Judy Jarvis was my best friend for 19 years. She was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. If it matters, I never saw her smoke a cigarette; if it matters, her internist had failed to give her an annual chest X-ray. All that mattered to me, as I raced from Los Angeles to the hospital in Boston, was that my best friend was dying, and I was terrified. When I got there and introduced myself as her sister (close enough), the doctor was kindly, and scarily pessimistic. "We hope to get her home," he told me before I surprised her by walking into the room. "They hope to get you home," I said, almost as gravely as the doctor.
She laughed out loud and said: "I'm not going home to die. I'm going back to work." Work was the radio station where she hosted a syndicated show five days a week.
And she did. For the next 18 months, I flew to Boston every three weeks. We went to the radio station, and we went to chemo. We waded in the ocean until it was deep enough to swim, and then she would hand me her prosthetic leg (lung cancer caused clots that required amputation), and I would return, shivering wuss that I am, to wrap myself in a blanket and wait for her to wave at me to bring her leg.
And everywhere we went, Judy's dog Molly came with us. Molly would sit in the car for hours so she and Judy could visit through the door that connected the ward to the parking lot. When I was sleeping over, Molly would come to my bed to snuggle.
Did I mention that I had a lifelong fear of dogs, especially big dogs? And Molly was a big dog — she was supposed to be a purebred Egyptian water dog, except a big black Lab got to her mother first, which suited Judy's love of mutts.
Judy died on March 7, 2000 — 23 years to the day after my father died. I suddenly wanted a dog. It took almost three years — and four moves — until my kids and I actually lived in a house instead of a cramped apartment. The rental agreement said no dogs. I didn't care; we'd be long gone by the time the housing court would even hear the case, and besides, it would cost him a lot. My son found the ad, and we had the pick of the litter. My kids picked the runt, a little black Lab whose siblings were all yellow.
I named her Judy Jarvis Estrich, Judy Estrich for short.
And when Judy Estrich came home that wonderful day, I had a new best friend, to love, to take care of and to talk to. Judy Jarvis taught me many things, including the incredible kindness and loyalty and love of a good dog. I thought of how Judy would have loved the idea of me and my dog, Judy. On my worst days, I would find myself talking to both my Judys. And feeling their love.
For the longest time, I never thought about losing my Judy. Two years after Judy became an Estrich, we rescued a mutt, and I named her Molly, after Judy's Molly. My Molly always thought Judy was her mother. Because Judy took care of her. And two years later, we fell in love with a little Pug that I named after my dad, Irving.
My mother never wanted any pets in the house because they would eventually die, and we would all be so sad. For her, the prospect of loss mattered more than all the love.
She was wrong. I lost my Judy on Monday. She was 16. Sixteen years of pure joy. Sixteen years of love and loyalty. Who would give that up?
In recent months, as Judy's health deteriorated, we tried everything: shots from the doctor, herbal supplements, CBD ointment, hemp chews and braces. She was in pain. She could no longer even get up to pee and poo. True love must be unselfish. I couldn't face the prospect of losing Judy again, but even more, I couldn't let her suffer for my benefit.
Judy Jarvis Estrich died on June 3, 2019. Molly, who is now 14, looks for her all over the house. Irving, who is 12, just barks. I understand now that more loss looms, and I hate it. I'm too old for a new dog, and I wouldn't do it to Molly and Irving, any more than I would have done it to Judy, who was the best dog in the world. They need my love almost as much as I need theirs.
But no one will ever take the place of my two Judys. I will love them until my last breath. 'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. But losing Judy twice, losing her again, hurts like hell.
To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
Photo credit: AlexanderVlasov at Pixabay