There was a gal … maybe you know her.
About this tall? Cute, blonde hair, blue eyes – trim, very trim – you know who I’m talking about?
From Pawling. Come on, her mother — a member of Quaker Hill Country Club, could do a split. I know you know her.
Ate like a rabbit –sugar, no fat, no butter. Not ever. She always asked ridiculous, redundant questions – has two boys – very VER-RY successful. VERY.
Two brothers, one very laaahhhhrrrrggee – big guy. What a shame. BIG. The other trim, good tennis player. Know who I mean? She looks really good – not for her age, but for any age. From Pawling, know who I mean?
Yes! Susan Roberts aka Aunt Sue aka Nana, mom, SuzyQ, aka your friend Susan. Previously known as Susan Mayer. Once upon a time, Susan Kane. But always Aunt Sue to me.
Sue Roberts was always “perfectly put together,” fully accessorized and well-appointed – like she just walked out of Saks or Nordstrom’s heading to the Plaza for tea, and not out of the King Street Thrift shop headed to Mykonos for Greek salad with anchovies.
Even these last few, difficult weeks, it was very important to always look her best, do her hair, bright shirts, colorful socks – and pearl earrings, preferably the size of tennis balls.
When Sue became less and less communicative, Hospice staff assured us her hearing would be the last sense to go, but nope. Not Sue. For her, her fashion sense was her last to go.
When a friend came to visit, and I, her translator and personal assistant, announced loudly, “Aunt Sue, Ann is here. Ann from church.” And she moaned, and I hit the morphine IV push and propped her pillows, wiped her brow, but she whispered, mouthing something so subtle, I put my ear to her face to hear her clearly:
Those might have been her last words, and I’m pretty sure they’re absolutely perfect.
I didn’t get hired to be Sue Roberts personal assistant — it was pure nepotism. Her brother Mike, the fat one, was my dad, which gives me fortunate title as niece, and the unfortunate life experience to be her designated caregiver: her uber driver, medical liaison, executive assistant, entertainer, housekeeper, and bouncer while my favorite aunt battled the ass-suck which is pancreatic cancer.
The hardest thing to do as the “Heavy” during Aunt Sue’s unfortunate condition, was overrule her one request that “no one see her like this” as she disappeared into a whisper of the woman she was. Denying that, we invited her many, many friends to visit, but then abruptly, during the final days, limited visitors to “family only” – but clearly, her definition of family – and all of yours – was drastically different than mine.
Being the designated bouncer at Aunt Sue’s bedside proved – without a doubt – I have no friends.
Not compared to Sue, as a steady stream of visitors followed us from Danbury Hospital to Regional Hospice – tennis friends, Richter Park people, ex-cheerleaders, IBM colleagues; Killian and Judith drive neighbors, Pawling people, the gals from the boutique – and the never-ending family that is King Street Church.
You just kept coming. You graciously appeared, bringing joy and gratitude for all Sue meant to you: wishing her well, thanking her, giving her daily updates, setting her mind at ease – and saying good-bye – so many friends.
One afternoon the entire choir showed up. With a keyboard.
The thing is, Sue treated everyone like family – the good kind of family: the sure, I’ll drive you to the airport kind; the I’ll watch your kids kind; I’ll loan you my racket – my car – my favorite size 2 thrift shop boutique Talbot’s pale yellow cashmere sweater kind.
And she loved you like family: when she couldn’t keep her eyes open, when pain meds kept her waffling between reality and memory, she would still rise to the surface and ask with renowned clarity:
“What was the result of your thyroid test?”
“Did you get that job?”
“How’s your backhand?”
“Where did you get that blouse?”
“Your pearls — perfect.”
“That dress? Fabulous: absolutely the appropriate length.”
She wouldn’t want me to stand here and talk about her, but instead want me to shine the light on all of you: gardening friends, book clubs, yoga, tennis, music, Quaker Lake – she had a superpower to make whomever she was talking to feel like the most important person in the world. In her world. The only one who mattered. You all thought you were the only one, but you were one of many.
Deflection was her superpower: she was uncanny in her ability ask questions – and get answers. Friends would sit bedside to ask about Sue, only to find themselves magically revealing their own lives, often with such trusted confidence I had to step out, a trespasser on intimate friendships that meant so much to her, and to you.
The magnitude of friendships Sue accrued in her 75 years – and yes, she was 75 but looked 50 thanks to her affinity to NAME BRAND Vaseline, yoga, tennis, one single glass of chardonnay that lasted 15 years – plus a rabbit diet that would have starved her to death, if not for her best boyfriend and husband, Babyboy Art, an accomplished, talent chef, proving yet again, Sue was no dummy.
Sue had the superpower of positivity. Or maybe it was deflection. Or perhaps naiveté. Otherwise known as “things we don’t talk about” of which her “unfortunate condition” was at the top of the list.
On the inside, I knew that she knew how this story would end, but on the outside, it was all positivity and promise. If not for her, then for her grandkids, who she bragged about with equal enthusiasm, keeping up on their activities and thrilled to see Adam and Katelyn shine, make 1-2-3 cookies with Alex & Olivia, calling and email Colin, and facetime Laine and Leia – a prouder Nana there never was.
She never wanted to worry her best-boys, Jason and Eric. They were so busy, such hard workers, so devoted, such amazing dads. Her pride for them eternal, and she marveled at their parenting, wondering where they learned it as their dad wasn’t “that type of dad.”
The good kind. The caring kind. The involved kind.
From you Sue. I told her, again and again.
They learned from you.
Please don’t mistake her eternal optimism for ignorance. While she was all sunshine and roses and making plans to meet “The Gals” — the never-ending supply of gals – and be at her best for the men in her life, her resilience is even more impressive because I knew that she knew full well the magnitude of her health. She always knew how this would end, even though she preferred to spare you all the dirty details.
So many texts and emails came through her phone, those last days, and with her permission, I read each one to her aloud, and it became painfully obvious, very few knew her limited future.
She wanted it that way.
Because with that optimism and naiveté she could live life the way she wanted, focusing on all of you – in intimate detail, highly attuned to your own lives, and wracking her brain on how to make your days a little brighter, perhaps maybe, with a little something tucked away at the Thrift Shop – a perfect pick-me-up for whatever might be ailing you.
Her chemo – what she called her tonic – whittled away at her already rabbit diet of low-fat cottage cheese, veggies, and Greek salad, but when she made the decision to bypass further treatment, her appetite still didn’t return.
Except for ice cream.
Which she ate often – guiltily, like she was cheating on her husband – in the early morning and especially in the middle of the night – all night, every night. Ann and I feeding her spoon by spoon, yet early morning, Ann managed to get her to eat a bite of French toast, swimming in melted butter, swooshed through maple syrup, then dipped in ice cream.
“Incredible,” Sue breathed in bewilderment and delight, eyes wide. “OMG, what is this? This, is ahhhh-mazzzz-ing.”
Sue, it’s butter. See what you’ve been missing out on? Butter IS amazing. So is bacon.
What a life you’ve lived, that your only regret is not enough butter.
That’s Sue. My aunt. Your mom, wife, sister, nana, tennis partner, cheerleader, designer, decorator, thrift shop aficionado, community organizer, philanthropist, neighbor, backyard florist, loyal confident, and trusted friend.
Forever the fashion icon looking like she was lunching with the queen but shopping at the thrift store, dying of cancer but living every day to the max with each and every one of you, wishing up to her very last day, and probably right now too, that you are always surrounded with love and support to make your days brighter and happier.
This is who she was. This is who we should all be.
Except, maybe, perhaps, with a little more butter.