Love Letters to Susan

Probably the most helpful thing I’ve done in the past few weeks was invite the people who love Susan to share their thoughts and messages with her. We usually do this after someone has died, but I think it’s incredibly important to share these things with the people we love while they’re still, you know, breathing. (I wrote a post on the subject some seven years ago, called Things Better Not Left Unsaid.)

Opening up that channel to Susan, giving access to her to people who didn’t have that access, was important for everyone. I would sit on the bed and read them to her (although as I wrote before every single one made me cry), or in the case of voice messages, let her hear the voices of people she loved express how they felt about her. They brought her such sheer joy, and I want to thank all of you for that. You gave her comfort, pride, humor, and so much more in the last days of her life. 

I’ve selected some exerpts from your written messages to share here. I’m sorry I couldn’t include all of them in their entirety, but this post is already roughly 4 times longer than it should be. (Not much over 1000 words gets read in this internet age. Although I will mention that one admirer said that Susan introduced him to actual “side boob” years before “side boob” was even a thing.) Indeed, a woman ahead of her time.

My dear Susan, I am so grateful to Matt for making this happen. Hard to know where the boundary is between intruding and just expressing love in shitty circumstances — if there is one.
I miss you terribly, but you already know that. Missed you since we moved away from Budapest. Spending time with you on that fourth floor of OSI and then, gradually, more and more, at boozy lunches was such a bright spot during those years.
Initially, for me, it was about your off-kilter, slightly sarcastic but never coldhearted sense of humor. Hungary, Budapest, OSI were all such humorless places, for the most part. It felt like such a relief. The way we could laugh at our lives and at the little alien Ewoks we made. I loved the way your eyes get small and very shiny when you laugh, and that shape of your smile, which I now think I see in Matt’s photos of Griffin.
But there is also something about your intelligence. It’s very specific and probing and weird. I first noticed that in the context of work — which, again, was so necessary and such a fucking joy there and at that time. 
And the coolest thing is how that intelligence naturally extends to the personal realm. Your curiosity is a very generous form of attention. The way you have been there there for me during shit times was so specific, surgically cutting through momentary bullshit with enviable emotional intelligence. Having a friend like that is a rare and lucky thing.
But it’s really all about the small things. The little moments that don’t care to fit into a larger picture, but whose accumulation stubbornly means a lot more in our hearts than anything else we could construct with our heads. The little we got to share, once in a while, in these past years. So grateful for that.
I selfishly hope I’ll get to help your kids. They have a wide net of people who know you and love you and can help keep them in shape. I want to keep them, feed them, and orient them if I can, in New York or wherever else. I’ve become scary good with teenagers. And Matt might want a break. Or a drink. Or five.
Love you to bits. Miss you.

Dear Susan,
It was so great to see your walking by the beach, smiling with your family and watching your video messages. 😊

Beside many of our long weekends, parties, excursions and holidays what I really, really liked, my favorite “spending time together” was our Rome trip.
I was so happy that all of us could manage to be at the same place together, mostly in that beautiful city. Nine women, moms, friends, adults with so many experiences behind us, but inside we were girls for a while. 🤗

I’m so lucky and happy to have this memory. I hope you have many many memories like this.
Susan darling, I admire your positivity, smiles and empathy. You’re attitude is a good example for me.
I’m sending you our warm hugs and kisses, also from Dami.
All the best Susan, take care!

Here is a message to Susan: You are such an incredible woman, sister-in-law, person, human, everything. I am grateful for the miracle that is you and that I get to be your sister-in-law and friend. I’m going to keep praying for more miracle days. Love, love and more love!

Reading about what you guys went through was painful, and Susan now feels like a family member. I knew that your latest post was coming but I hoped that it would take a lot more for me to read about such devastating news.
I lost my mother to breast cancer in January 2017. While reading your earlier posts about Susan’s condition, I sometimes felt that I’m reliving the whole experience and funnily enough your blog has put a lot of things in perspective and following it was very therapeutic for me. You’ve written about a lot of questions, feelings and thoughts that had occurred to me at the time of my mother’s illness but back in the day I just couldn’t articulate them the way you had. Reading about Susan’s approach to her illness, death, life and her positive attitude along the way has taught me so much. We’re all just little potatoes compared to her.

