BY SUSAN WARNER ·
Susan Warner is an educator, wife and mother. Her journey is a perfect example of life’s contradictions. She had a storybook marriage of 38 years and two magnificent children. She existed in the comfort of an extraordinary cocoon of family and friends. Enter the devasting suicide of her 34-year-old son and then the subsequent death of her husband 6 months later of a virulent cancer in an eight-week diagnosis to death, her story is of acceptance, pushing on and not being defined by social emotional norms. She is living her best life, making choices that define her “right turn” after her catastrophic loss, and characterizing a journey to self-actualization and a commitment to help others who have experienced loss. Rediscovering who she is, what lies ahead and the adventure at hand.
Joy has an urgency in our lives. I read this in a wonderful editorial about a young girl who was diagnosed with cancer after being given her Bat Mitzvah date. When the time arrived to celebrate, the family realized that their joy had urgency. My joy has urgency.
It is natural to want to celebrate. Fortunately, after experiencing loss, joy does not have to stand still. Births still occur, engagements happen, weddings continue and celebrations are planned. In recovery of loss, it is often difficult to participate at first. The thought of attending joyful occasions can border nauseating. And then one day the veil is lifted, the time is right, and joy bounces back into your universe. Your perception of joy is very different from the rest of the world’s. You see a deeper meaning, a greater depth and stronger reaction. There, is another silver lining.
My reaction to the birth of my first great nephew awakened this new awareness. Here we were, with the first new addition to our family. Instead of the usual superficiality, I felt the depth of emotion tied to this new little person. He was the beginning of our “hope”, the next generation-our legacy. I marvel at my brother’s love and commitment to this little boy. Not marveling in its oddity, but in its completeness. Despite the fact that he is an exceptional and exemplary father, this transcends that. His good fortune has made him whole and has made him thoroughly happy. Does his joy have an urgency? Possibly. But moreover, it has a richness that is profound to observe.
So, my joy and its urgency were delivered to me with the marriage of my daughter. I have never been the mother that was wrapped up in my daughter getting married. She is extremely accomplished, and I have been proud and supportive of her life decisions. When she found the man that she wanted to spend the rest of her life with, I was delighted. Her ultimate discovery was a by- product of the profound loss she had experienced. With his love and insight, kindness and understanding, she discovered her best friend is her soulmate. Silver lining.
Their wedding was derailed by Covid, forcing us to delay and make unique and alternate plans.
In a brief respite from Covid-mania, they were married in the most beautiful and intimate ceremony and celebration I have witnessed. Spiritually and emotionally, everyone was with us that day in May. Silver lining.
I question whether this urgency will dull. I don’t think so. Profound loss changes a person. I am referring to the changes that cut through to the core of a person. The vision that becomes sharper, the depth in the value of relationships and gestures, and the needs that morph and change. The importance of understanding that life is best defined by happiness and joy, not necessarily resume building, wealth or power. Joy that has urgency. The urgency to celebrate the big and the small -changes. Things that were once so paramount and important often become trivial, and things that were overlooked or misinterpreted become critical.
I remember my first jaunt into the real world of celebration. I attended my college roommate’s daughter’s wedding in Upstate New York. I was nervous and anticipatory, only really knowing the family. Train ride to Saratoga, check into hotel, get ready. I needed help zipping my dress and I was alone. I opened the door to my room, caught sight of her sister, gestured for help, and there she was. I was fine and zipped up.
Insanely, the beginning of a journey of independence. I went to the ceremony and sat alone-all good. Cocktail hour was a challenge. Standing by myself at the bar was uncomfortable and awkward. A text from my sister- in- law Angie read, “….stay strong, have a drink and go back and watch Bravo at the hotel if you need to.”
That was comforting, as someone was watching over me. Taking a deep breath, I was getting ready to follow those instructions and someone yelled out my college nickname, “Hey Susie.” It was a friend from school. The couple enveloped me, assured me we were at the same table, spoke with me the entire evening and even danced with me.
What I anticipated to be a catastrophe, ended up being empowering. Their kindness was vast and they didn’t even know it. These experiences have raised my awareness and sharpened my vision. Rejoice in other people’s satisfaction and happiness, knowing that after all we have been through, grief, loss or pandemic, joy has urgency.