Link to Part 1 of this story:



I looked at the friend request and I realized I knew the last name. Was it possible? Then it hit me – it was the same last name as my friend that had died over 15 years ago.

The first name was Todd. It was Linda’s son!


I received my first message from him that night.


Hello Judy,

So Monday evening I was watching Forrest Gump on Netflix. I saw it with mom in the theatre one evening way back when. Becoming all nostalgic and such, I decided to Google mom’s name. Your lovely story came up, and I just had to contact you. Mom loved you so much. How are you? How is life?


Hi Todd,

It took a few seconds for your name to register – and then like a light bulb, it came to me in a burst. You’re Linda’s son!!!! I am so happy to hear from you and your mom is smiling up in heaven at this moment.


When you’re mom was dying, I made a promise to her that I would look after your grandma. I called your grandma and grandpa while they were still alive every year on your mom’s birthday and death day. I was sad when my cards came back undeliverable and the phone number stopped working.


And that was why I stopped off at your old house and knocked on the door. Your dad answered and was very nice. The best part was when he told me how well you were doing. It gave me such a smile because I knew you were going to be fine. I just know your mom knew that too, all those years ago.


It was tragic that she died so young. She really loved life and desperately wanted to live. I’m also sorry about the loss of your grandparents.


Todd, my personal story has been amazing the last four years. And some of it ties in with your mom and my closeness to her. You know I spoke at her funeral and performed one of my original songs named “Beside Me Always.”


Well after not playing my guitar much for 30 years, I decided to play again four years ago. My own mother was seriously ill and I was very down. A good friend recommended I play my guitar again and I did. It really ended up changing my whole life! 


I’ve written a lot about my rediscovery of music and joy on my blog – that’s where I wrote about your mom. I have recorded an audiobook and songs that I plan to release in a few months. The name of my audiobook is “Beside Me Always,” which is the same song I played at your mom’s funeral.


My own mom died less than two weeks ago. She was 88 and lived a good life. I’ve missed her terribly because she had dementia for many years. You might have known that I had a son who died while I knew your mom. Your mom was so caring when I was dealing with that.


Sorry if I’ve written a lot! I’m really excited to see that you found your calling as a teacher.


Take care, Judy

Todd & Friend 2

Hello Judy,

I am so sorry to hear about your mother. My love and prayers go with you, your family and your mother.


To bring you up to speed, I live in Santa Cruz now. This is my 10th year teaching 7th and 8th grade math. Who knew? I love my career; it is truly my life’s honor and passion to educate and hopefully inspire every now and again. I do lots of tutoring kids in the afternoon to help make ends meet, and of course keeping busy grading papers.


I play guitar, as well. However, music became a very personal thing for me. I used to jam all the time with buddies and even in front of others occasionally. Now, it is my little secret when nobody is around.  I am glad that you are still playing frequently. That is lovely.


I am single, but have a dog; a 155 pound St Bernard to be specific. Named him Bubba. Needless to say he brings much love (and slime) into my life.


I picked up surfing and running on the beach. For some reason, it is where I always feel closest to those I have loved and lost. Beach life great, I’m glad I found it and feel blessed to live so close to where water meets land.


You may have known that I was a bit wild during the teenage years and after mom passed, but I settled down. I believe it helped give me perspective, and may help relate to children.


If you are ever in the area, please let me know so I can take you out to lunch. I am glad we are in contact.


With love, Todd


Todd & Friend

Thank so much for the update, Todd!


I can only imagine what an inspirational teacher you are. You have tremendous compassion and could really help those kids understand how to grow into independent adults despite real life challenges. Your mom knew that you were under tremendous stress and acting out. I think of it less as “wild” and more as angry and lost watching your mother fight for her life.


I think of the beach as very healing and life affirming. You picked such a beautiful place to live.


I live really close to your old house now. Not sure when I’ll get up to your area, but if you’re ever down in Los Angeles – please let me know. And of course, bring your guitar.


I still have your mom’s outfit that she wore to your Bar Mitzvah. Your dad gave me a lot of her clothes. I don’t have anything anymore except that outfit. It was a little small on me, and I always hoped I’d be able to wear it if I lost weight. LOL – I never did! But your grandma told me it was very expensive. If you would like it, I’ll continue saving it for you. It’s very wrinkled because I had it in a bag for a long time.


