For Susan

I came home last night into the safety of my living room, the hug of my partner, and the warm, surprisingly comforting arms of my six year-old daughter. I took off my sunglasses. “Why are you crying mommy?”

“Because I just found out that my friend died today,” I said. “She had cancer.”

“Oh,” she said. “Was she nice?”

“She was very nice. So nice. You would have liked her so much.”

Thalia smiled.

“She was so smart too. She was a scientist. Like you could be one day. And she taught me a lot about cancer and made me think about helping women who have it in new ways.”

My voice cracked when I added, “And she was a mommy, just like me.”

“I’m really sorry your friend died,” Thalia said. And she meant it.

That’s when I realized that Sage wasn’t around.

“She’s in her room,” Thalia told me. “She needed alone time.”

I told Sage that I needed some alone time too. And that maybe we could have some alone time together.

It was very unlike Sage to go along with the idea, and yet she did. She liked the idea a lot.

So she shut the door to her room behind me, and told everyone else to go away, and we sat on the floor and we rearranged her dollhouse. We made the beds. We set the staircases straight. We debated whether the toilet seat should be open or closed. We put the bathtub in the bedroom because, why not. The kitchen went on the front porch, because who wouldn’t want to eat outside every day?

We didn’t talk about cancer or death or being sad. We didn’t talk about how much I’ll miss Susan and how many lives she touched with her deeds and actions,  saying those things that other people wouldn’t say or couldn’t say. We didn’t talk about the last time I hugged her at a conference, close to a year ago and how her smile always shone more brightly than anything in the room. And we didn’t talk about how I can only hope to possess one iota of the strength and grace and dignity that Susan did her whole life–but never more so than when she had every right to have none of it.

Instead, Sage and I placed the mouse family in the beds and in the chairs. Just the two of us. Being alone. Together.


If you knew Susan Niebur and want to honor her memory, at her husband’s request you can make a donation to the Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Foundation. You can also just be a cool fucking person. Because Susan totally was.

susan niebur


36 thoughts on “For Susan”

  1. Beautiful tribute to a very courageous and strong woman. I was so sorry to hear the news.

  2. A lovely tribute to Susan, Liz. Amazing how the touch of our small people can give us the comfort we need. Somehow they just know. Sending you hugs.

  3. That was lovely. I didn’t know her at all but she touched me through her words. I am so sad.

  4. You are all making me cry lately but this woman, she is definitely worth the shedding of tears. I can’t imagine the loss you feel but I hope that someday you can think of her and smile again.

  5. Very well said. I never met Susan in person, but read her blog for years. I will miss her. My heart aches for her husband and boys and her many, many friends inside and outside the computer.

  6. Aw. Hugs. I’m crying reading the news. Though I never met her, she was an awesome and inspiring woman to watch.

  7. She really was.

    She was funny and kind to me always, as she was in general, but she also challenged. As I’m sure you know, I appreciated that a lot. I’ve watched my friends here rally around her increasingly the past couple of months, and it has been the best example of friendship and community, on and offline.

    I don’t have children of my own to teach in her signature fashion, but all I’ve been able to think about since the lovefest started is “what can I do?” “Where can I commit my efforts for the most good?” I just want to get off my ass and do something. I don’t know that I’ve ever known someone with her reach. It’s difficult to wrap my mind around, but I know her influence will really never end.

    1. I love that she challenged. She was never the nice/don’t make waves type. She always stood up for what she believed in, even when it was unpopular. But she did it so rationally, so passionately, she earned only respect for it. Good lesson for me. For all of us.

      I see that in you too, Laurie.

  8. I feel for your loss, all of her other friends, and most especially her family. Cancer is a bitch. Losing a close friend sucks, as I too well know. Thoughts are with you and everyone who knew her.

  9. I lost my most wonderful friend and creative collaborator very recently and reading your sadness makes me miss her even more. I’m trying to find ways to keep her in my life, to keep our friendship and the sustenance it gave me fresh and real. So, I’m writing her letters (like we used to do years ago), taking holidays in her honour (she loved holidays) and persisting in my creative life as she did till the very end.

    1. I’d imagine that’s the best tribute she could ask for. I’m so sorry for your loss, Rose.

  10. I met Susan at TypeA, so bubbly and smiling and happy to be there … it was only as the evening went on did I realise that she was WhyMommy. We joked about people and their avatars, and I told her that I should have known her smile, a mile away …
    Her smile.
    And now my tears …

  11. It’s so cliché, but I really thought the world would be different this morning. Last night, after I too cried in front of my girls and explained the loss of Susan, or at least of new words from her, new insight and grace, I sat at the window as that impossibly bright moon shone down. I remembered how much she taught me and the times I have literally been a conduit, sharing what she taught me about breastfeeding babies turning away from one breast being a possible indicator of IBC.

    I cannot grasp her being gone in the same way I cannot fully wrap my mind around how hard she fought and how selflessly she and her family let us in. This is a beautiful tribute and as we all reel in her loss, I feel like we will demonstrate the value and integrity of our community in this virtual realm by carrying her message and demanding more for breast cancer and any other cause we hold dear.

  12. I only “discovered” Susan a month or two ago, but I know her courage was remarkable. I was so sad to hear of her passing yesterday. My husband spent part of our evening talking about it, too.

  13. The world lost an amazing soul, but her boys and husband lost a mama and a beloved wife and partner. Heartbreaking.

    I wept openly and long yesterday for a woman I only knew from a screen, that is how powerful a presence she was and will continue to be.

  14. Thank you for your kind words about Susan. It is comforting to know how she has impacted so many others. As I stared at the moon last night, I knew I wasn’t the only one looking skyward. And as I walked in the rain this morning, I knew I wasn’t the only one crying.

  15. I didn’t know Susan but I do know she was a remarkable woman and touched so many. The outpouring of love and tributes is absolutely amazing. This is just what we were talking about last week — this absolutely amazing community. My sympathies to all who knew, loved, and were touched by Susan.

  16. This sounds a whole lot like the conversation I had last night with Reagan. Extra stories, hugs and play time was had all around. The biggest thing I learned from Susan was how to be a better mother and I can honor her daily by doing just that.

  17. Susan reminds me of an extremely dear Aunt we lost to cancer about 7 years ago. She also fought so hard and never gave up. Susan will be extremely missed. I’m so sorry…

  18. Oh, I’m so sorry. I’m hate that nothing said or written will replace that friend sized heartbreak. Many good hopes for you, and you friend’s family.

  19. My sympathies but my relative just had a double mastectomy. Breast Cancer is more prevalent than we think and she has a long battle ahead of her.

  20. Liz: I got to know susan’s blog through you and was inspired every single time I read one of her posts. My mother in law was diagnosed with cancer a year ago and Susan has been a beacon of strength for me. She was a role model of how to squeeze life into every single minute we are given on earth – no matter what shi*t we are dealt. Such a tremendous loss, but we are all so much better for having the privilege of being touched by her light. Thank you for showing me her light I will never forget it or her.

    1. That’s lovely Tina. Thank you for sharing that with me. Lots of love towards your mother in law.

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