“No Matter What, Have Courage” ~ Elli Gloeckner
My husband introduced Susan and I four years ago when we had just moved to Upstate New York. He randomly picked the hair salon she worked at on his drive home from work one day. When he came home after Susan cut his hair, he said to me “I think I’ve found someone you’re going to become friends with here.” We instantly connected, as per my husband’s prediction. Little did I know at the time how inspirational Susan would become in my life as a beacon of hope, resiliency, strength and sheer willfulness to live life to the fullest no matter what the circumstances. My friend Susan, a mother of four, has a terminal illness and is the most determined person I know. I’d like to share with
you some of our interview about what she believes courage is and how she learned to become such a courageous person.
Image above: Susan, Summer 2011
This past summer, despite having survived cancer three times, Susan’s doctors gave her a series of devastating diagnoses and little hope of treatment. She refused to be defined by her diagnosis, opting instead to say to those reacting in fear, shock, and/or withdrawal around her “I’m not dead yet!” Instead, she plunged into doing her own research, found a doctor who listened to her and recognized her strength, built a chapel in her back garden in which to seek solace, and she continued to wake up every morning she could to help her kids get to school. As she says, “I’m just doing common things in an uncommon situation.”
When I ask Susan how she has become such a courageous survivor, she credits her parents for teaching her to never quit. She says her mom was a fearless, big spirit in a tiny French woman’s body. Her dad was a farmer turned successful businessman. Both her parents had a strong work ethic which they instilled in Susan from a young age. She also says that as a child she was well-loved. She also credits the unconditional love of her husband as a great source of inspiration and support. Susan defines courage as “being scared out of your mind, but doing it anyway. Stepping into the black void, without anything under your feet, but trusting and having the faith to keep going. You can’t have fear and faith at the same time. Faith is what holds you up, holds your hand, otherwise it wouldn’t take courage at all to crawl out of that fox hole.”
Susan admits that some days “crap hits me and it sticks,” but she also acknowledges that she can change her thinking through focusing on her spiritual faith or on her children. She believes that her children came to her in this Universe and that they are her primary responsibility. She acknowledges that parenting “is the hardest job in the world, and none of us is very good at it after 8 p.m., but we can never slide on the responsibility.” She apologizes to her kids when she makes mistakes and tells her kids “I’m sorry, God is still working on me. I’m far from perfect.” Then, she chooses not to dwell on the mistake, but to move on to the present moment.
She says, “I’m an ‘overcomer.’ The first thing you have to do is cultivate acceptance. Dwell on nothing. Focus on living in the solution.” She says there is really no “100% acceptance in having a terminal diagnosis and knowing that I will be leaving my kids behind is devastating. But I choose not to quit. I’m not dying, I’m living! I’m living because I do what I feel deep in my heart needs to be done. Life is not easy. Many things will come your way, so we all need to have courage. I don’t get depressed because I look at what the feelings are and deal with them, whether it’s frustration, sadness or fear, instead of depressing the feelings. It takes time to learn how to find serenity in calamity. Since I have already died twice and have been resuscitated I’m not afraid of what is to come. I’ve watched both my parents die, and I leaned into the discomfort not away from it.”
Every day, Susan is refinishing furniture, playing with her kids, or reaching out to friends who are healthy and not projecting their fear of her or their own death. She isn’t able to work now, and things are very tight financially given all her medical expenses. She is tired and sometimes incapacitated these days, but chooses to be alive, to lighten up when she can, have fun, and makes sure to create something every day whether that be a song, a YouTube video, or a painting. She has even recently launched her own hand-made purse business to try and make ends meet: PURSEnallyours.blog.com She reminds me, “No one is getting out of here alive. Once you can overcome the fear of death, you can overcome anything. And I have. I have looked death in the eye and said ‘I’m not afraid of you.’ I trust that I’ll be ready, that I’ll be at peace. I know now that I need to make the best of everyday. I don’t know what the future holds, but I know it’s all temporary. We are all energy just waiting to change into something else.”
Susan doesn’t see herself as extraordinary, but as “average.” She states, “It’s simply a choice: Do I want to have a bad day or to be in joy? Joy is like an electrical current that no one can take away from you. And I tell my kids, anyone can start the day over and make a different choice even if it’s 5 p.m. I remind them to go help someone else, another human being who may be suffering more than you instead of staying in self-pity or self-seeking.”
I’m grateful my husband chose to try a new hair salon four years ago. Thank you Susan for inspiring me to be a better person and a braver mom!