A poem

Accepting me now,

you shine light down the pathway.

I must take alone.

 

                                                                              Judy

 

Acknowledgments

A special Thank You to:

Ka Punawai Ola Nursing Facility and all the fine people that work there.

Especially CNA "Amy" for care above and beyond.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Islands Hospice

For the care provided by "Harold"

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

And all the good people that helped Judy make a difference in her life.

Final thoughts

     Judy's life was enriched in so many ways by the friendship of Leimomi.  After her second divorce and move to downtown, Judy was in need of much help.  Living a few floors below, Leimomi stepped forward to offer assistance as apartment life can be difficult for people with disabilities.  Over the years, their relationship grew close enough for Lei to consider Judy her "big sister".  Even after Judy moved away to the nursing home, Lei spent countless hours traveling by bus to visit.  I will never forget Lei's dedication, friendship, and care for my mother.  Such a friend is truly rare.

     While at the nursing home, Judy somehow was able to reconnect with Susan, her long lost high school friend.  They visited, had lunches, and probably reminisced about days gone by.  My mother often mentioned Susan when we talked about the early days.  On Judy's last day, Susan was there for her.  And I was grateful.

     Judy's last days started on November 6, 2013 as Hospice was called to manage her final care.  By this time, she had many health complications that required the help and advice of many professionals.  As ever higher doses of powerful pain medications were administered, Judy drank little, and ate even less.  As a result of increasing narcotics and lack of nutrition, Judy slept most of the time. 

Into December, I increased my visits as Hospice was predicting her "transition" could happen at any time.  Well, Judy can't give up because she doesn't know how to give up.  The days past into January and her deterioration continued.  She often awoke confused and stressed that she would be late for work.  In her mind, the "Metro Section Supervisor" can't just sit around when there's clients to assist. 

A few days before her passing, I whispered in her ear that it was ok for her to let go of the pain and be free.  Her eyes barely opened, but she squeaked out "I want to fight".  After all the years of trials and tribulations, I was stunned.  Even in these last days, Judy had more strength than I will ever have.

On the morning of January 30, Hospice called me saying that it was time.  I hurried down and there were many people from the facility and Islands Hospice "fussing" about as Judy would say.  A stream of people visited throughout the day to pay their respects.  After the last person left the room, and she was satisfied we were alone, Judy passed away. 

Afraid to move, I stood there for several minutes trying to comprehend what just happened.  The normally noisy halls went quiet and a peaceful silence fell over the room.  I could feel that she wasn't in the room anymore.  My mother had passed away.

The only place

     Judy's greatest struggle was here at last.  Being placed in a nursing facility at the age of 61 seemed almost criminal.  She would comment that this was not a place for someone like her.  Just because she could not physically care for herself anymore, a standard nursing home was the only option. With a sharp mind and so much more to offer, being surrounded by Alzheimer's disease and dementia patients was no place to be.  But it was the only place, and Judy knew it.

Since muscular dystrophy had been progressing through her body from the age of 13, advanced cases like hers are rarely seen in a facility.  The nursing home struggled to manage Judy's care as her body was so delicate that the fear of injury was constant.  Much of the work was shouldered by a small group of dedicated nursing assistants that took the time, and made the effort to treat her as best they could.

Judy could never take back her life like so many times before.  But she could pull herself up and forge ahead one last time.  To knowingly and willfully give up on the challenges of life was worse than any dementia condition. 

In those last years she made many friends, crafted what she could, and counseled people seeking her wisdom.  Still being independent, she would go on outings with friends to nearby restaurants and catch up.  Longs Drugs being a favorite hangout.  And for many years this was her life.

All good things...

     They say all good things must come to an end.  And that end came in spectacular fashion in the summer of 2007.  On her way to a doctor appointment, Judy's power chair struck a portion of uplifted sidewalk and was ejected onto the road.  The irony of the situation was that this occured directly in front of the Hawaii State Capital building.  The same building that she worked for to help disabled people live happy, safe, and productive lives. 

From the Queens Hospital, she would be transfered to the Ka Punawai Ola nursing facility in Kapolei.  She would never return home again.

Best of times

     With newfound independence and all the time in the world, Judy could do anything she wanted.  Living in downtown was like another planet.  Noise from the parties, fights, traffic, drunks, and periodic marathon cannon was almost more than she could handle.  Nevertheless, Judy loved everything town could offer.  Close proximity to banks and her doctors, shops and restaurants, and a whole city of future friends.  And she made many friends.

