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JudyChessW 

As I have mentioned several times, the women I interviewed as part of this book, Glad Rags: Red Panties, Cowgirl Boots and a Sweet Dress To Die For, have become much more than fleeting acquaintances. They have become like an extended family and the women continue to be a source of inspiration to me. There has been a significant time lapse since I first met some of them, when I began this project 3+ years ago. Because of social media, however, I have been able to keep abreast of events in their lives since then.

 Judy Hensley is such an example. She wore ‘da Coat as a badge of courage after being diagnosed with Young Onset Parkinson’s, the year she turned 40. The story is familiar to most of her followers: when she found da’ Coat and began to wear it in public to speak up and out, educating others about Parkinson’s, her then-12-year-old daughter, Carol, was horrified that her mother would actually wear such a “hideous,” loud, coat out of the house. It was the kind of cute story that everybody knew and chuckled over.

 Carol grew up to be a gorgeous, talented, college basketball star with a million dollar smile. She married a sweet man and Judy posted all those delightful wedding pictures that all of us sigh over. Unfortunately, the happiness was short lived. A year ago last week, Carol died in a freak accident leaving her parents, new husband, family and all of her friends heartbroken. And the world a little colder and grayer without her dazzling smile.

I saw the news on facebook and could not believe it. It was a very hard time for Judy. She told me recently that for a time after Carol’s death, she did not wear ‘da Coat out and it did not leave home on any of its usual forays.

“Carol hated ‘da Coat,” Judy said. “I didn’t do anything with it out of respect for her feelings.”

 Even though, over the years, Judy has taken hundreds of photos of friends and strangers wearing ‘da Coat, for the ongoing photo collection she maintains, Carol was a staunch holdout. She refused to put it on, let alone be photographed in it.

“When my mother died a few years ago, I cut a strip off the bottom of ‘da Coat and put it in her casket. I didn’t do that with Carol,” she said.

 Though an amazing strength of will and an abiding faith in God, Judy picked up the pieces of her broken heart and went on. She continues to encourage and inspire others to keep going, to be of good cheer and never lose heart no matter what challenges life throws at you.

 During the anniversary of Carol’s death, ‘da Coat was hanging out in my closet. I had thought of doing some other publicity types of things with it – but as I kept reading Judy’s posts and seeing all the wonderful photos from Carol’s life, I could not bring myself to do it. I often stood by ‘da Coat in silence during those days, thinking of all that Judy and her family have gone through and how they have kept the hope and faith alive.

 When I first received it, I opened the note Judy had included. It read, in part:

 “I hope the joy it brings will be a new verse to the song it has started. I think it’s theme is – ‘Put me on; you will like it. I can almost guarantee it!’

“But in the end, it comes down to…’da Coat represents something bigger than any of us. It is a symbol of how crazy it can be to have hope. You still want to wear hope for many things… and the colors just giggle at you wearing it–and you just have to smile. Smiles are worth capturing and keeping, so take some pics of people and things wearing ‘da Coat WITH A SMILE!”

 Today I am packing up ‘da Coat as it is bound for the next person on the list. It has been a joy to have it here. (And all the other coats are going to miss it…)

CoatEmb3W 

“Keep up the good work, bro,” they said.” Come back and visit us anytime.”

 

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