You posted recently about Susan’s optimism and her feelings that she is one of the luckiest people. At first, that struck me as a bit ironic from someone in the final days of their life, particularly at such a young age with so much life still left inside them. But when I really thought about it from her perspective, I understood better. She was focused on all the right stuff – the intangible, important things like wonderful children, a job well done as a mother, passing on a beautiful legacy and a strong, deep love with another human being. 

As genuinely sorry as I am for the intense pain you are navigating now with her passing, I am so ecstatic for you that you had all that’s special about Susan and your relationship with her. I’d say you’ve both been very lucky.

I sincerely thank you, Matt, for sharing this journey you’ve all been on over the past 5+ years, and for helping me to know a little bit the beauty of your wife. I feel like I’ve become a little better of a human being through some of the lessons and experiences you’ve shared.

You are all in my heart and prayers and I’m wishing you peace, love and to carry on her beautiful legacy.

Susan, I’ve felt that you (with Laura as your sidekick) are the heart of our online meditation circle. By that I mean you keep the love pumping. You affirm, encourage, cheerlead, you dole out warmth and acceptance like you’re a fountain bursting with it. Your stories of the beauty of the strength of your marriage, family, the journey with cancer, how you see each woman’s gifts… you’ve made a vast difference and I hope the film gave you a taste of what you inspire.
Dear Susan, I am so thankful when spending time with you. When we were in Sitges for the last time and had planned a hike that started from this defunct church with the amazingly old olive tree on the side, we were waiting for you but Matt said that they were late because you had to stay at home and rest. Then you came nevertheless. You did say that you wanted to come because you were not sure if we would ever meet again. When you said that I was shaken to the core but immensely grateful. Somewhat to my surprise, nobody else seemed to have taken notice of what you had said in that moment. Some time later, I shared my feelings with Matt and he dismissed my interpretation saying that for sure you were not planning to die soon. He was right. And I was right, too. The chances are that we won’t meet again on this side of the river. It makes me feel helpless.
Your three boys are a real match to you, superhero woman! They are finding their ways in the new life that they are pushed in. I want to be part of this life, also so that I don’t lose touch with you – and to feel less helpless.
Dearest Susan,
You have changed all of our lives for the better. Not just the projects and the people you advocated for on a large scale (also small!) but also for me and my family. You helped me get to Barcelona, pregnant and nervous! You gave me an opportunity to join your team, gave me confidence within that team, not just as an OSF colleague, but also as a mum-to-be and for this I am forever grateful. As a manager, mentor, colleague and friend you have shared your beautiful spirit, knowledge, experience and advice so openly and clearly that you have given me confidence, understanding and strength; something I will value and remember forever. I always looked forward to our weekly check-ins, just to hear your amazing thoughts, ideas and opinions on how anything is possible, how we can always try and make a change for the better. Your awesome sense of humor and badass attitude of “we can get this done” fills my heart and so many others with the best feeling. This is something the world needs and has always needed and is better off for experiencing you and your energy. 

Susan, you know all this but here it comes one more time. You´re a role model to me. I look at you as that older sister you admire and want to become similar to.

Your capacity to enjoy life, to have fun, to put yourself on the shoes of someone else, your humility, your never ending energy to learn and spur ideas and your huge consistency never cease to amaze me.

You´ve invested a lot of time at work but you should know that your leadership and energy have shaped many personalities, our lives and us. I´m sure I´m not the only one acknowledging this.

Susan, how much I´ve learnt from you and how grateful I feel for your caring, your advice and listening. The way you´ve faced your health and the last 5 years have made me step up my emotional maturity. I feel more confident after having witnessed how you´ve never dropped your agency, your empowerment and your dignity and lead in making decisions on how you cope with every single step or news.