Linda's outfit

I can see you’re a beloved teacher by your students. So glad you found your calling. I just know your mom is smiling down on both of us at this moment. I can still hear her voice sometimes when I’m playing tennis!


Would it be okay for me to share a story about this on my blog? I would run it by you first, of course. And please let me know anything else you might want to share about her with me.


Love, Judy


Hello Judy,

Mom would be fine with you writing anything you would like, and so am I.

Speaking about her is so strange for me; I do it rarely. To be honest, I did not cope with it well. I used drugs and ran away for a long time. I often reflect that I know nothing of God or anything like that, but I know my mother watches over me, and that there is simply more than what we see.


Fate did not allow me to crash the way so many do when they make the type of mistakes I did so early on. I am here now to help the next generation be strong, both academically and hopefully as humans, as well.


My actions are haunted by the voices of those I have lost: mom, grandma, and grandpa. They guide me now when I have to be strong and firm, as well as compassionate.


I have great fears now for the young out there in this country. I fear that education; family values and depth of character are weakening. It has become my passion to bring a taste of what was passed on to me to the next generation. Unfortunately, few others hold traditional values dear to their hearts anymore. For some reason, what I do seems to work.


In the place of running and medicating, that is what I do now.


I have healed, and it took many years to be able to say that with confidence. When I lost grandma and grandpa, I did not crash again; that is not what they wanted for me.


It is my time now to be the one to make things all right, and I try always to keep that sentiment in heart and mind. I have found that being a wild young person caused me to be an extremely conservative adult.


I chaperoned one of our Middle School dances this evening. The lack of tack, behavior or any sort of social grace in general was a reminder that children need guidance from their parents or whoever is there to apply the necessary pressure to keep some sense of balance.


It is good to converse with you, Judy. It brings mom closer again. This is important and means a lot to me. Thank you.


Love, Todd


I’m so glad you wrote again, Todd.


Your mother was such a gentle and beautiful soul. She had so much optimism as she suffered with cancer. I know she loved you deeply. She was always thinking of you and completely understood why you were “wild.” From what you wrote, it seems that your “wild side” was your way of coping.


She just wished things were different and that she could help you. But she did!


Like you, I didn’t have much feeling for religion or God, but I really feel blessed now because writing and music has helped me so much.


All the years I kept in touch with your grandma were very heartening for me. I danced with joy to hear how things turned around for you.


Healing is amazing and that is why I write so much about it. People in deep grief suffer and destroy themselves because they lose hope and don’t realize that out of it can come a new life – with resilience, strength and even happiness again.


Family Group Shaff

Hi Todd, I finished the story and would love to add any pictures you might have. Have you gotten a chance to find them? Hope you’re well and I wanted to wish you a great Thanksgiving holiday!

Love, Judy

bar mitzvah 2

Hello Judy,

Happy Thanksgiving to you too. I do have a few pictures from my Bar Mitzvah, which I think would be what you are looking for. There is another one of me when I was real young that I liked also. I have been thinking about you and all you are going through right now and wish you the best.

With love, Todd


Thanks, Todd. I am excited to see them and look forward to sharing this beautiful story on my blog. I’m so proud of you. I feel like your surrogate mother! Love, Judy

Dear Judy,

Your words bring back memories I buried years ago. I am at a loss for words at your ability to bring my mom’s spirit back to life in your blog. Thank you for what you are doing. It really means so much to me to see how deeply you loved and still love my mother.

I spent so many years moving on. It is lovely to reflect now, to recognize what happened, and how it impacts my life today. I realize now that so much of how I teach math (and attempt to teach character development) to my students is a result of my own experience. In a failing public school system, I try to help my students survive, to give them the study skills and knowledge tools to make it in a country with ever less opportunity. Surviving, not being a victim of anything, and not making excuses for how we deal with the hand we are dealt are daily topics of conversation in my classroom.

I don’t know how I got through college. Fortunately, I did not drop out. Mom died my freshman year, and I did lots of drugs…ran away with the hippie kids for a few years, but fortunately I turned out to be a good test taker. More than that, though, dad was there for me during the worst of those times. When mom died, he did not turn his back on me, though I certainly gave him cause to do so. I have him to thank in so many ways.

