Why the call didn't come through, I don't know. At just before 9, yesterday morning, my phone signaled that there was a voice mail. I called in to find out who had left the message and froze when it was from Margaret, Susan's sister, asking me to call right away. In an instant, of course, I knew. Susan and I had spoken on the phone on Sunday, she wasn't well but we made plans to get together on Saturday. There would be no Saturday. Moments later I hung up knowing that my friend of 25 years had died that morning of cancer.
I looked up at the room. It was filling with mostly teens from the area schools, they were pumped from yesterdays bullying session and were excited to be at a session on 'power and control'. There were some adults there and they, too, caught the energy of the kids who were taking their seats. I had only moments to tell Joe that Susan had died. He asked me if I wanted to continue with the day. I answered quickly, 'Yes.' Susan took promises seriously, she raised the concept of duty to a passion, Susan would have willed it.
Partway through the session I had to stop and say to them, 'I can't do this next part, my friend died this morning and if we do this, I'll cry and I won't be able to finish.' There was a silence in the room. A young woman called out, 'It's OK' and then there was an echo of 'ok' 'ok' 'ok' around the room. The warmth and concern of the group embraced me and we finished. Several of the young teens came up to say thank you and say they were sorry I had lost a friend. A woman with Down Syndrome said, "You don't lose friends, ever, you will just have to wait a little longer to see her again." She smiled and put her hand on my shoulder reassuringly.
Then in the afternoon, doing a session on the same topic for staff and care providers, I was sailing fine. I had dedicated the talk in my mind to Susan and I just wanted to get to the end, get in the car and cry. I hadn't had time or space to cry. It was all going well until near the end I was about to tell the 'cake' story and I flashed on Susan telling me that this was her favourite story of mine. I froze at the memory. I could feel everyone looking at me. I told them the truth, that Susan had died and that this was her favourite story. And then, in front of them all, I sat and cried. Someone got me some tissues. With people waiting and willing me well, I pulled myself together and I finished the lecture.
Susan would have wanted me to continue. Susan respected those who honour committment. Over 25 years, I watched her grow. She challenged me. I challenged her. We agreed and disagreed, we fought and reconciled, we leaned on each other. Simply put, we were friends.
Susan Tough, farewell my lovely.