What gorgeous and transformational super-powers you have, Susan.
Beso enorme y gracias por tanto!

Susan has always been “the cool aunt.” I was definitely too awkward to say anything about it as a kid, but I thought she was the coolest person I’d ever seen. I remember on her wedding day, when Abby and I were bridesmaids, we got to be in the bride’s room where all the women were getting ready. Abby announced that we had seen Uncle Matt in his suit, and Susan, looking gorgeous and so glamorous in her wedding dress, asked us “Did he look handsome?” Clearly the answer she was angling for was “yes,” so I, being the bratty little contrarian I was (and probably still am), said “no.” Susan threw her head back and laughed the biggest, most genuine belly laugh I think I’ve ever heard.

There was always something novel and exotic about Uncle Matt and Aunt Susan, a sort of game the cousins would play as kids looking at the globe at Grandma and Grandpa’s house: where do you think they are now? We’d spin the globe and put a finger down, and guess whether Matt & Susan had been, or would go, to that random place. Many a trip to Uzbekistan had been prophesied that way. It was always a special occasion when I got to actually see Susan, returned from Mexico, England, Japan, Hungary (etc., etc.) and hear her travel stories. What an awesome way to live, I thought. I want to do that when I grow up.

Then as a teen, I learned more about why Matt & Susan traveled so much, and the work Susan was doing to help improve the lives of people all over the world. Honestly, until I heard about Susan’s work, I don’t think the concept of a career at a nonprofit, rather than simply volunteering, had ever occurred to me. What an awesome way to live, I thought. I want to do that when I grow up.

I don’t know if I’m “grown up,” but I am able to make my own choices now, and many of them have been inspired by my cool Aunt Susan. I work for an environmental nonprofit that pays me to travel and scuba dive across the Caribbean, trying to develop a scalable solution to the invasive lionfish problem. I spend my time and money on experiences, traveling as often as I can. I live with my favorite travel partner, who makes me laugh and loves to cook, and we just bought our first house. I don’t know anyone who has done as much living in her life as Susan, and I doubt I ever will. I’ll always be grateful for the time I have gotten to spend with her, and the influence she had in shaping me into a quasi-adult.

Dear Susan,
I guess we saw each other for the last time in Rome. It was April, 2016. What a nice weekend it was!
I think about you a lot. Your first and last images in my mind are always the same; beautiful Susan with a big smile on her face! That’s why I find you very strong, you always smile. Even you have this experience, I and everybody see you smiling in the photos. I think for many people, even the ones with a perfect health, this is something very difficult to do and for you just like this, natural.
I have too many things to write to you but I am afraid of not expressing my feelings and thoughts sufficiently. But I want to tell you this as a mother: this strong character of yours has passed to your boys as well and they will be fine, especially in the hands of their good father.

Dear Susan,

What a wonderful idea for Matt, to read out a few words from friends who shared your path with you a some point or another.
How lucky we were, to have met you through the boys at English garden. I remember Griffin in his little winter snug and Damian being such a handsome little boy (already) then, god he will break some hearts soon 😉
I remember the lovely Thanks giving dinner we had at your apartment in Budapest and I know, I had to go to the bathroom (too much wino!) and saw a beautiful wedding photo of you and had another look and thought, who is the guy next to Susan? Turns out, it was Matt, just with hair ! 😉
Also the lovely dinners we had with just the girls and the wonderful trip to Rome with everyone. Do you remember the strange huge mirror or picture we had in one of the bedrooms and I think Henny nearly smashed it? Great weekend!
I remember, we had this wonderful chat at the beachfront a few year back when we saw you in Stiges, together with Matt s mother. And a lovely lunch we had together. Think Matt s mom tried to chat up the waiter 😉

Susan, I am so glad our paths have crossed. You are a wonderful woman and you have the most caring husband, who keeps us all in the loop, which feels good! You have brought up two beautiful boys and I know, Matt looks after them so well!
I wish I could hug you, but I am sure Matt will help me out on that one! Thanks for your friendship!

