Judy Kellogg Markowsky lived a life rich with connection to people and nature. She ended her life by leaving her home and walking into the waters of the Penobscot River. We believe she died on August 3, 2011.
We miss her terribly and are grieving privately for her loss of many years of life and health, and for our loss of her in our lives. In this column, though, we would like to share some thoughts with the community about the connection between Judy’s private and public life and her choice of death.
We are profoundly grateful to the agencies, organizations and individuals who participated in the search and recovery, including the Maine Warden Service, the Hampden Police, the Maine State Police, Maine Marine Patrol, Dirigo Search and Rescue, Maine Search and Rescue Dogs, the Down East Emergency Medical Institute and the Salvation Army. The dedication, professionalism and the sensitivity of the Warden Service in managing the search, and the care, thoroughness and expertise of all of the groups involved, provided comfort to us during an extremely difficult time.
Judy had years of contribution to wildlife conservation and environmental education in Maine. Many people felt a close connection with her through her interests and efforts over many years. As a family, we too, were nurtured by Judy’s love of nature.
On family walks, she would help us see birds and recognize their songs; interpret signs of predation and mammal diets through scat; and identify snakes, insects and spiders, all with both the excitement of a child and the knowledge of an expert. For Judy, nature was the ultimate beauty and it did not need to be an extension of a higher power.
All things in the natural world had uniqueness, connectedness and value. It was this philosophy that integrated her personal and professional life.
A quieter and less well-known part of her life was her struggle with some significant medical issues. She suffered for several years from an unusual and complex combination of symptoms, including dementia. Her dementia led to a gradual decline in her ability to speak, but she was still able to make her own decisions, keep her own schedule, get around on her own, go paddling and walking, research and write a regular column about her nature observations, and travel with family and friends.
Many years before Judy had any symptoms, she was firm in her resolve that if she had any illness that would eventually rob her of her ability to make her own decisions, she would leave open the option to take her own life. We made the decision as adult family members to have open communication about end-of-life issues.
The immediacy and finality of Judy’s decision came as a terrible shock, but in a larger sense we knew it was consistent with the wishes she had expressed for over a decade.
Judy’s final decision was a lonely one. We don’t know whether she would have preferred solitude, but we wish she had had the choice whether to be alone or be with loved ones at the end.
We love Judy and affirm her life choices. Of all the words we have heard in the last few weeks, the most common is “courage.” This quality defined Judy throughout her life. Judy took tough and controversial positions on issues relating to wildlife habitat conservation. In her gentle, yet firm resolve, she held her opinions high. We hope that one of her legacies is of continued open deliberation about life’s difficult challenges and choices, whether they be environmental or personal.
This column was submitted by the brothers and sisters of Judy Kellogg Markowsky.