LENA MITCHELL: A dear friend’s loss is a wake-up call

By Lena Mitchell/NEMS Daily Journal

“If today was your last day
And tomorrow was too late
Could you say goodbye to yesterday?”

From the moment I heard the popular song by Nickelback I thought one day I’d write a column with its sentiments as the theme.
So many of the questions the song raises seemed like life lessons we all need to take time to think about, but never did it occur to me that I’d write the column less than a week after the sudden death of one of my dearest friends, my coworker Judy Faye Harbin Putt. Judy was my first friend at the Daily Journal when I came to work in September 1997. I joined the features department where Judy was copy editor, and we shared cubicle space. Then she asked me to join her in the break room for lunch, and we were lunch buddies for the next six years.
We’ve been sharing Judy memories at the Journal for the past several days. She died only a week ago from a sudden illness, and left a gaping hole in our Journal family, a family she was part of for almost 37 years. Three days before her death, Judy and I had talked about which of us would be able to retire first. As I always do, I said “if I live to retirement.”
So often I hear of people who retire, only to die soon after, before being able to live their retirement dreams. Judy was still three years away from her intended retirement date. Which brings me back to the Nickelback song.

“Every second counts ‘cause there’s no second try
So live like you’ll never live it twice
Don’t take the free ride in your own life.”

When I reflect on the way Judy lived her life, I think she could lay claim to having taken this philosophy to heart. She had an adventurous, joyful and generous spirit and she truly made every day count, for herself and her husband Jerry, and all her family and friends.
When we met, Judy’s nephew Chris Gann was a Mooreville High School baseball player. My nephew had also been a high school and college baseball player, and we could talk about their exploits all day. But our sports connection didn’t end with baseball.
Judy followed any Mooreville Troopers sport that was in season, as well as her alma mater Mississippi State’s football and basketball teams. My journalism career started with me wanting to be a sports journalist and I enjoyed just about any sport. Judy was also a movie buff, and when she told me her favorite sports movie was “Any Given Sunday,” I looked for it a couple of years before finally finding it to add to her collection. (That was long before the days of simply checking the Internet and ordering.)
Judy and I both had brothers with mental health challenges, and when NMMC Behavioral Health offered its first Family to Family class, we went to weekly classes together for 12 weeks learning about our brothers’ illnesses.
Then, when I had my 50th birthday party in Memphis, Judy and Jerry came and spent a couple of days at the hotel also, enjoying a couple of days of sightseeing and helping me decorate for the party.

“Would you call old friends you never see?
Reminisce of memories
Would you forgive your enemies?”

I don’t get to Tupelo often in my job now, but I’m so glad a special meeting at the Journal allowed us to have a final few moments together.
I’ve tried to be a person who nurtured my friendships. These words from Nickelback remind me that since tomorrow isn’t promised to any of us, I need to live up to my commitment to stop procrastinating and make the calls I keep putting off.
LENA MITCHELL is the Daily Journal Corinth Bureau reporter and writes a Sunday column each month. Contact her at lena.mitchell@journalinc.com.

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