A tearful, prayer from our dear friend and kids’ preschool school leader Dr. Kristin Milson, to welcome everyone to Judy’s celebration.  I took the stage next, in front of a packed room of 300 neighbors, friends and schoolmates. Judy lived her life by the mantra “A life serving others is a life well lived”, and the room was filled with so many people she had befriended and helped along the way. Fellow Moms, neighbors and especially those afflicted with cancer.

I’d spoken before much larger crowds with my business, but this was completely different. The community, family members and especially my daughters were relying on me for guidance on how to deal with their loss. To set the tone for this goodbye to my beautiful bride, and a celebration of a life taken from us way too soon.

I began where it all started for Tom and Judy:

Let me tell you a story. Before the arrival of our beautiful daughters: Sophia and Alaina. Before our home here in Winter Park. Before creating our business Alinean together. Before cross-country and soccer. Before the great vacations in Harbor Springs and Boulder, and camp in Maine. Before school at All Saints, Park Maitland and Trinity Prep.

“Hello, Judy?  This is Tom …. Our mutual friend Jan said to give you a call…that we should connect …”

How an incredible journey can begin so simply with just a phone call and a few words… and for me, this was all “just in time”.

I had just started my first company, and went headfirst into the deep end of my work. I was still recovering from a broken relationship, and was really struggling to make meaningful connections with anyone of the opposite sex. In that moment, on that call, Judy was truly a breath of fresh air.

We talked for a really long time. About her new job at Disney as an Imagineer.  About her digital marketing for the new Celebration development and the Disney Cruise Line launch. She had brains, talent and dreams … and I was instantly charmed.

So after about a half hour of captivating conversation I opine: “So this blind-date stuff is really awkward huh?”  Complete silence.

When our friend told me to give Judy a call, she neglected to tell Judy why I would be calling … Judy thought I was looking for a Digital Marketer – She thought this was a job interview, not a call with any romantic interest!

Crap, no wonder the conversation went so well!

I broke the awkward silence: “Sorry, I didn’t mean to catch you by surprise …. But I thought this was a great conversation, and if you’d like to continue, I’d really like to meet you in person. Here’s my number. Give me a call.” Rico Suave smooth, huh?

Luckily, Judy had just gotten out of a long relationship herself, moving back from Cincinnati. A new job, a new apartment, and apparently a new sense of adventure. So although she had always promised to never go on a blind date, she too wanted a meaningful connection and enjoyed the cerebral conversation too. With a little convincing from her friends, and one or two glasses of wine later, she decided to give me a ring.

A few days later, at Pannulo’s Italian restaurant I’m anxiously waiting at an outside table so I couldn’t miss her, and so she couldn’t dodge me either!

For a little context with the younger generation, this is before Facebook, Instagram, and all the dating apps …. we had absolutely no idea what each other really looked like, other than the description we got from our mutual friend, who unfortunately didn’t have a photo of either of us to share.

And, as if time stopped, up she walks.

Ripped acid washed jeans and a tight peach sweater. Long auburn hair, and most of all, that great big smile. Before you even knew her, that smile communicated Michigan wholesome and a heart full of kindness and giving.

I thought she looked just like Melissa Gilbert. Yes, that girl from Little House on the Prairie … but the grown up, no pig-tails version.

Brand new, but familiar. She was confident: a girl not afraid to order Penne Tufo on a first date; by far the most garlic on the menu. And most of all, Judy felt like “home” to me. Comfortable in her own skin, she made you feel that same way, as she listened attentively and seemed to truly care about what I had to share.

And what did she think of me?  She often reminded me about that first date: those obnoxious wrap-around Oakley’s and Guido gold rope chain I was wearing. And how she confided in our mutual friend that I was a little “Too nice”. Can you believe that!

Somehow I got her to look past all of that…. and before you know it, our lives were entwined, in love – our first house on Lake Copeland in Delaney Park, our first puppy, SOFTWARE, and like floating on a cloud at the top of the Citrus Club, our first dance as husband and wife.

And Judy, what a dance it was.

Until we meet again at our favorite Italian Restaurant …

To See You Again

There’s a hole where my heart used to be
Where the rain seeps in and drowns my will to live

Falling inside to heal, confident of the strength I’ll gain
Only to find weakness is all that remains

And so I cry, and try, knowing that real love never ends
Our love will be reborn

Another time, another space, another place
I will find you and we will love again

This is the poem I wrote for my late wife for her Celebration of Life ceremony.