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.”
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.