I wish mom could be here to play tennis with you, to mourn the loss of your mother with you, may she rest in peace, and listen to you sing your beautiful songs. She always had a very special bond with you; you gave her courage and strength. She told me that.

Mom knew, though I was in straight out denial that she would not be here today. So, instead, she treated me like an adult then. She spoke to me about so many things that I was not ready to hear, but I do remember. My conversations with you have allowed me to remember things we spoke of.

We went out to dinner several nights a week while I was in high school. She told me lots of juicy gossip; but more than that, she told me about those she loved, and her hopes for me. I miss those dinners so much.

Again, thank you Judy for being a great friend to my mother. Thank you for helping me to heal.

Love, Todd


In Memory of Linda Shaff

What you wrote is so beautiful, Todd that I am crying my eyes out. Your message came at a time when I was feeling very vulnerable. With the holiday approaching and problems with my children as a result of my divorce – well, I sure wish I had my mom and dad around to hold and comfort me.

Your message is a gift. In helping you to heal, I am helping myself, too.

Friendship is a wonderful thing and Linda would have eased my loneliness. My tears are flowing for your beautiful mom. I have not forgotten her voice or her kindness. I never realized how much I have missed her! She would have been so supportive of all that I’m doing.

You lost a lot because of her early death. But it was so touching to hear how she treated you as an adult; that sounds exactly like her. 

Thank you again, Todd for opening up to me. My blog is like a diary, but at the same time I see it as a magnificent opportunity to touch other people with honesty and real experiences. Your mom was real. And she sure made a difference in so many ways. I’ll be thinking of you, Todd.

Love, Judy

A later story where I actually met Todd is at this link:


Todd as a child

Todd & Linda

© Judy Unger and http://www.myjourneysinsight.com 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Judy Unger with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

About Judy

I'm an illustrator by profession. At this juncture in my life, I am pursuing my dream of writing and composing music. Every day of my life is precious!
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Sharon Fisch says:

    I am so happy you found each other. I wish Todd much success in his teaching. It has been my passion my whole life. Judy, I think it really did you both a blessing by reaching out and connecting. I feel it in the letter exchange. Best wishes dear friend.


  2. Paula Iezzi says:

    Hi Judy, was reading your blog and have found it to be a blessing. I miss you, you have been on my mind a lot this month. I heard about your moms passing, I’m sooooo sorry, hon. Much love and prayers sent your way. I havent gotten a chance to listen to the last Cd’s you sent, at least not all of them. Please forgive me, have soooo much going on around here. But I do hope, this note finds you blessed. Love always, your life long friend, Paula Iezzi.


    • Judy says:

      Paula, I have missed you so much. I’m sorry I never replied to your lovely comment – I have no good excuse. How are you? I hope all is well with you. 🙂


  3. inmycorner says:

    Oh. My heart aches. How cruel cancer can be – it takes people to the brink. It seems, though, that Todd’s return journey has been nothing short of inspirational. What an achievement for both of you to re-connect in this manner. Your friend must have been an incredible woman – what a legacy she has left in both her son and you. Judy – that was tough to read, but it gave me great insight and that – right now – is the best gift of all. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Judy says:

      Thank you for taking the time to read that story. You are as incredible as my friend, Stacey. The love you and your son share will be with him for his entire life. I know that one day when I’m gone, that gift will remain with my children. You have such a tough road but it is that depth of love, which will live on forever and shape his destiny. You are more than welcome. Sometimes, I need reminders that life is precious and finite – you have given that awareness back to me.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Judy says:

    Stacey, I do need reminders! Sometimes I sweat the small stuff more than I’d like to.
    The best thing about corresponding with you occurred to me today; it was a revelation. I’ve carried a lot of heartache for my friend who lost her battle with ovarain cancer (it was over 20 years ago). For eleven years she bravely fought cancer and sadly when she died she was so worried about her son. He was getting into so much trouble – stealing, drugs etc.
    She never had the chance to see how he turned out to be such an incredible human being. He profoundly loves his mom to this day and she shaped him from his early days.
    By sharing my story with you, I feel some closure and a sense that you are her somehow; it is like I’m telling Linda how things turned out so well.
    I just hope I didn’t sadden you. Your children are gems and I am praying this chemo will knock out the horrible cancer you are suffering with.


I would love to hear your thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s