Yesterday was long. It started with a meeting at the funeral home, taking care of the business end of Susan’s funeral. Then I worked for a while on the program for the funeral itself. Then I took my boys to buy us suits.
And then, when I got home, there was a big chunk of the core team, hanging out at my house and ready to go for a ride. I have great friends.
Then I wrote Susan’s obituary for the local newspaper. As I did that, I realized a few things. First, that I had more to say about Susan than what I could fit in an obituary (especially since the newspaper charges me $3.50 per line). Second, that more people who care about Susan read my blog than are likely to get the Deseret News (a Utah-wide newspaper). And finally, I wanted to make sure that any of my readers who are able to make it to the funeral have the information they need to get there.
And if you’re not able to make it to the funeral, well, what I’m writing here will be pretty much the same thing, but with a lot fewer stutters and stammers.
Susan Ellen Nelson
Susan Ellen Nelson (born Reeve) passed away August 5, 2009, after a long and hard-fought battle with breast cancer. She finished her life at home, at peace, and with her family: her husband Elden, sons Nigel (15) and Brice (13) and twin daughters Katie and Carrie (7).
Susan was born September 15, 1966 in Columbus, Ohio, to Richard and V. Karen Reeve, the first of three children. Susan’s sisters are Celia Reeve and Christine Krueger.
We Meet and (Very Soon After) Marry
The best place for me to really start telling Susan’s story, though, is when we met. Specifically, we met April 27, 1988. My college roommate was engaged to one of Susan’s roommates, and I was along for the ride when he stopped by her apartment.
When I saw Susan, I was immediately stricken. In addition to her general hotness, she had eyes that conveyed her smile so perfectly.
Plus, I really liked her dark red hair.
I was not the kind of person to ask girls out on dates without spending time getting courage up, but in this case I made an exception.
When I went to pick Susan up the next day, I did a double take — her hair color was now blaze-orange. Which I also liked, but was confused.
As it turns out, Susan was in cosmetology school at the time — she wanted to learn hair as a skill to put in her quiver for her love of stage makeup — and her hair would change style and color roughly twice a week through our courtship.
Our courtship, by the way, didn’t take long. We married on August 13, 1988 in the LDS Los Angeles Temple — about 3.5 months after we met.
After twenty one years (this Thursday) of a truly happy marriage, I can’t help but be amazed that I made such a good choice so quickly.
Before long, Susan went back to college, finishing her BA in Classical Civilizations at BYU. Here, I learned about Susan’s incredible gift of memorizing. For her upper-level Latin classes (yes, at one point Susan could speak Latin), Susan would memorize page after page of Latin and their English translations.
I would tease her about the practicality of learning Latin, but Susan wasn’t really in school for the language. She loved history and mythology, whether it be ancient Greek or modern JRR Tolkien (or, eventually, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) — if Susan became interested in something, she immersed herself in it and quickly became an expert.
While Susan loved history and mythology and stagecraft and art — and took to any and all of these quickly and naturally — once we started having children, she threw herself into being a mom with patience and energy. And I see many things I love about Susan in each of our four children:
- Nigel has Susan’s patience and creativity. Like Susan, Nigel really never gets angry. They’re both calm in every circumstance. And like Susan, Nigel loves to draw, although he has taken this ability in new directions — on the computer — which Susan always loved to see. Like Susan, Nigel is happiest when he is creating something.
- Brice has Susan’s love of reading and learning. As Susan lost the ability to get around, she and Brice spent more time together than anyone else in the family, reading out loud to each other for hours. Like Susan, Brice has the ability to bring text to life. When he reads aloud, everyone in the family gathers around. Like Susan, Brice is a perfectionist, and always turns in (much) better work than is required.
