On April 22, 2004, Judi Osborne passed away leaving behind a legacy of selfless caring for others that brought hope and courage to thousands of women throughout her own too short life. This story honors Judi’s memory, and the extraordinary example she set for all who knew and loved her during her personal life and in the 30 years she devoted to the YWCA locally and nationally.
This is also a story of love lost and love found, and about the unexplained mysteries that connect both of these stories.
(Please see also the notes at the end)
Dragonflies & The Great Blue Heron
For more than a decade, Great Blue Herons had a special meaning for Jim and Judi. During those years, Jim had no hint that one day this would come to have a much deeper significance.
Jim and Judi enjoyed watching the graceful blue herons from the deck of their summer place on Kootenay Lake. The tall birds would feed less than 200 feet away, drawn by large schools of minnows to a small bay below their deck screened by willows.
Jim and Judi also watched the long-legged birds fish patiently in the reedy shallows of a sheltered cove where they often anchored their boat overnight. Sometimes when hiking or exploring, they would stop to enjoy herons flying gracefully overhead. It became their favorite bird, their mascot of sorts. To celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary, they commissioned a watercolor of a pair of nesting blue heron.
And then the years slipped by, as they will. Those 30 years edged toward 35. Their prized painting hadn’t been framed. One day, Jim snuck the rolled up watercolor out of their house and got it framed. On the night of their 35th anniversary, as they prepared to turn in for the night, there was the framed painting, above their bed, where Jim had just finished hanging it minutes earlier. Getting anything past Judi was never an easy task.
Three years later, Judi lost her battle with cancer. And Jim was, well . . . lost, too.
At Judi’s memorial service, her dear friend Eva led the service. In her remarks, Eva was determined to help Judi’s many young grandchildren, and other children among the large assembly of mourners, comprehend what was occurring.
So, Eva told this brilliant story:
Once upon a time, a happy group of tiny bugs were playing on the bottom of a lily pond. One by one, the bugs climbed up a lily stem and disappeared. Those left behind wondered what had happened to their friends. Then they agreed the next bug to venture beyond the surface of the pond would return and tell the others what they’d experienced.
One day, a bug left and found itself on a lily pad. It fell asleep. When it awoke, the warm sunshine had dried its body. Instinctively, it spread the wings it had grown while asleep and began flying away. The bug had become a beautiful dragonfly with four resplendent wings. Then it remembered the promise. It swooped back toward the surface of the pond and headed downward. The dragonfly hit the surface and could go no farther. It was not able to return. Finally, it realized the others would just need to have faith that it was going to be all right.
Before she died, Judi had asked Jim to make two promises to her: to live a healthy lifestyle, and to find someone with whom to spend the rest of his life. The first was easy. The second promise spoke eloquently about the special person Judi had been. Jim struggled with that promise. It remained unfulfilled for almost three years. Then he met Sharolie.
Immediately, it became obvious to Jim that Sharolie was an extraordinary woman, just as Judi had been. Sharolie understood Jim’s still-raw grief. She encouraged him to share experiences from the 38 years he and Judi had together. Sharolie said that it helped her to know and understand both of them better. Like Judi, Sharolie was spiritual and blessed with a generous nature. Both had the capacity to recognize in others virtues that most people would overlook, ignore, miss or fear.
One day, Sharolie’s instincts and deep spirituality drew her to visit a yoga ashram near Jim’s place on the lake. Jim went along, out of curiosity and to be with her. After all, they were still in the euphoria of new found love.
It was early afternoon and sunny when Jim and Sharolie arrived at the picturesque ashram overlooking Kootenay Lake. They parked their car at the main building. The two followed a narrow winding path through dense trees, over a footbridge and across lawns toward their destination… a temple, the centerpiece of the ashram.
Suddenly, a large shadow crossed their path. They heard a rush of wings overhead. Both Jim and Sharolie looked up. A Great Blue Heron had swept low over them. Then it folded its six-foot wingspan and landed 75 feet away in a vegetable garden, on the far side of a tall fence. A few steps beyond the blue heron, four people were busy tilling and harvesting in the garden. The big majestic bird took no notice of them. It was unusual behavior for the famously shy blue heron.
The experience left Sharolie and Jim in awe. They were stunned to find themselves exchanging meaningful looks with the blue heron. It took several minutes to pull themselves away. Full of questions, they continued on to the temple. Half an hour passed while they enjoyed the temple’s extraordinary acoustics and ambiance. Then it was time to go.
The couple emerged from the ground-level main entrance to another startling surprise. A blue heron was standing in the middle of a 30-foot circular lily pond, centerpiece of the main entrance. Like the earlier blue heron, it was staring right back at them, calmly and unblinking. Could it be the same one they’d seen earlier? Jim and Sharolie were sure that it was. If the first encounter was unusual, this one had to be exceptional. More was to come.
