This year, I was blessed to have many wonderful illustration assignments. Illustrating Chai for a yogurt label was actually fun. Occasionally I receive assignments that are challenging, especially a recent one for gourmet popcorn.

Last year, I was blessed to have many wonderful illustration assignments. In this picture, I’m illustrating Chai for a yogurt label. It was actually fun. Occasionally I receive assignments that are challenging, especially a recent one for gourmet popcorn.

Time used to be my enemy while in grief, but now time is my friend. Often, I’ll have wonderful ideas for a blog story but run out of time to write down my thoughts. I’m exploding with feelings, but most of my energy is spent expressing myself through music.

My desire to express myself creatively is probably due to the fact that I spent decades with everything locked inside.

For most of my adult life, I devoted myself to my family and worried about making everyone around me happy. I adore my children and now I’m teaching them new lessons about self-exploration!

I have been an artist by profession since 1981; I continue to illustrate and am always thankful for the income. But it’s interesting how throughout my life I was never passionate about art like I am now about music.

Perhaps it’s because being an illustrator isn’t as creative as it might seem. There is little self-expression involved and my energy is directed toward pleasing my clients.

At this time in my life, I feel like I have arrived as an artist because I can choose the jobs I want to take. I am very appreciated by my clients and it’s a wonderful feeling.

For every job, I search to find reference that will help me.

For every job, I search to find reference that will help me.

Chai illustration and cup

Recently, I had a small job illustrating popcorn. I tried very hard to make the product look appetizing – it was more challenging than I can possibly share here. Despite the outcome, I found the art director to be lovely; we got along well even though the job didn’t go well.

This was the actual product below:

Chocolate pocorn actual product

My first layouts, which resembled the actual product above, were rejected. After that, I was given precise instructions for ways to “enhance” the product. Chocolate drips and chocolate covered peanuts had to be visible; even a “cut-away” of popcorn was requested. I purchased another brand online for reference and created new layouts that looked nothing like the actual product I had been sent.

Chocolate Popcorn Choices

It was probably a good thing the job was cancelled. I completed one final painting and had worked very hard to develop all three flavors. But the idea of a phony image on a label with a disclaimer of ”artist’s conception” felt like a lie to me.

I was eating very healthy until this project gave me far too much temptation.

I was eating very healthy until this project gave me far too much temptation.

Almost every post on my blog is titled with a line of lyrics from one of my songs.

I titled this story with a line from my song named “Watching You Grow.” My song was written because I was elated at seeing how my children had come so far. In the back of my mind, I also wondered about my child who never had the opportunity to grow up since he died at the age of five.

I started this post sharing my growth as an illustrator.

And at the end of my post I will share a story about a boy who lost his mother when he was a teenager; she never had the chance to see what a wonderful man he grew up to be. One day he arrived to share that with me!

Then you're beside me

What I do with my musical expression is say what is true for me. I love lyrics because they tell a story with just a few simple words.

Sometimes, my lyrics will change simply as they fall out of my mouth. Recently, as I was singing a new vocal for my song “Beside Me Always” – a single word changed. The word “and” became “then.”

I feel your love and you’re beside me


I feel your love then you’re beside me

I was surprised how I had done this in such an unconscious way. I wanted to understand my reasons for that change, and the insight I found was very profound for me. Changing the word “and” to “then” related to healing.

When I wrote lyrics for “Beside Me Always” before Jason’s funeral, I wanted to forever imagine him being beside me. That image was very comforting.

But had my dead child been beside me always? I was very isolated by my grief; the truth was that I longed for a sign of him for many years and instead, there was only emptiness and longing.

It was my love for him that broke my heart, but later on I realized how much he wanted me to heal. After years of anguish and emptiness, I found peace with his essence of pure love. Now I felt him; he was always there even when I couldn’t see him.

I hardly played my guitar for thirty years, but there were a few special exceptions. I performed “Beside Me Always” at the funeral for a good tennis friend who died 17 years ago in 1998. Her name was Linda Shaff.

I wrote about our friendship on my blog in 2010. Then last year, Linda’s son, Todd discovered me through my story about his mother. Reconnecting with him was a truly remarkable experience and I wrote two stories with the links below:



Todd lived in Northern California, about 300 miles away. I had little memory about meeting him; he was only a young boy during the time when Linda and I were friends. So many times she had confided to me how she worried about him during her long battle with ovarian cancer.