So how would I sum up our friendship? Well we all know how and where it all took place (what happens in Berlin stays in Berlin) don’t worry Matt it was very harmless although our waiter serving us green cocktails may remember it differently! We could not have been more opposite. You were the cocktail-drinking, Vogue-slim smoking queen, I was the pint drinking, rollie smoking… Something! But we clicked. I remember saying to you we would be friends forever. We had a small absence of around 27 years from seeing each other!, but when I saw you on that platform, there were no nerves, only a warm feeling like you get when you put on your favourite jumper and you are cosy and happy. And bam you were back in my life! In that short (oh so very short time) I got you back, you have made such an impact on my life. You have taught me to like myself (you know what I mean) you have broadened my reading, with our wee book club! And you have made me grateful of what I have, taught me how important it is to appreciate every single day and to take/make time for me. You both have showed me what true love is and that guys has been so inspiring. Susan what does your friendship mean to me? The World, my friend the world.

Dear Susan, The other day I listened to an interview of Christiane Taubira talking about Maya Angelou, and it reminded of the poem Renata shared in your honor: Phenomenal woman. Such a beautiful poem. Susan, I’m so admirative of how strong and powerful you are and I am so grateful for having crossed your path. I want to thank you for your leadership and for taking us on a feminist journey to make our workplace (and the world, hopefully) a better place. We’re getting there but we miss you deeply! I also want to thank you for your words of encouragement and appreciation that we women often need to hear to feel “empowered” or to feel legitimate. When I think of you I also always remember your laughters that would always fill a room with joy. I hope they keep filling your home with joy. I wish I could give you a hug and pass on energy. Meanwhile, here is a virtual one, and I’m sure you get all the real hugs from your kids and from Matt. Sending you much love and wishing you a beautiful Sunday with your family ❤️

Hi Matt, please let Susan know that I think of her every single day. Since weeks one of my first things to do every day is checking your posts and reading your blog. My heart is with you. We haven’t met since years but I follow your life in Spain all the wonderful and also the heartbreaking news because meeting you guys meant a lot to me 20 years ago in Budapest. It was a conference where we met first, Susan. You conducted a short interview with me on mental health issues and later I guided you to the ministry translating during your interviews. I was very impressed by your straightforward questions and courage and I was so happy when you started to work at OSI in Budapest. You also represent something for me that changed my mindset and the way I see the world. I grew up in a very homogeneous culture, all white people, speaking the same (one single) language and having the same mindset. And meeting you the American lady with Asian background, with this very strong confidence and free spirit impressed me lot. Later when I met Jodee, my Singaporean wife I experienced the same with her and I wanted to belong to this free, open world where people unite regardless their race, gender, religion . That is what you and Matthew mean to me. You belong to my world.

Dear Susan,

I was thinking about standing in line in the rain waiting to get into the Belinda Carlisle concert at the Greek Theatre when we were maybe 14 years old. I don’t know why I can still remember the feeling of the uncomfortable dampness and should probably be embarrassed that we stood in line for Belinda Carlisle, but if you were with me, it must have been cool because you were the coolest girl I knew…naturally confident when it felt like the rest of us were faking it badly.

When I think back on my life, it just feels like you were always there. In my memories of my childhood birthdays, holidays, summer camps, family vacations, and weddings, you were always there. The reality is that we probably saw more of each other in a month when we were 10 than in our entire 30s and 40s, but it feels like you were always there.

And now, when the reality of you not being there is here, I literally can’t fathom what it might feel like if you are not there.

Thank you, my beautiful friend for being such a fierce example of seeking joy in life, for making me laugh more times than I can count, and for always being there. To quote little Julie if you remember this, “You guys, wait up for me. I want to play with you.” Wait for us, Susan. We want to play with you.


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