By Jeanne Charters
I have never met her—just knew of her, as many people know of me, from the pages of this magazine. Judith Toy. I wondered what she looked like, if we are close in age, if we’d like each other if we ever met. You know what I mean. How you expect to like someone so much and then, when you do finally meet them, they’re just as ordinary as you are. So, you’re just a tad let down? But we never met, so I never was “let down.”
And I always loved reading her. Judith Toy. Wonderful writer, wise woman, interesting topics.
It was only on the last page of the February issue that I learned how pretty Judith is, how much she loves her husband, and the ordeal she has been living with all these months. The picture of her with Philip was beautiful. They look like the couple you’ve always wanted to know. The two that both you and your husband enjoy. That’s a tough combo to find. You know how it is. You love her, him not so much. He likes him, her—a real pain in the patootie. Or vice versa. Funny, isn’t it how dicey compatible coupling can be?
But not with these two. They’d be fun. The openness, the love, the respect for each other just radiates from the page and into your heart. You hope you’ll meet them both, together. You know they could be that rarest of treasures—couple friends.
But, reading that February issue, I realized that is not to be. Philip Toy was battling cancer. Bravely, I’m sure. And grateful that the new medication from his oncologist was helping the pain. But, unlike me, Philip was battling a cancer he couldn’t lick. The kind of cancer that makes me grateful that mine was confined to the breast. And it looked as though the end of his battle was close.
I so understood her words concerning a friend who raved about a series of inoculations almost guaranteed to cure cancer. The friend said these shots were “off the radar” because cancer is big business. All Judith said was, “Well.” If you or a loved one is dealing with cancer in this town, it becomes apparent real quick that the professionals who practice here are not looking at it as big business. They’re doing their damnedest to get you cured. But sometimes…
I wrote Judith an email when I read about her husband. She knew me as a fellow writer and graciously thanked me for my good wishes. And then, I waited, wondering.
Occasionally, I would read again the article in the February issue and look at their picture, seeking inspiration. When Judith told Philip that a man who loves him very much is looking for a miracle for him, Philip replied, “It is happening.” When she asked him what he meant, he said, “The miracle. It’s happening now.”
And it probably was—a miracle of a life fully lived, love fully shared.
How lucky were those five grandchildren who gathered on Philip’s bed, talking to him for an hour and caressing him with their love. I’m sure that’s a memory they’ll cherish forever.
How lovely that Judith got that longed-for reconciliation with her brother and a rare heart-to-heart with his wife before it was too late. You see: her brother is battling the same demon as her husband.
The obituary was in the newspaper this morning. Philip died Monday, surrounded by loving family and friends. They asked for no flowers, only donations to their community at cloudcottage.org.
Philip Toy was Judith’s lover, hero, and best friend. I know that about them, though I’ve never met them. It shows, clear as day, in the picture.
His battle is over. He is somewhere up among the stars he wished on every night. And Judith is still here. At Cloud Cottage in Black Mountain. And I fear her battle is only beginning. And it’s a tough one—being without your beloved.
But somehow I know Judith Toy will win her battle with loneliness. She was valiant in her care for Philip and in sustaining a rare love to the very last moment. Though she’s Buddhist and I’m a Catholic, I offer my prayer that her pain lessens with time and memory.
I respect Judith Toy, though I’ve never met her. I hope I’d be as loving and brave as she has been during her husband’s life and death. Good job, Judith!
Jeanne Charters, a transplant from New York, is a writer living in Asheville with her husband, Matt Restivo. Her collection of columns, “Funny, isn’t it?” is available at Malaprops, Mountain Made in the Grove Arcade, or at jeannecharters.com.
She has written three novels and has acquired an agent for her young adult novel, “Shanty Gold.” Jeanne is working on edits, per that agent, and hopes to have a publisher this year. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.