Susan and I were living in the same subdivision in 1988. I, along with other mutual friends, would often attend neighborhood parties with Susan and her husband. Niceties danced around the room to the beat of the music as chatter filled the air. Susan and I were merely social friends until the music stopped for both of us.
By 1991, her husband had passed away, leaving her with two teenage boys to raise. I, too, was alone after a long relationship ended with children still under my wings.
The good Lord blessed two weary souls when He found a way to bring us together. I can’t explain how we became close friends, but we grew to be each other’s tear stoppers, soul bearers and comrades in a war to regain our emotional footing.
Susan was Michigan-born and bred, extremely intelligent, elegant and tactfully direct. This southern gal is none of the above, and when folks noticed our friendship strengthening they would often furrow their brow in wonderment.
On an April evening four years later, we were on our way to our favorite restaurant when Susan complained about a recurring pain in her side. I encouraged her to see her doctor immediately.
The next week she was diagnosed with incurable liver cancer. She died the following July. The last words I said to her as I left her house the night before she passed away were, “By the way, Susan, I love you!”
My unlikely soul sister was gone. However, because of her influence, I didn’t fall apart, and instead jumped into action. I knew her extended family was in Michigan and it would be a day or so before they arrived. I needed to help her college-aged boys navigate the world of funeral preparation.
I don’t know how, but in pure Susan fashion, I became the rock like she always was. The boys and I planned the services and friends prepared the house for guests. When the minister came to discuss the ceremony, he asked what songs the family would like to play.
“In the Garden” was one because Susan loved gardening and found such solace there. There was another song she adored, but none of us could think of the title. We told the departing reverend we would soon let him know the second hymn.
Throughout the day, while absorbed with sadness and planning, I kept trying to remember the song.
One of Susan’s son’s developed swimmers ear, and early the next morning I was on my way to the nearest pharmacy to get ear drops before heading to their home.
I was in the pharmacy one minute after the doors opened. Quickly I picked up the necessary medicine and headed toward the cashier. Just as I walked up, a woman who had been jogging was checking out. While waiting behind her, I noticed her earphones loosely dangling from around her neck. I could hear the faint sounds of a hymn I began to recognize. Chills ran over me as the cashier said to her, “I love that song! It’s ‘His Eyes are on the Sparrow,’ isn’t it?”
As I walked out into the bright July sun, I smiled because I absolutely knew Susan was alive and well. “His Eyes are on the Sparrow” was the song none of us could recall.
By the end of the day, the family had arrived, the minister was told all the necessary information for the service and dinner was prepared for the family. I was on my way home when I suddenly realized I did not have a summer dress for the funeral service where I was to give a eulogy!
The malls were getting ready to close, but I quickly drove to the closest one. After trying three major stores, and now exhausted, I walked into a dress shop.
Susan loved navy blue linen and hanging on a sale rack was the perfect navy linen dress. Sadly, they did not have my size, so I took two others to the dressing room. All six cubicles were empty and cleaned, but I chose the second one to my left. Once I closed the door, I saw hanging on a hook the same perfect, linen, navy dress in my exact size.
After the family returned home and the boys headed to college, I went to the cemetery and laid a blanket down by Susan’s grave. I talked to her for a while and finally wept.
A warm breeze blew the branches of the tree above me just as the sound of a multitude of sparrows flew from the mighty oak and scattered into the sky.
Folks often question, and forever will, if there is life after death. I never do.