Eddie Boufford is happy and thankful this holiday season.
Four years ago, he received a “new, used liver” at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville. Despite a couple of glitches along the way – he stopped breathing at one point – he now happily rides his V Star Yamaha 1300 everywhere, plays golf and Texas Hold’em regularly, and generally enjoys life. But he also has firsthand experience with the sadness and loneliness that some people experience over the holidays.
As Pastoral Care team leader at the Tri-County Unitarian Universalist church in Summerfield, Eddie plays a vital role in helping people through a “blue holiday” period.
“For many people, Christmas arrives like a pretty package full of grief triggers: empty chairs, missing faces and silent voices that haunt the holidays,” says Tri-UU’s Rev. Janice Onnie.
“We’re listeners, not problem solvers,” Eddie says. “A compassionate ear for anybody who needs to share whatever they may be going through in a safe environment. We provide a place where people can grieve the loss of someone very close to them by creating new, comforting rituals.”
The sixth annual special nondenominational Blue Christmas caring service, open to everyone, is planned for 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 17 at 7280 SE 135th Street in Summerfield. For more information call (352) 245-7944.
“Christmas is still a mess – a mixed bag,” Eddie observes. “It’s mostly joyous. I remember when my three kids were young. It was the most exciting part of the year.”
He quickly adds that all of his children and grandchildren will be in Florida this year for the holiday.
“In The Villages, the loss of a spouse is very common,” he says. “Blue Christmas a very comforting gathering – not at all depressing. Most people are OK, they just need a breather from this hectic time of year.”
One of the activities involves dropping a stone into a pool of water and releasing some of the grief in exchange for a flower. There also are plenty of candles and comforting music.
His year-round at Tri-UU ministry also involves sending greeting cards, arranging companions, meals, transportation or other short-term services for members and friends experiencing stressful life events such as illness, death of a loved one or relocation.
Eddie grew up in New York City and had a license to ride a motorcycle before he had an automobile license.
“I’ve always loved riding motorcycles and I’ve had a slew of them over the years,” he says.
His best bike was the Triumph Bonneville he owned back in the ’70s.
“You could just lay it down, scrape the pegs to where the sparks came up, and be very secure. It was wonderfully balanced,” Eddie says.
After a stint as an X-ray tech, Eddie went to chiropractic school and opened his own practice in Ipswich, Mass., which he operated for two decades. Then he was diagnosed with chronic liver disease, which changed his life for 17 years. The liver disease caused encephalopathy, where the brain malfunctions.
“Sometimes I was OK. Other times I was just unable to figure out how to put on a sweater or shoe,” he says. “I think it was a chore for the people around me because I was so sick. I was just fighting to retain some dignity and self-identity.”
He lost his chiropractic practice, was unable to ride is beloved motorcycle and lived day to day in an unreal world. At times he was unable to speak or understand what other people were saying.
One of the dangers of the disease was the risk of cancer, which developed in his liver.
“The way the transplant list works is if you have a tumor of a certain size and the cancer had not spread, you’re on it,” he says. “My tumor was a little small, so agonizingly you have to wait around until it grows, all the time wondering whether it’s going to metastasize.”
Once the qualifying size had been reached, “It was a process of keeping your bags packed and be ready to roll when they call you.”
Around the end of October 2015, the call came, but for some reason the surgery was cancelled at the last minute as Eddie was at the Mayo Clinic being prepped. He returned home to The Villages.
Then, on Dec. 9, the call came again and this time the surgery was completed. In addition to the physical benefits, his biggest benefit was getting his freedom of mind back.
“It’s the most dramatic thing I can describe,” Eddie says.
Moving to the Village of Silver Lake 12 years ago, even during his illness, was a fairly simple choice.
“My parents lived in Sun City and I wanted to be nearby,” he says. “I was a caddy growing up and I’ve played golf most of my life. So, the idea of free golf for life appealed to me.”
In addition to the Blue Christmas service, Boufford works with the Tri-UU organization to offer counselling year-round.
“As a chiropractor, and as just an individual, I’ve been comfortable offering people counsel if they wanted it,” he says. “All those years in practice I offered a safe space. During my illness I didn’t lose that aspect of myself. It’s more or less a natural kind of thing for me.”