The journey of Judge Joan Lefkow

A thousand different ways to say what can't be said.

The cards are from strangers mostly, including more than 200 judges and a story development team at ABC-TV.

The sympathy keeps her grief more vivid than she wants, but with the same gratitude that moved her to go to the police station and shake hands with the officers who helped her on the night of the murders, she has vowed to answer every one.

"Very Lefkow of you," one of the women says.

For the next couple of hours, they work, sometimes without a word. They're not judges right now, just friends finding comfort in the ability to help and be helped, in the scratch of pen on paper.


Sunlight and dust motes. That's all that's left in Joan Lefkow's old bedroom on a morning in late July when the men from St. Leonard's House walk into the closet, sweep her husband's hangers off the rods, then cart them down the stairs and out to a truck on the shady street.

"You help men getting out of prison?" Lefkow says to the manager of St. Leonard's, a West Side shelter.

She stands near the front door, arms crossed, as her husband's life whisks past. For weeks after clearing out the house, she has hung on to his clothes as if holding on to hope.

The man from the shelter nods. "Yes, it's all about saving lives."

She nods. Good. Let some ex-con wear Michael's camel jacket, the suit still in its dry cleaning bag, the cowboy boots he bought in Colorado when they were married 30 years ago. Let his death help to restore a life.

Then the truck pulls off, and just like that, the clothes are gone.

Her teenage daughter starts to cry. Lefkow hugs her and they lean murmuring against a door jamb, the mother stroking the daughter's face and hair, the girl stroking the mother's, until they both stand up tall and move apart.

Another little death, this end of Michael's clothes. A death that makes more room to breathe.

"I've had enough for today," Lefkow says abruptly.

She walks outside to the marshals' van. The sky is blue, a lawnmower whirrs, a bus belches past. The world hums on, regardless.

- - -

"The thing that's beginning to hit me now," she says a few days later, "is that this isn't a phase of life that you get through and it's over."

She sits in the red recliner her mother liked, next to her newest book. Lately she reads more than she's read in years, often at 3 a.m., reading to staunch the memories. This book is "The Way We Never Were," a feminist history of the American family.

"Your view of the future is different," she says. "All these assumptions, good or bad, about the future have changed. There are so many older women alone. It's a new version of myself."