PROFILE: Judith Ashley — Fulfilling a Promise
September 7, 2018
By Destiney Bradt
Special to TWI
When Penn Valley resident and published author Judith Ashley made the promise to be with her mother as she faced her final days, she had no idea what the fulfillment of that promise would bring. Her mother had come through surgery for bowel and liver cancer successfully, but the surgeon informed her that they had been unable to remove all of the cancer. She was given but a year to live.
With grace and courage, Enid, aged 84, only asked that Judith would help her get her things in order and be with her when her time drew near to the end. She continued to live with elegant independence, doing what she could to maintain her normal routine.
"Mother's home was always immaculate, and the fact that she was dying did nothing to change her determination to keep it that way," writes Judith.
When the doctor stated that she had merely three weeks to live, Enid in turn informed Judith, "The doctor says it's time for you to come." And so began Judith's journey into caregiving.
Without hesitation, Judith flew to England and worked tirelessly to tend to her mother's needs. She willingly took over the chores, maintaining the atmosphere her mother had kept so diligently (though most of it her mother would never see). Over the next six weeks, she brought comfort, respite and sometimes the gentle reassurance that was necessary for her mother to continue to face her death with grace and dignity.
At the time, Judith and her second husband, 'hb', had been married eight years. Though her career as a human resource consultant for two of the largest tech companies in the world had taken her to several U.S. states and across three continents, this would be the first time the couple would be spending a significant amount of time separately. In her absence, Judith took to writing him daily, sometimes two or three times throughout the day.
The letter-writing helped Judith process everything that was involved with her mother's caregiving — the joys, the challenges, the mundane and the sublime. This allowed Judith to stay absolutely focused on her mother's needs, at the same time giving her the opportunity to vent the many emotions that she herself was feeling. Through her writing, and daily phone calls, she was able to stay connected with her home and the husband she missed so dearly, knowing that caring for her mother was what she wanted to be doing.
Several years after her mother's passing, 'hb' handed her the letters and told her she ought to put them in a book. As she reread the letters, she had the opportunity of revisiting that season of her life and "put it all together." The result was her first book, Into the Silence, published in 2007.
Having recently been awarded a 2018 Caregiver-Friendly award by Today's Caregiver magazine, the book exemplifies one way that caring for the dying can be approached and also continue to care and nurture oneself. Ashley is vulnerable and honest in her writing, sharing both her struggle with grief and her moments of feeling immense love both for and from her precious mother. She endears her mother to the reader as she shares her impeccable grace in facing death. They hold picnics in her bedroom, watching Wimbledon or thoroughbred horse racing while eating smoked salmon and drinking wine. At one point, Enid shares with Judith that it is the best time she has ever had in her life.
Judith's second book, Do You Have What It Takes? (published in March 2018) was written in response to the many inquiries she received from her readers. Many wanted to know whether or not she knew beforehand that she was up to the task of caregiving. She did not and felt that a resource that could equip and prepare those that were potential caregivers would be invaluable.
Judith interviewed 18 separate individuals to create a collection of 20 firsthand experiences in caregiving, including her own. Designed as a workbook, it is written from multiple, firsthand perspectives, including from spouses, adult children, professional caregivers and several from the Hispanic community.
Each selection is followed by a series of questions that are intended to enable the reader to determine whether or not they are suited to take on the role of caregiver, or if it should be outsourced to a third party. There is also a section of the book that includes essential material, such as making final arrangements, sample forms and a recommended reading list.
"Not everyone is cut out to be a caregiver," Ashley says, "and that is good to know when faced with the difficult decision of caring for a loved one in their last days."
Currently Judith is working on a series of four children's books for the reader to identify his or her natural personality strengths and to encourage authentic expression.
She has now retired from her work as a certified reality therapist and recently became a part of the team who trains volunteers for One Source – Empowering Caregivers in Grass Valley. OSEC is a non-profit organization that provides trained volunteers to enable in-home primary caregivers to take a much needed break from the emotionally and physically challenging work of giving care.
Judith Ashley's books can be purchased either through Amazon or directly through her website at http://www.judithashley.com.