Six years ago, I had the opportunity to work with a wonderful young woman, Justine Aliff. A beautiful and kind soul with a snarky, quirky, disposition.
Last year, she was diagnosed with cancer, and last week, after a grueling battle with the illness, she lost that particular battle.
Today we said our final goodbyes in a simple and lovely memorial service.
Justine was a wonderful person, one of the few truly good souls in the world.
It took us a while to warm up to each other, not because we didn’t like each other, but because we were both quiet bookworms and had our noses stuck in various reading materials. Once she was working at the Children’s desk, that never stopped her from randomly reading me a passage from her book either because the wording was beautiful and inspirational…. or because it was funny and she simply HAD to share it with someone.
Working with Justine was a blessing and made each day better. She was a sympathetic and supportive ear in the midst of the drama that has played out in my life the last few years. A lot of shit has been done to us by self-proclaimed ‘good Christain folk’; and admittedly its been enough to cast the entire religion in a negative light for me. Justine would always get…almost personally offended at what was done…. not necessarily because something bad happened because lets face it, shit happens; but because the ones who caused it claimed to share her faith, and in her opinion that wasn’t how a child of God should act.
She gave me hope in a religion that I had long ago lost faith in. We didn’t share the same faith, Justine and I; but we had a mutual respect for each other that allowed us to talk about religious things without judgement. She gave me faith that people of different religions could indeed be friends.
I’m sure if I had ever asked her to tell me about Jesus, she would have jumped at the chance. But, she respected my beliefs and I respected hers. In fact, when I became a Minister for the state of Oklahoma, we shared in the irony of someone who is …admittedly not very religious becoming a member of the clergy…and in the same breath she was assuring me I would do fine officiating my friends wedding. When I stressed about what I should include…she just smiled and laughed a little, then said, ‘Why don’t you ASK her what she wants’. The ‘silly’ was implied at the end of the statement, but she was to polite to tell me I was being ridiculous and uh duh, ask you friend what she wants in her wedding.
Most of my memories of Justine are work related. We were colleagues and friends, but it wasnt until last year that we actually decided to do anything outside of work together.
We realized we shared a love of hiking and nature, and that we had both always wanted to particilate in a 5k race. So in September we decided that we were going to do just that. There was a Glow Race going on in town, the ‘Family Run’ (3K) was free and we thought that would be a great place to start and we could work our way up to an official 5k, and maybe some of those obstacle courses. We had missed the Inflatables 5K Obstacle course, so we’d practice so that by the time it came back around, we’d be able to complete the course.
I very nearly didn’t go to the Glow Race. It was late, my son was sleepy and cranky, and I wasn’t feeling the best either. But, I decided, fuck it, I’m GOING to do this. I always let something come up to prevent me from doing these types of things and dammit, I’m going out to dinner with my friend then we’re going to this damn race.
So we did and I’m so thankful that we did, because not only did we have a blast. We had a nice dinner, ran the race…we actually RAN part of it, and we even went the whole 5k! Afterwards we took pictures and there was a DJ playing music from high school… we danced the Macarana and the Cha, Cha, Slide.
So yes, I’m very thankful I decided not to cancel because not only did that become a favorite memory of Justine….but because in the next month we found out why she had been having trouble eating.
It would, also, be the last time I ever got a chance to go out with her. I’d see her many times over the next year, of course, at the Library Holiday Decorating party, or she’d stop by to visit, and of course I’d chat with her via text and facebook; but that would be the only time we ever got a chance to hangout.
Breifly, we had thought she had beaten the cancer and that soon she’d be back on her feet in time for the next Glow Run, or maybe even the Zombie Run…. but it wasn’t meant to be.
She was far more optomistic about her illness then anyone I had ever met. Everything it threw at her had some sort of silver lining. She saw it as an opportunity to see her friends and family one last time and to go take that trip with her husband.
She was a wonderful, sweet, caring person that will be dearly missed. I am honored and blessed to have had know her.