Monday, March 5, 2012


Today my heart is heavy and the world became a little less friendly. Big Susan has passed away.  I cannot adequately describe what Big Susan meant to me. I don’t believe words could do her justice.  She loved me and my siblings like another mother – one that was often more patient than our own and I feel blessed to have such amazing memories.

The beach house with that conference room /dining table that forever needed wiping.  I can see her standing at the counter peeling hard-boiled eggs, opening cans of tuna and laughing with my mother about how all they ever seemed to do is prepare for a meal, eat, clean up after a meal or laundry.  I can hear her telling her Peter or Andy or Jane to look after me when we went far out in the water or out on bike rides up to York Beach Mall for doughnuts.

I remember her laughter and the way her eyes smiled. I remember the small brown spot in the bright blue of her eyes - not so different than the brown spot in my green eyes.  I remember the story of her visiting my mother in the hospital after I was born and the nurses mistaking her for my grandmother because she already had the most extraordinary silver hair.  I still have the small stuffed animal she brought that day. 

I remember spending weekends at her house when my mom went away. She treated me like a young girl despite my childish behavior at being left behind.  She didn’t tell me I would be sorry when I stayed up too late watching “Rosemary’s Baby” with Tommy.  She always listened – I may have been angry with one parent or another and she sometimes gave advice but never had a cross word to say about either of them.

I remember her hosting my mother’s second wedding.  Big Susan stood up for my mother as she and Jack took their vows in front of family, friends and a few kids who may have been less than appreciative on that particular day.

Like all teenage girls – and often many young adult women – I often struggled in my relationship with my mother.  Big Susan showed me a side to my mother that I didn’t know existed – the side of a young girl, a young women, a devoted mother and a good friend.  Just as she had never seen the mother that I knew (the one that yelled and often made me feel bad about myself), I had never seen the open and nonjudgmental woman that Big Susan called friend.  I credit her for helping me, for scolding me when necessary and for encouraging me to work at the relationship with my mother. To talk to her, to listen to her and just appreciate her.  And, I’m not too proud to say she was right every.single.time.

College trips back home were not complete without a visit to Big Susan.  She would have a dinner – whatever kids and grandkids were in town would come.  It would be loud and boisterous.  Everyone would help.  When I moved back after college and my mother lived elsewhere, I knew I had a home with Big Susan.  I was always included in whatever family or holiday function was happening – and that meant more than she will ever know.  When I moved back to California, I spent my last night in Maryland at her house.  She stood back as my big Susan, T, and I did the big ugly cry.  She understood. She had been in T’s shoes years before when my mother moved away.  She held me when everyone left – no false words of comfort but complete understanding.

Susan was a glass-half-full kind of gal.  She found the positive and the light in everyone.  She was a fierce defender of her children and grandchildren – there was no greater ally if Big Susan was on your side.  And, there was no greater friend, if you were blessed to be in that circle. 

So now, as I try and figure travel arrangements – I ache to be close to Big Susan, her children, her grandchildren – I am filled with a loss that is at once overwhelming and familiar. You see, as long as I had Big Susan, I had a little piece of my mother.  I had that person to call when my mini-me did the most extraordinary thing (at least to me.)  I still had someone to call when I bought my first home. Someone to call after a car accident left us bruised, banged up and more than a little scared.  Someone to tell me for the umpteenth time how to make the roast chicken.

I miss my mother every day and now I will miss Big Susan.  I do take comfort in knowing they are together again.  They are sitting together, maybe even wearing those matching blue bathrobes. They are having coffee, sharing the crossword and talking about everyone and everything and what people are wearing.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said:
To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty; to find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.

If this is true, Susan was truly one of the most successful people I know.

To Susan’s children and grandchildren, you have my deepest sympathy and love. I hope you know that you are not alone in your grief and that you are each your mother’s – and your grandmother’s greatest success.  Simply saying your names brought her joy.

To Susan, I am a better person because you were my mother’s friend. Because you were mine.

So tonight, when I look up and see the stars sprinkled across the sky and see two very bright stars that seem so close together – I will choose to think they are my mother and the very original Big Susan. Shining bright once again.  I will listen closely – perhaps I’ll hear them laugh.

Susan Shapiro Schlosser

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