- Katie and Carrie: I don’t know if identical twins usually have identical talents, but both Katie and Carrie — in addition to looking very much like Susan’s pictures from when she was a little girl — are artistic whirlwinds. Like Susan, they love to draw and paint and sculpt and paper-piece and anything else that lets them create with their hands. The day Susan introduced them to the fundamentals of jewelry making was a watershed moment for them of Keppleresque proportions. But Katie and Carrie have different art emphases — Katie loves to draw, Carrie likes to make things — and watching and helping the girls develop their different talents was one of Susan’s greatest pleasures.
Susan has left me with four smart, kind, and creative children. This is almost certainly her greatest legacy.
Arts and Crafts and a Novel
Susan was a talented artist, entering her Freshman year of college as a scholarship art student. Her interests in art varied and grew, from pen and ink to paper piecing to sophisticated scrapbooking projects. Susan published several scrapbooking articles in magazines, and even had a monthly column in one.
In the past five years or so, Susan’s interest in art moved to jewelry making. In particular, Susan loved twisting, shaping, and melting silver wire into beautiful and complex bracelets and necklaces. Even as cancer took her ability to walk away, Susan remained positive — from her easy chair, she could still wield her acetylene torch.
As she was forced to spend more time seated, Susan had the idea to write a young adult-oriented novel. While many would think this was just too daunting a task, Susan simply got to work, outlining, writing, and editing her first novel. Chemo and radiation and the cancer itself would often make it difficult for her to write, but she continued, encouraged by the fact that teenage girls from around the neighborhood demanded that she keep writing so they could see what happens next.
Susan’s novel is within a few pages of completion. Susan told me what happens in the end, and I may do my best to finish it for her and see if I can honor her by bringing it to publication.
For a more detailed telling of Susan’s battle with cancer, you may want to read a recent post, Fighting Like Susan. The brief version is that Susan fought cancer for more than five years. She endured a mastectomy — and moving shortly afterward with twin toddlers in tow. She endured chemo. She endured a hip replacement. She endured radiation multiple times, and more chemo.
And when there was nothing left we could do, Susan endured — for months and years longer than anyone expected — assault after assault by cancer on her body: bones, lungs, and brain.
And throughout, she remained herself: creative, focused, and kind.
And also — very importantly — she was brave.
In an act of constant courage, Susan agreed to let me tell her story, as it happened. Because of this, thousands of people, all around the world, were inspired to take up her fight against cancer.
And I mean “thousands” very literally. More than 500 people — people she never met in real life — joined her namesake LiveStrong Challenge team, raising money to fight cancer. And those 500 people — along with many, many others, have raised well above half a million dollars in the past half year.
When I ask myself, “What could be the purpose — the point — of Susan having cancer?” I think that Susan proved something essential: sometimes we have to make our own purpose from the circumstances we’ve been given.
And if you consider that people have emailed me saying that, inspired by Susan’s story, they have decided to join the fight against cancer, or they have quit smoking, or they have decided to be brave and get a mammogram — well, that’s a powerful purpose.
The money we have raised in her name will help in the fight against cancer, but Susan’s legacy goes way beyond that. It is, in fact, immeasurable.
Funeral and Donations
Funeral services will be held Monday, August 10, 2009 at 10:00 a.m., with a gathering at 9:00 a.m. at the LDS Chapel located at 890 N. Main St, Alpine, UT 84004 (Official address is different, but this address will get you to the right spot).
In lieu of flowers, please donate via Paypal or send donations to Elden Nelson, 407 Quincy Ct., Alpine, UT 84004. Donations will be used for the Nelson children’s education funds.
PS: One of the most touching tributes I’ve seen on the web is the Twin Six home page. And so maybe you can imagine how I felt this morning, when, on a ride to the top of the Alpine Loop, I saw this at the summit:
As well as this, at the “half-mile to the top, start going fast if you can” marker:
And there was another, at the finish line for the toll-booth sprint (Dug beat me by a bike length by the way).
Whoever did this, thank you.
PPS: To the more than 2000 of you who have left comments and sent email since I left the short post about Susan dying, thank you. I haven’t read all your comments yet; I tend to dip in and read until I’m too choked up to continue. I will get through them, and I appreciate everyone reaching out the way you have.