My son had left for school and I had just finished eating breakfast. As I was flipping pages of the newspaper while sipping my coffee, a tiny article caught my eye. It was actually an obituary for a professor of journalism at UC Berkeley. But the woman’s name was Susan Rasky and the picture with it was definitely that of my good friend.
Shockwaves of horror began to shoot through me as I read the article. My good friend had died of breast cancer, and I hadn’t known that she was ill or dying at all.
Susan lived nine hours away and I wondered whom I could ask to find out more about what had happened. I dialed her cell number and Susan’s voice told me to leave a message. It gave me chills.
The ache in my heart overwhelmed me as I wondered why Susan hadn’t shared anything about her illness with me.
Then I remembered a family friend named Liz, who lived not far from Susan. Liz’s mother was also a good friend of Susan’s mother. I emailed Liz and her reply indicated that she was also shocked Susan had died. She promised me she would try to get more information and find out if there was going to be a funeral service.
Susan was seven years older than I was. She told me that she remembered when I was born. Mostly, she was a playmate of my older brothers. Our parents took many vacations together and I had boxes of photos from their trips.
But in 2009 we became very close and Susan became my big sister. As she supported me through many ordeals related to my mother’s decline, she often called me “her canary in the coalmine.” That was because she foresaw dealing with the care of her own elderly mother; my situation was a precursor to hers.
But now she was gone and her 94-year-old mother she had cared for was still alive. I found out that her brother had moved in and become the caregiver for their mother. It made complete sense to me.
I can easily flashback to the time when Susan entered my life in a big way.
Susan and her mother came to visit me in 2008 when both my parents were living with me. We all had just finished lunch and both of us were standing alone in the kitchen.
She stood right in front of me and spoke with a very determined tone. “Judy, how do you do it? I cannot believe what you are dealing with.”
Her words were so comforting. I rarely felt like anyone knew the stress I was dealing with. I had three challenging teenagers and two parents living with me. I prepared their food and it was not an easy feat.
Susan continued by saying, “This is not okay. You are on the verge of collapse! Where are your brothers in all of this? How are you going to keep going?”
I loved this woman because she really seemed to care about me at a time when being a caregiver had caused me to completely lose my own soul.
After that visit, Susan promised she would find a way to help me. She kept her word. We began to correspond and she felt strongly that I needed more support from my older brothers. I laugh remembering her words of, “I’m not afraid to talk to them or write a letter. I knew them when we were toddlers splashing in a kiddie pool naked together!”
I took her up on her offer to write a letter to my brothers, which she felt might help my situation. Her letter was simply magnificent and buoyed me greatly.
In the end, I chose not to send the letter she wrote. But her support lifted my spirits and gave me strength. I decided that instead of sending a letter, I would speak to my two brothers myself. But I wanted a safe place to do it and I asked them both to attend a one-time therapy session with me.
Very little changed after that session, but my friendship with Susan was solid. She cheered for me after my parents moved out and into an assisted living facility.
When my mother was on a respirator, Susan was transfixed by my messages and told me she saved them so that I could someday publish a book about that ordeal.
And it was Susan’s encouragement that inspired me to continue writing and create this blog.
I wrote a lot to Susan. Even though she was a university professor of journalism, I hardly ever felt she was too busy to be thinking of me. In fact, when I didn’t send her messages she would write to check up on me.
The last message I had from Susan was one with her condolences after my mother died three months ago.
Death is so permanent. So often Susan had encouraged me to visit and I’m very sorry I hadn’t.
In ten days, I will be flying up north to stay with Liz and attend a memorial for Susan that will be held at the university where she was a professor. Many people revered her. I will see her elderly mother and Susan’s surviving brother, Louis.
I have no memories of Liz, but knew her mother very well. I plan to bring many pictures I have of our parents’ vacations together. Her mother has dementia, but still remembers me and it will be wonderful to spend time with them.
I will be playing a song with my guitar to honor Susan at the memorial service.
It’s going to be hard for me to sing without crying.
Message from Liz after my mother died:
Susan just told me the sad news. I don’t know if I’ll share the news of your mother’s passing with my mother. Not sure if it will depress her. My mother has some very “sharp” moments when you wouldn’t think she has dementia, and then next she does something very inappropriate. What can I say? It sucks to watch it. But I do get those smiles from her, and I have to think I am blessed that she is pretty with it for almost 92 years old.
You should come visit Susan and I. Fall is a beautiful time here. A reunion . . .
All morning I went back to read the words you wrote to me over the last five years.
You were such a good friend. You were my big sister. Every word you wrote bathed me with encouragement. At times you even worried that you were too blunt, but I always appreciated your heartfelt honesty.
When my journey began, you were right next to me holding my hand. I was brimming with crazy enthusiasm and you simply jumped in to join me. Even when I threw out hundreds of emails in your direction, I could always count on jewels of wisdom to come back to me from you.
Here I am ready to finally take you up on your long extended offer of a vacation where you live up north. But now, you are dead. And I’m travelling up north to your memorial. I wish; I wish it weren’t true!
After reading all of your messages, I realize how little of your own tribulations you shared with me. Perhaps you didn’t want to add to my burden and it was the reason why you never shared that you were dying. Yet had I known, I would have told you so many things. Most of all – what you’ve meant to me!
You lifted me through relentless ordeals and struggles with my mother’s illness and my childrens’ challenges, as well. My life was only made bearable because of your friendship and support.
Susan, I will never forget you. You truly understood how my music and writing sustained me. You knew me to the core. I have no idea where my journey will lead, but wherever I go – I feel you right there cheering me on.
I will miss you my big sister. You have no idea. My heart is broken.
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