Day 1: Cocktails and hors d’oeuvres with Sue’s dearest friends
Day 2: A grand holiday family dinner
Day 3: Coffee hour at home with her company friends
Given that Sue couldn’t even eat and could barely get out of bed, we obviously expressed our concerns over this full itinerary. But she was insistent. We had a lot to celebrate. She wanted the chance to show off her new granddaughter to all of those closest to her. We couldn’t deny her that.
So she delegated, and we all made it happen. On Saturday, Ryan, his sisters, and I got the house ready. We found the nice linens, arranged the flowers, lit the candles, and pulled out the fine china.
Even though we were doing the foot work, she was throwing these parties, and we wanted the details to reflect that. As a hostess, Sue always went above and beyond, adding touches of beauty and thoughtfulness to make people feel extra special. That was her signature … in party hostessing and in life. And we were determined to live up to it.
Her friends helped, too. They brought the food and, of course, the wine. They passed the baby and made merry. They even cleaned up afterward. Sue simply had to navigate the stairs (no small feat at that point), sit, smile, and take it all in.
On Sunday, round two. Again, there were linens to iron, tables to set, and centerpieces to make. With Sue’s permission, we ordered a catered Thanksgiving meal from the grocery store. We tried to keep the menu as true to Sue’s signature dishes as possible: turkey, ham, potatoes, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, deviled eggs, and of course, apple pie. She sat at the head of the table, thankful, a smile belying her pain. Though she wasn’t able to eat, she savored the joy of this holiday meal, the last one we would share together.
Afterward the grandkids all camped out in Sue’s room, where she could be more comfortable. Sue watched as they gathered around Szaba on the blanket on the floor, laughing, playing, and getting to know their new cousin. We spent the night watching movies, looking at photo albums, and telling family stories. Even at her sickest, she was radiant there in the midst of her adoring family.
In the morning, we prepared to greet her friends from work. Pots of coffee were made, muffins were stacked, juice was poured, and pretty plates and mugs were gathered.
Her good friend and part-owner of the company, concerned about exhausting Sue, sent the visitors over in small batches of two or four. They came into her room (so she could stay comfortable), exchanged pleasantries, admired Szaba, and asked if there was anything they could do. Many were shaken by her appearance, but Sue smiled, laughed, and was ever the hostess, doing her best to make them feel comfortable.
Ten days later, all of Sue’s organs would shut down. But here and now, she was doing what she did best: hosting, being a friend, showing her love for loved ones, and bringing happiness into people’s lives.
A week and a half later, as we were going through her things, we found two lists at the end of a notebook by her bed. One said “Snowflake Ornaments”and listed the dozens of work friends who had stopped by that morning for coffee and a hug. Those ornaments were packaged and waiting for their recipients in her closet. The other list said “Special Ornaments” and included the names of all the friends and family who had joined her on Saturday and Sunday for cocktails and dinner. Though we looked everywhere, we never could find those “Special Ornaments.” I like to think our last weekend with her—in her element, doing was she wanted, and showing us her love—was the “Special Ornament” she wanted to give us.
One year later, I hold that ornament again and show it to all of you. I admire it today just as I did then, just as I will for every holiday to come, and just as Szaba will someday.
The moral of the story: CELEBRATE! Don’t let the bad overshadow the glad in your life. Don’t let the hustle and bustle keep you from what’s most important this month and every month: enjoying each other and enjoying life.
And for those of us who’ve recently lost a loved one, especially around the holidays, my heart reaches out to you. Don’t be afraid to revisit those memories you shared. For like holiday lights twinkling through a window on a cold winter’s night, they can bring you comfort and joy.