Thank you, Susan

Once in a while, you meet somebody who exemplifies the kind of woman and mother you’d like to be. Susan Niebur was one of those people for me.

I first “met” Susan via her blog several years back, when we were both writing for the SVMoms blog network. Very soon after, Susan was diagnosed with the rare and extremely aggressive inflammatory breast cancer.

I wish I could say I reached out immediately and offered my support, but in reality, I drew back. I’d read as quite a few sad stories played out online that year – blogs about children fighting terminal illnesses; about mothers who left their babies far too soon. I felt something akin to sympathy burnout. And when I tried to place myself in Susan’s shoes – getting a cancer diagnosis with a six-month-old baby and a toddler – I just …couldn’t imagine. I didn’t want to imagine. So I kept my distance.

But over the years – as Susan’s cancer spread and stalled and retreated and then spread again – I returned, again and again, to her blog. Just quickly and cautiously peeking in at first. But over time I found myself drawn in by her words, her quiet grace, her exploration of her faith, her optimism, her dedication to her boys and to making a life for them – and for herself as a mother and a writer and a scientist – with whatever time she might have left.

On Monday, Susan died. To say she “lost” her fight with cancer doesn’t seem quite accurate; it’s hard to imagine Susan losing a battle, though of course I know she would have done anything to stay here with her boys (who are now 4 and 6). It’s just that, right up until the end – even as she told readers what was happening to her body, hinting that her time was near – Susan made it not so scary to read about cancer, to think about death. She didn’t sugar-coat her pain or fear, but she always reached for a higher truth, gave her words a deeper purpose. I can only imagine that she left her children as well-prepared as any little boys ever could be for such a loss.

A lot of people die of cancer, and everyone dies eventually. But in her blog, Susan demonstrated what it was like to live, and live well, no matter what obstacles she faced. So while I acknowledge her death, I’d like to celebrate Susan’s life – particularly her life as a mother, and the ways she has inspired me to be more present, more thankful, more gracious and kind. Here are just a few of Susan’s posts:

On the sacrifices we make for our children…

I dreamed that I would be one of those scientists, discovering new worlds, searching new space, finding the planet that I knew — just knew — existed out there, around another sun, just around the astronomical corner from us.

As it turns out, I’m not.  When I faced the choiceto stay and run the amazing Discovery Program of new NASA missions to explore the planets or be home before my kids’bedtime, I wavered.  I explored my options, and, after a time, there were none.  No one at NASA Headquarters allowed regular telecomuting at the time, and no one allowed part-time work.  I know.  I called in all my chits and went to talk to everyone I knew, in offices from Astrophysics to Heliophysics to Planetary, the Chief Scientist’s Office, and in staff positions, but there was nothing.  No options.  No way to stay at the job of my dreams and also work less than 40 hours a week – 50 including commute time – away from my infant.  No one could even understand why I would want to. And so, I left my dreams behind, and I came home. Read the whole post

On life and fairness…

Life is given to each of us.  We each get one shot at this sucker, and we are never really told that it will be fair.  We each get one life, one daily wage, and that’s it.  The guy next door gets one life to live.  The mom down the street gets one too.  No one ever promised us the same life, the same opportunities, the same blessings, or the same time to live.  No one ever promised that.  We are promised one opportunity, one life, and how we live it is between us and our Creator (I believe).  There is no comparing. read the whole post

From Susan’s “About” page:

All that survives after our death are publications and people.

So look carefully after the words you write, the thoughts and publications you create, and how you love others.  For these are the only things that will remain.

I hope you will spend some time with Susan’s blog today. I know I have found myself returning to it again and again this week, and will continue when I find myself struggling with the daily ups and downs of being a mom and a wife and all the other roles I play. Thank you, Susan, for the reminder to find the positive, be grateful for what I have, make memories and celebrate life.

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