I walked out of a meeting late Monday afternoon, paused to reflect at the way the setting sun’s rays were hitting the 10th Street Bridge here in Pittsburgh … and I knew.
Maybe it was the sun’s warmth on a February day, or how the rays seemed especially bright as they reached down, or the symbolism of a bridge for crossing over from one world to another, or some combination of all of the above. Whatever it was, somehow in my heart, at that moment I knew that Susan Niebur was gone.
It wasn’t until I got home a half hour later and saw the Facebook status from my friend Niksmom that I learned the sad news that Susan had, indeed, passed away. The Goodbye post on Susan’s blog, written by her husband, was posted not too long after I snapped this photo of the sun and the bridge and it left me heartbroken. Still does, and will for quite some time.
(It’s been driving me crazy trying to remember if it was my friend Niksmom or my friend Florinda who first introduced me to Susan during the BlogHer ’10 conference in New York a year and a half ago … and when it comes down to it, it doesn’t really matter because that just illustrates what kind of community this is. Whomever it was, I’ll forever be grateful.)
We were between sessions, just talking in the hall, and then there was Susan, smiling (always smiling) that bright, warm, sunny smile of hers. As it would happen, and as often does happen at these sorts of things, Susan was the person we kept bumping into everywhere we went over those couple days. Again, fortuitous.
“Do you know each other?” Niksmom/Florinda said. We didn’t; introductions were made. But when Niksmom/Florinda added that Susan was the blogger who wrote Toddler Planet, my eyes widened; I went into fangirl mode. Of course, I said, of course I knew Toddler Planet. I knew Susan. My God, yes.
You see, here’s the thing. There are millions of blogs. Kind of like how there are millions of stars. But like stars, some exceptional and some special ones shine so brightly that you can’t help but gravitate towards that light … just like how I did on Monday with the sun (a star itself) beaming down by the bridge.
Susan was very much that kind of person, that kind of star.
This blogging world of ours can be hard to explain to those who aren’t part of it. This whole notion of posting the details of our lives – especially when it involves things like living with Inflammatory Breast Cancer for nearly 5 years and parenting two small children, both of which Susan did – for strangers on the Internet to read and comment on can be a bit foreign. But that’s the stuff that Susan wrote about so courageously and heartbreakingly and bravely, and always with such grace and wisdom. And in doing so, she brought us into her world and taught us so very, very much, and we loved her (love her, present tense) so the very much more for it.
Right from the moment of her diagnosis in 2007, she taught us about inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) – the least common and most deadly form of the disease that does not present with a lump – about lymphedema and compression sleeves, about science and the sun and the moon and the stars (Susan was an honest-to-God real-life astrophysicist), about parenting in the face of true adversity, about making every single moment count, and about how awareness of breast cancer doesn’t happen via Facebook memes.
(It was that post, “In the Name of Awareness,” that she read to a captive audience at BlogHer ’10 in New York, and which was commemorated with an honorary piece of artwork, later auctioned to benefit cleanup efforts from the Gulf Coast oil spill.)
We followed her story via her posts, rejoiced when she survived cancer once, twice, three and four times. We worried when another recurrence of the cancer appeared in 2011. Prayed. Hoped. Cried. Repeat some more. Hoped fervently that when she told us a few weeks ago that she was having “a little trouble” that a little trouble was really all that it was.
Others knew Susan much better than I did, but she was that type of person who (as Florinda said) if you ever met her, you’ll never forget her and you’ll miss her. I’d also add that you would consider her to be a friend, even if you met her ever so briefly or only knew her through her blog.
She was an extraordinary person and I feel honored to have met her and to have read her words.
“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.”
~ Susan Niebur
She will be always missed, always remembered, and always loved.
Many bloggers have written wonderful tributes to Susan. Here are a few of them below:
copyright 2011, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.