at their door. Anything to show that at least one person cares.

  16. Thank you for sharing this. What a story to read, parts of it sad but also comforting. Even with friends I had before this pandemic, through email and texting, a group of us has buoyed each other up, and hopefully supported one member who has gone through a shocking lung cancer diagnosis. We’ve learned who each other is in a way that we hadn’t before, and one is now also a diehard J. A. Jance fan!

  17. Blessings to all in the Circle. It’s wonderful that you have all come together and helped each other. Friends who have never met. I am sorry for Michelle’s loss.

  18. “Evieng” seems to be more about care, love, and consideration than nosiness, Bless Evie for showing you the way to pass this on.

  19. I don’t have to tell you I am a fan…I wouldn’t be here if I were not. Your Circle is a wonderful gift that you have enabled and reading it, I can see your strength of person keeping all of it afloat. In ten days I will be 94 and altho the warranties on my body parts are running out, my mind, thankfully, remains receptive and looks for enjoyment. I recently broke my hearing aid and the thought of spending so much money for another at this age…then I told my granddaughter, I don’t want to spend whatever time I have left feeling left out. I want to hear everything…and she said”Go for it, Granny”. So I am! Blessings on you, dear lady.

  20. Yes, your “Evieing it” can be a blessing, but so can your blogging about it, because now there are many of us praying for Michelle.
    BTW, I just finished listening to M&E last night, and found myself with tears in my eyes several times, because of the warm, brave, caring of Joanna and Jenny (like their author, obviously) and because of Jenny’s expressed gratitude for the people who did such a great job of looking out for her safety.

  21. Wow Judy, once again you have hit the nail on the head, powerful stuff.
    Hope the ladies all get vaccinated (if they choose to) and have an in person reunion
    Well wishes and thank you from Tucson.
    PS I did smell orange blossoms on my walk this morning.

  22. Oh my it sure is dusty in here, and I literally just cleaned!

    How wonderful that you all have been there for each other. It’s a rather powerful kindness (inter) web, where you just don’t know how one touch will travel. Or who will benefit. I am glad you reached out, and I am sure Evies spirit is rejoicing.

    Take care.

  23. Judy,
    Good job bringing the ladies together. I connected with a support group after
    my husband passed away and we have remained close for 20 years. We met and
    shared so many things that kept us together all these years. It is amazing how those
    friends/family we thought would be there when needed weren’t. Friendships take
    work and it is well worth it. Stay close, stay connected those friendships will be
    there. Say thank you when you connect.
    Stay safe and take care,
    Sandy

  24. Well first of all I just ordered some ARNICA on amazon for my arthritis. Thanks so much for the info. I loved hearing about your Circle. I’m also “of a certain age” and lost my husband of 55 yrs. a little over 2 yrs ago. I have some dear friends and wonderful children that have kept me going. I also have to thank you in part because of your beautiful blogs and books that have also been a big part of my recovery. Because of your blogs and also some personal emails I’ve received from you I consider you a friend even though of the virtual persuasion. You ladies are very lucky to have each other as virtual friends. Even if you never meet in person, the support and caring that you give each other virtually is every bit as important as our “in-person” friends.

  25. Oh my gosh, your story was so beautiful; it made me cry. Thank you for sharing this with us. Sending love to all of your Circle.

  26. This is for your friend Michelle whose husband died. I am so sorry.

    Dear Michelle,

    I wanted to express my condolences to you on the death of your husband. I hope that the feelings of grief are soon beginning to diminish. We hope the community of grief you experienced at the funeral was good for the healing process. This poem was sent to us when our son died and we really appreciated it. I hope it will help in your healing.

    Tenderly… may time heal your sorrow,
    Gently… may friends ease your pain,
    Softly… may peace replace heartache,
    And may warmest memories remain.

    I hope folks can ease your pain in some way. The warm memories will have to come from within you. I hope you all will be able to have a good time recalling the past, and enjoy those memories which should be yours. Please know if you need to talk, I have been there, so you are welcome to call me.

    Love always,

    dorinda

  27. When snail mail was the “in” thing, 4-5 women would write like that. It was called a Round Robin. Only one person is still alive and we do Christmas letters. It’s not the same. We went thru babies, divorces, deaths of spouses or children. I wrote one lady separately as well as in a robin for over 50 years before she passed. I would love to find someone to be a pen pal again but don’t know where to look.

    • Years ago, our local library sponsored a pen pal network for children and it was quite successful.
      Contact your own library to see if they have resources available to you and contact your local senior citizens’ center for assistance.
      It’s also possible that AARP would consider sponsoring a program if enough interest was shown. You could also contact your church; as a Lutheran, our Thrivent magazine is always looking to assist congregants world-wide to connect.
      Good luck to you!

  28. “At some point the world we see becomes a magnificent bridge to Heaven. And then, when we are ready, it fades into nothing; a vast, infinite nothing. Because this is the truth: There is only ever LOVE.”
    Thank you for your caring heart. Peace be with you.

  29. Because you answered me I started reading your books and I enjoy them very much. I also count you as a friend.

  30. Life is precious. This was brought to my attention again the first part of February, when my youngest brother was taken to the VA Hospital in Tucson with Pneumonia/Covid-19. He was in there in five days and the doctors decided he needed to be put in a sleep coma and incubated. He was like that for almost six weeks. Since I’m the oldest and he lives with my husband and I; I am his Medical decision maker. It was a scary six weeks. He is out of the coma, doing okay, and trying to read the Joanna Brady books I took him, since he said he was bored.

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