Her eyes still fill with tears when she recalls that moment two years ago.
Judith Eugene vividly remembers staring out into the crowd of about 300 people who came to St. Cecilia Catholic Church in Cleveland to say goodbye to her mother, Roslyn, known to most as “Ro.”
Other parts of that day are a blur, clouded by the emotions she felt from losing her mother and the realization that she was now an orphan, as her father had died almost 20 years before.
But she’ll never forget that image, the inspiration for her to completely change her life.
“When I saw that it made such an impression on me,” said Eugene, 48, who grew up in Cleveland Heights. “She took time out for people and listened to people.”
Eugene, an architect with 23 years' experience, had always hoped to do more community service work once she retired. To make giving back a profession. Someday. In the future.
But after her mother’s funeral, she felt an urgency to pursue her passion.
“I think my mother’s death made me realize time is precious, and there’s not much of it to waste,” she said.
Eugene started thinking about ways she could professionally contribute to her community in Washington, D.C. One of her goals had always been and still is to start a rescue for abused, neglected and homeless animals.
But the cost of living on the East Coast delayed those dreams, and she had a good job and a stable income. And four months after her mother's death, she and her husband split after 12 years of marriage.
Then she got another push. In October 2010, she was laid off. Instead of operating on autopilot — revising her resume, reaching out to contacts and researching companies — she took time to reflect on what she really wanted to do next.
She thought about her mom.
Ro Eugene had started a Montessori school in Berea, where Judith was born. When the family moved to Cleveland Heights, Ro trained to be a Montessori teacher, and taught for Montessori and directed Heights Montessori until she retired at 70. She sponsored and supported several people in her 40 years in Alcoholics Anonymous. She battled cancer. She had friends who ranged from 20-somethings to seniors. She contributed to her community until her heart stopped at 79.
Ro Eugene had a knack for making people feel valued and loved, and it inspired Judith to envision a company with a variety of services for seniors, who are often disrespected and viewed as fragile and senile in their final years. But she couldn’t take that risk and start a company with an unreliable income in Washington, D.C.
And something was pulling her home.
So she moved back to Cleveland Heights with no job and no guarantees.
“I can’t say the decisions I’ve made are for everyone, but I think when you really feel comfortable in your heart, you’re ready to make that decision,” Eugene said. “I totally went outside of my reality. It did require a lot of faith and trust, and it still does.”
She bought a house in November, and within a month launched her company, The Loving Hands Group.
The services she offers range from massage therapy to garden design assistance to yoga classes to ethical will writing to sewing and lace-making lessons.
She also offers architecture and interior design services, her professional expertise for many years.
Her first yoga clients were a 92-year-old couple, and she taught the class out of their home, as she often does.
“It was just so beautiful to make a difference in their lives, and make them realize people are so valuable at any age,” she said.
That’s what drives the services her company offers. Eugene hires what she calls “Loving Hands members” to teach some of the classes, but she handles operations and most of the classes herself.
And her mother’s memory drives her. Ro’s friends have reached out to Judith since she came back, and they find comfort by spending time together.
This past weekend was not only Mother’s Day, but it was also the two-year anniversary of Ro’s death.
Eugene went to dinner Saturday with one of her mom’s friends, a woman Judith’s age. Though it was a picturesque, sunny spring day in Cleveland, Judith hoped for rain. Her mom loved it when it rained.
She enjoyed her weekend, as her mom would have wanted.
While teaching a senior yoga class out of a client's home in April, Eugene encouraged them to close their eyes and focus on their movement and themselves. She told them to not worry about being perfect.
“That’s the great thing about yoga. We don’t have to compare ourselves to our neighbor. We just do the best we can.”