Enthralled, the couple stood and watched the stately blue-gray bird for several more minutes, unwilling to break the spell. As they stood there, transfixed, numerous other visitors walked by, going to and from the temple, looking over their shoulders at the rare sight. Again, the blue heron paid no attention to the others. It kept standing there. Patiently and unblinking, it continued to return Sharolie and Jim’s amazed gazes.
“It has to be a message,” Sharolie whispered quietly. “It has to be from Judi. It has to be! The heron is bringing a message from her. I just know it.”
Eventually, the couple began walking slowly a few feet along the main sidewalk away from the lily pond. They turned back. The blue heron was still there, watching them. Again, it returned their gazes. Then Jim and Sharolie finally turned and made their way along a secondary walk behind the temple, to a cliff overlooking the lake. While enjoying the spectacular view, they were unable to wrest their minds away from the lily pond, now hidden from view. They headed back.
“I wonder,” Jim said. “Do you think it’s still there?” He was skeptical of Sharolie’s assessment of their experience.
Sharolie’s face displayed a matter-of-fact look of silent confidence that said wordlessly, ‘of course’.
Sure enough, the blue heron was still there. Once again, it quietly returned their gazes. This was uncanny, they both agreed.
After several disquieting minutes, Jim and Sharolie reluctantly pulled themselves away from the blue heron and the lily pond, and went back down the path though the grove of trees to their car. Both wondered how long the blue heron might have remained there, had they stayed. They marveled at the rare behavior of the large bird.
“Yes… I’m sure,” Sharolie kept repeating. “I’m sure. That was Judi sending you a message… sending us a message… telling you it’s okay, now. I think Judi’s saying she knows you’ve finally kept your second promise. She’s going to be okay now.”
Jim and Sharolie didn’t know at the time that the blue heron episodes would be only part of their love story.
After Jim and Sharolie had met, he wanted his three daughters to share his joy at having found someone he knew Judi would happily endorse. The first daughter to meet Sharolie was Kim. She invited her Dad and Sharolie to a semi-pro baseball game.
The three adults and Kim’s children had settled in to watch the game from the open-air stands. Suddenly, two enormous dragonflies swept around Sharolie and settled calmly on her hat.
“Oh, my God!” Kim screamed, jumping to her feet. “Look at that! Look! Dragonflies! Two of them! Oh my God! Oh my God! You know what that means, don’t you?”
In her mind, the parable of the dragonflies Eva had shared at Judi’s service had come true. From that day forward, no one was going to dissuade Kim and her children from believing those dragonflies were on a mission of approval from her late Mother.
For many months, Jim and Sharolie experienced hovering dragonflies frequently. And they encountered blue herons, time and time again. Like the dragonflies, these encounters were often in unusual and unexpected circumstances. Close friends also reported sightings of blue herons, unusually close up and where they’d never seen them before. They also took these as signs.
Jim and Sharolie were married 23 months after they met. Shortly thereafter, the visits from the blue heron and dragonflies began to diminish.
Since then, the visits have been less frequent although always warmly welcomed, of course.
“Checking up,” Sharolie will smile and say on those occasions. “Judi’s just checking up.”
Judi”s Fund: In the final weeks of her life, Judi set up the ‘Judi Osborne Memorial Fund’ at the YWCA of Calgary. Earnings from Judi’s Fund have assisted scores of vulnerable women and single mothers with children on their road from dependence to independence, helping them build healthy relationships and find sustainable employment. As Judi said at the time, “It doesn’t matter if it’s used to pay for job training or to buy panty hose. What matters is helping these women to help themselves.”
Typical of her selfless nature, Judi asked that seed money to start Judi’s Fund come from what otherwise would have been spent on a gravesite and headstone. She insisted on cremation. Her ashes are scattered in a favorite cove on Kootenay Lake where we had our summer place, which is also the principle setting for “Dragonflies and The Great Blue Heron’. The YWCA of Calgary administers Judi’s Fund and has created a Facebook page for her: http://www.ywcaofcalgary.com/judi/
Dragonflies and The Great Blue Heron was first published in print as part of an anthology called “Tales2Inspire – The Emerald Collection: Beyond Coincidence”, edited by Lois W. Stern, http://www.tales2inspire.com/inspiringstories. The story was republished as the feature story in Jim’s collection of short stories, Encounters with Life — Tales of Living, Loving and Laughter by Solstice Publishing Inc., Farmington, MO. The collection was named the best short story collection of 2015 by an international readers poll.
1. Eva’s dragonfly analogy is drawn from a public domain story, “The Water Bug Story”. The full text of this wonderful story may be found at http://www.healingheart.net/stories/waterbug.html
2. The dragonfly photo is copyright by Roy Beckman, http://www.windsofkansas.com