Last year, my good friend Suzanne died after living with cancer for nearly a decade.
Many words could be used to describe Suzanne… welcoming, boisterous, joy-filled, passionate, compassionate, feisty, devoted, heartfelt, hilarious, loyal, and free-spirited. And in many ways, the words keep on coming. . . After Suzanne died, people began to speak and write about her. In a celebration of her life, Suzanne’s large, loving community gathered to honor her, not at a traditional funeral or memorial service, but at a party. Her eulogy was collective; some were invited ahead of time to speak, and others were given the occasion to join them. Before, during, and after that party, people have shared stories of Suzanne’s love and influence in their lives. Her impact was both personal and expansive. She touched each person individually and a lot of people collectively.
Before she died, Suzanne traveled to Chicago in the hopes of participating in a medical trial. It was all about to move forward until some of the measurements of the cells in her blood fell outside of the parameters of the study. She stayed in and out of the hospital in Chicago for more than a month, waiting and hoping to get those numbers in the right range. That was a challenging waiting period, especially knowing that beyond this, her treatment options were becoming limited.
While she waited in Chicago, a large number of people cared for her. Some drove her there and back; many visited and stayed with her in the hospital. Some opened their homes to her. It was touching to see this happen. I always felt that Suzanne was an example of someone who loved deeply and a model of a person who allowed herself to receive love deeply. People don’t always know how to do this. It can be a rare gift.
In one my most memorable moments with Suzanne, I called her during her time in Chicago. The occasion for this call was painful. Suzanne had just learned with finality that she was not going to be able to participate in the study. That was devastating news.
Over the phone, Suzanne expressed her sadness. But then, she began to talk about the many people who were caring for her through visits, meals, phone calls, emails, texts, and above all, presence. People truly gathered around Suzanne and for Suzanne. She invited this collective giving and receiving of care.
In recognition of that, here is what was most memorable to me in that phone call:
With love for all these people, with tears of gratitude, Suzanne said, “It makes you feel like you did something right.”
In response, it was so easy for me to affirm that statement because it was abundantly true. She had done this right. Suzanne cultivated so many relationships, each particularly valued, and all, collectively cherished. She invited all of this with her living.
Suzanne is deeply missed, and she will be missed as long as these beloved people in her life keep on living. Yet in the midst of this, after the painful loss of Suzanne, she continues to do something right, and we join her in it. These relationships keep on living. Her memory is honored. Her love is remembered and re-experienced, not only in memory, but in all the ways her many people now also care for each other. We get to turn that care toward each other as well.
And with our own living, both in the ways we remember her, and in the ways we cultivate and deepen additional relationships in our lives, we can affirm,
You did something right, Suze!
And we’re going to keep on joining you.