After Todd reached out to me, we became Facebook friends. Two weeks ago, I saw a post that he was in my area visiting his father. I sent him a message:

Hi Todd, if you are ever able to squeak away while visiting your dad – let me know. I’d love to see you both. Hope you had a nice holiday!

The next day, I received a message back from him with an invitation to meet him at a deli for lunch. I couldn’t believe it; all these years later I would actually meet Linda’s son who was now a 35-year-old man!

I sent him a message accepting his invitation below:

Sounds perfect! I need to stop by Guitar Center for some strings and it’s right near there. I’ll see you at noon and I’m treating!

I drove up in front of the deli and recognized Todd right away from his pictures on Facebook. He smiled as he recognized me, too.

One of the first things I asked Todd was why he chose this deli for us to meet at. He replied sweetly, “This is where Mom used to take me on special outings together. I thought it would be nice to do that with you.”

As he spoke about his life, I was having a long conversation with Linda in my mind. I said, “Oh, Linda – look at this wonderful man you gave birth to. He’s achieved so much and I wish you could have lived to see this moment. Or can you see us? I wish, I wish you knew how happy I am to meet him!”

Todd shared with me about his passion for teaching. It was obvious that he loved his job and the rugged area he had chosen to live in. He brought me up to date about his father’s life and seemed to be very centered. Even though he wasn’t in a relationship, he clearly looked forward to becoming a father.

I hadn’t had time to pick up my guitar strings and Todd offered to go with me to Guitar Center. He also played guitar and thought it might be fun for us to check out some interesting guitars together. I hopped into his large pickup truck and he drove. All the while, I couldn’t stop smiling.

Together we examined the many steel-string guitars in a back room. I pulled one down and decided to play one of my songs. I surprised myself by singing aloud. Normally I wouldn’t have done that in such a public place, but it was just the two of us in an empty room. The acoustics were great and my voice was very soft. As I played, Todd began to join in with lead guitar. It sounded magical.

Afterwards, Todd drove me back to the restaurant where I had left my car. He said, “You know, my mom loved you so much. She said she could tell you things that no one else could understand.”

He had no idea how much his words warmed my heart. I never knew that Linda felt that way about me. She had asked me to sing and speak at her funeral and I knew that was a great honor. I was glad that I overcame my fear of death and asked to see her the day before she died. I would never forget that day.

Linda will always

It happened as I said goodbye to Todd. A shiver went through me.

I felt her beside me!

My eyes were watering as I drove home. Linda and I continued to have a lovely conversation in my mind.

Judy & Todd 2


Todd, it was so wonderful to have lunch with you. Have a safe drive back to Santa Cruz. I predict 2015 holds many wonderful things in store for you. See how great you look in the pictures we took?

I really enjoyed spending time with you as well, Judy! Great pics! I wish you the best of luck with your music and songwriting career… you have such a lovely voice! 

Todd, thank you! I changed my strings (to the Martin’s you recommended) and they’re great. I’m recording some guitar into one of my songs today and I’ll let you know how it goes. I’m going to try to play some “lead lines” like you did. I’m not that good at it – I’ll let you know how it works out!

Happy New Year, Judy! I’m glad you like the different gauge strings. Enjoy recording your beautiful songs. I would like to sit down sometime and find some songs we can play together…maybe you can even give me a tip or two on bettering my singing voice. Lunch warmed my heart, and brought back wonderful memories of Mom. I know she is pleased we are becoming friends. Please stay in touch and let me know how your music develops…and if you ever want to come up and check out Santa Cruz, I have a guest room and love to do tour guide! With Love, Todd 

I have a feeling 2015 is going to be a special year for you. Yes, your mom would be so pleased about us meeting. I swear I had shivers as I was saying goodbye to you. I actually felt her presence!

Judy & Todd 1


It turned out that 2015 was a great year for Todd. He contacted me to let me know he was getting married! I was so honored to be invited to his wedding. Although I was not able to attend, Todd assured me that the next time he was in my area he would introduce me to his new wife, Alice. I’m looking forward to it!

© Judy Unger and 2015. 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!
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2 Responses to ONE DAY YOU ARRIVED

  1. Migrant Pen says:

    I am privileged to have connected with you. My wordpress blog Tales of a Migrant is new so I have to dig and it’s refreshing to know that yours is inspiring. Keep up the good work. Take care.


  2. Judy says:

    Thank you for your lovely comment. I’ve enjoyed your blog, as well. Glad if I can inspire. I love to share. 🙂


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