You were one of the caretakers of my life. The moment you saw me, you recognized me as one of yours and brought me under your wing. What a big wing it was—you brought so many people under there. I found some of my best friends under your wing, where you were sheltering them, as you sheltered me. We were all lovers of that “impractical” thing, children’s literature. Until I came to Simmons and met you, I didn’t know there was a place where people like us could go.
I think—I hope—I told you, before you died, that I have the best job in the world for me. It’s not possible to be happier about one’s daily work than I am about mine. Do you know who held the lantern and lit my way to this work? I would not be here without you. You changed my life, enormously. Do you have any idea how many women and men are thinking about you right now and saying to themselves, “She changed my life?”
You were so unique. You were a person who could never, ever be mistaken for anyone else. If faced with a line of your clones, it would’ve take me the briefest glance into your expressive, thoughtful face, the slightest sound of your careful grasping for the right words, for me to know which one was you. I would recognize your hug, too. I would certainly recognize your skirts and your earrings. I think I would recognize your perfume. After I got married last summer, you surprised me at tea. (Thank you, Cathie, for arranging that marvelous surprise.) You and Cathie gave me a bouquet that contained a beautiful flower and a beautiful umbrella (because you knew how much I love umbrellas). I brought them home to Kevin. As I showed the umbrella to him, trying so hard to express how much it meant to me, I exclaimed, “It smells like Susan!”
Last weekend, I was in Vermont by myself when I got the news that you’d died. I spent the day sitting on the porch of the cabin, looking out over the mountains, watching for hummingbirds, and reading a mystery novel by A. A. Milne. But really, I was thinking about you. I wondered if you knew that A. A. Milne wrote mysteries. I bet you did know that. I would’ve liked to talk to you about it. The story I read was just exactly the smart, funny (and annoyingly man-centered) sort of mystery you would expect A. A. Milne to have written, though Pooh is better. I wanted to know what you would have thought of it. You would’ve offered some perspective it wouldn’t have occurred to me to have. I would’ve gone to my friends, the ones I found under your wing, and told them, “Listen to what Susan said about this mystery by A. A. Milne.” And they would’ve laughed, delighted, then said, “That’s so Susan.”
While I was thinking about you, a hummingbird landed on my foot. It’s less surprising than it sounds; I was wearing pink and red socks with flowers on them. I thought to myself, “I hate that I can’t show this gift to Susan. It would have delighted her.” Like Edna St. Vincent Millay in her poem “Dirge Without Music” that was read at your service yesterday, I am not resigned to your death, and I do not approve. The best was lost when you died. “More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.”
And now I’m writing this letter because you are gone, and I don’t know what else to do. How else can I express what you meant to me? I’m writing it to myself, and for all the people who loved you. I think—I hope—it helps to share grief, and to hear one’s own gratitude expressed. There’s no tidy way to wrap things up when someone dies, so I’m not going to try. I’ll just say thank you, Susan, for that place under your wing. I love you, I miss you, and I’m not resigned. I will never, ever forget you.