I think these were the best times for her.  Quite often just sitting at the window of her 13th floor corner apartment, gazing at the Queen Elizabeth 2 or some other ship.  Dreaming of far away places while sewing or meeting friends at the tea shop.

In the years from 1999 to 2007, Judy lived the quiet independent life she always wanted.

Slowing down

     While Judy was trying to make a difference in the lives of people with disabilities, her own disability was progressing.  Her body weakened with muscular dystrophy and a new heart condition arose.  The transition to an electric chair was liberating at first, but was also a sign of things to come.  The time was quickly approaching when Judy would have to slow down, take care of herself, and find peace.

In those years Judy remarried, divorved, and moved to a downtown apartment overlooking Aloha Tower at Honolulu Harbor.  As the physical strain became too much to bare, she retired in 1999.  Saddened briefly, Judy would do what she does best.  Pull herself up, take back her life, and make a difference!

 

Make a difference

     Not only helping people on Oahu, Judy played another part on a national level.  I don't have all the details but she had some role to play in the July 1990 passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  I know this because there's an invitation from  President George H. W. Bush to attend the signing ceremony at The White House.  Being that the journey to Washington D.C. would be too arduous, she had to decline. 

That same year, Judy was nominated by Governor John Wai'he'e with consent of the Senate to a 4 year term to the Commission on Persons with Disabilities.  I don't know what she did for the A.D.A or on the commission but it sounds like she made a difference.

On a mission

     In her mind, Judy's goals were simple.  Get into the university, graduate with a masters, work for the state, and empower others.  She transfered to the University of Hawaii at Manoa to make those dreams come true.  A very few years later in 1978,  she earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Human Development.  And since she didn't want to waste any time, she earned her Master of Education in Counseling and Guidance in 1980.

In the next ten years she did all that and more.  Judy found that she could do the most good for people with disabilities by working for the State of Hawaii.  Because it was never about the money, she never even considered working for private corporations. A true union member in the making, Judy found her home at the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation for the State of Hawaii.  That's where she put those core values of the "COPE" program to good use by helping people out of a life of dependency.  If she could do it, maybe others with her help can make it happen too.

     The program was called "College Orientation Program for Education of the Physically Handicapped" or COPE for short.  In a 1974 newspaper article, Judy was interviewed about being a trailblazer for people with physical handicaps. 

"When I thought about college, I worried that I had two strikes against me.  I was 28 years old and I was in a wheelchair.  When I called the college, I was afraid to tell them I was handicapped.  I thought they'd reject me right away.  Instead they said 'have we got a program for you!' "

Judy passed that short course to prove she could "learn" and was allowed to enroll in college.  She went on to become a "paraprofessional" and group leader to help new students in the same situation.  Judy thrived in this new environment by participating in student government and being elected to the "Who's Who Among Students in American Junior Colleges" 1974-1975. 

And Judy was just getting started.  Next stop was the University of Hawaii.                                                                           

The real challenge begins

     So far the story seems simple enough, except for one big thing left unmentioned.  Muscular dystrophy.  A hereditary disease that has ravaged her mother's side of the family for generations. Judy knew early on since the age of 13 that her fate was decided.  By the time high school rolled around, she was weak and her legs would periodically give out.  Still, she made her friends, went to school, got married, and had a child.  When her son Robby was about 5 years old, she was ready for the dreaded wheelchair.  After her divorce, she found a dormant strength deep within that would defeat most challenges. 

     Afraid and tentative, Judy picked up the phone and made the call to change her life.  She would find that strength and focus all her energy on Leeward Community College.

Starting a new life

     Judy was born in Washington state and raised in Edmonds.  When she was 16 years old, her family was transfered to Hawaii as her stepfather was in the military.  After a few years, she moved in with her close friend Susan to start her life anew.  It wasn't a big move since Susan lived across the street.  For someone of that age, Hawaii was the place to be.  Meeting new friends, going to the beach, and taking long drives.  While attending Waipahu High School, she met and became sweethearts with Bob Hangai.  It wasn't long before they were married and living life the way they wanted it to be.  They lived here and there, had a son (Robby), and for a time was without a care.  As with many marriages, sometimes the end is sooner than anyone would recognize.  By the time I was five years old, they were divorced.

     After the normal amount of time for reflection, she was determined to take another stab at starting a new life.  And this time, she was going to pull herself up, take back her life, and make a difference!