Below are the words I read at Susan’s funeral service on Saturday, September 8, 2018. As with most things we wrote, we invited each other to read drafts and offer comments. This piece was no different. I started this particular remembrance about 4-5 months ago and showed a draft to Susan at the time. She offered her first impression, made a few literary suggestions, cried a little, and noted a sentence with four prepositional phrases that I might want to revisit. 🙂 This draft has revisions that she did not see because I finished it after she died. I could feel her arms around me as I read it aloud in the church.
O Susan! My Susan!
Susan and I were sitting on her front balcony on Marlowe Street. Both of us had our laptops open and were working on something. We had been together for over a year, and I guess I felt secure in our relationship. Secure enough to make a confession. I am not sure what prompted it. “Susan,” I said. “Hmm-mm,” she mumbled, still fixed on her writing. I cleared my throat. “I have read Stephen King novels.” She looked up from her screen. “Really?” I nodded. “About two dozen.” Then she looked away for a second or two as she did when she needed to be alone, and then back at me and said with her trademark smile: “I still love you.” She returned to her laptop screen and continued working. After another few seconds, without looking up, she said: “Just don’t tell any of my literary friends.”
Susan’s sense of humour was quite odd, often dark, and sometimes just weird. She would recount something to me and laugh and laugh out loud as she shared the anecdote. At first I just looked at her and thought maybe it was nervous laughter but it turns out she just found humour in odd things, and enjoyed laughing almost as a gift to herself. Sometime in the last year, she made a blueberry crumble cake. As the crumble baked, the blueberries would secrete juice and it would collect on the bottom of the pan. So as to avoid a soggy crumble she poured out from the pan about one-half cup of pure, undiluted blueberry juice left over, which she put into a mason jar in the fridge. No lid on the jar. That evening we were in the kitchen with Oliver and Lauren, and we were going to have the crumble. She went into the fridge to get some cream, which was behind the jar of blueberry juice. She took out the jar of juice, and I think the door may have bumped her a little and she dropped the jar, the one without the lid. The jar fell perfectly perpendicular to the wooden floor. It hit with a smack between Susan’s feet. The jar didn’t break but the blueberry juice exploded like a geyser right out of the top and splattered Susan from head to foot, and ceiling, and across the room, and into the fridge, and well, everywhere. She looked like Sissy Spacek at the end of the movie Carrie (which, ironically, is a movie based on a novel by a writer whose name I won’t mention again). But in the kitchen in Montreal, Susan is laughing. Laughing and laughing. She said: “I must look like I’m in a horror movie.” I nodded but didn’t mention the movie by you know who. Her face and arms were freckled with blueberry juice, her long dress spattered everywhere, her bare legs and feet too. And still she was laughing. The rest of us, I believe, were only thinking about the mess we would need to clean up, and how this was going to slow down getting to eat the crumble, but Susan was in the moment, laughing at the absurdity, at the mess, at her humanity. Her laughter made it easy to relax, to laugh with her, to share with her what became silliness. “I still love you,” I said, as I went to fill a wash basin.
Aside from loving her sense of humour I also came to love flowers, and to understand the meaning of compassion, partly through her own love of flowers. Wild flowers mostly, the kind that grow where they want, without boxes or pots or any type of restraints. It was so beautiful to see them expand across her yard as summer moved along. “Don’t step there, that’s a young bee-balm, watch out for the forget-me-nots.” And on the occasion that we brought flowers into the house, we were both very mindful of cutting them. It was almost a sacred act: we quietly gave thanks to the flowers before cutting them, and then took good care of them once inside the house. She had such great love and compassion for all living things.
Such compassion. I’ve had some struggles with anxiety and depression, and while I am highly functional most of the time, I often slip and fall into shadowy states of being. Of late not so much, ironically, but over our nearly seven years together I’d stumble along the way, and swirl into some vortex that made me dark and distant. Susan had an admitted impatient streak; it’s a family trait, so she came by it honestly. But I never felt that she was impatient with my emotional slumps. On the contrary, she was kind and caring towards me. Compassionate. Susan always looked for ways to help me, to listen, to back up, to come closer, to be there for me; she offered comfort in many ways. Sometimes it would take hours or days for me to feel ready to express what was happening. She waited, patiently. One time, after a few days of a dark mood, I expressed a completely irrational fear of some kind, that type that leaves a non-worrying person rolling their eyes. But ours was such a trusting love that we could confide anything to each other. Susan took my face in her hands and said: “You really are fucked up… but I still love you.”
I told Susan earlier in her diagnosis that if she should slip into a deep sleep, she need not doubt where my love was. It was still here, in the room, in my heart. And I promised Susan in a love letter last year that wherever I go I will plant wild flowers for her. And that she can nourish them, and I can talk to her through them. Hopefully I’ll receive some comfort from those flowers through the sad times and worry. And while I can’t be certain, I’d like to think that those flowers will look back at me with Susan’s big smiley smile and I’ll hear her voice saying: “I still love you … I still love you … I still love you”.