The Missing Guest

SzabaBirthday2You’d think that the hardest time after losing someone would be the anniversary of the person’s death.

Instead, it’s often a day of happiness and dreams fulfilled, a time when you feel the deceased should be there to witness something you know would’ve been so important to them.

For me, it’s remembering my mother-in-law on my daughter’s birthday.

The first year, I expected it, so I was on guard. But last year, it walloped me.

I wrote the following piece from Szaba’s point of view shortly after Sue died. (It ended up inspiring me to write this book.) As I approach Szaba’s third birthday, nothing can explain that annual heartbreak like this letter.

How do you teach your kids about a special someone they’ve lost? How do you personally cope on such occasions? Please share, if you’re willing.

Letter from (and for) Szaba
December 15, 2010

These are the only pictures of me and my Grandma Suzy. And there won’t be any more. She passed away on December 2, 2010, at 3:17pm. I was there, and I like to think I helped give her some peace in her final hours.

It may seem odd to say that I’ll miss someone I only knew for the first five months of my life, but I will miss her.

I will miss our special 1-on-1 theatre days, like she had every year with each of my cousins. I’ll miss her famous apple pies that I never had the opportunity to taste. I’ll miss her impromptu singing of show tunes and ability to make new friends wherever she went.

I will miss seeing the unique way she jokes with my dad and makes my mother glow with confidence.

I will miss joining her on spontaneous trips across the world or just curling up in front of the fire with her and a book on a snowy Minnesota afternoon. I’ll miss her stories of London, Ireland, Australia, Bali, Tasmania, the Caribbean, Hawaii, Italy, Paris, Alaska, the Panama Canal, and all the other beautiful places dwarfed by her radiating charm. (Even cancer couldn’t take that away from her.)

Sue in Hammock

She bought recordable books for me that she never had the chance to record. She had plans in the works for a special holiday gift for me that she never found. She was in the process of tracking down duplicates of all of Dad’s Golden Books, so she and I could each have a copy and read them together via online video chat.

I’ll miss all that and the equally wonderful memories she had in the store for me.

I’ll miss having her only a text, a call, or an e-mail away. I’ll miss knowing that, no matter what is going on with her incredibly busy and fulfilling life, she’ll always find time not only to think about me, but also to go out of her way to recognize, honor, and support me.


But most of all, I’ll miss her fierce love, her extraordinary thoughtfulness, and her larger-than-life belief in me and all I can do.

Be with me always, Grandma Suzy. My mom and dad will tell me about you, but from what I hear, it will be a dim glimmer compared to having you here with me.

I’ll love you forever, without even knowing you. Because you are a part of me–one of the best parts–and that will never change.

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3 thoughts on “The Missing Guest

  1. Thanks Angela – There is so much truth in your writing. I laughed and cried with your look at Sue’s life and what Szaba will be missing. The “recordable books” were the perfect example of something Szaba and Sue’s other children and grandchildren would have enjoyed so much but Sue just could not help herself – she was the consummate procrastinator. Besides, she wanted to stuff so much into life that she just couldn’t get everything done but oh my how she tried!!!!l.

    1. Sue always did juggle more than any normal person could possibly fathom! And, despite her procrastination, she always somehow managed to get everything done. That always confounded and amazed me about her. You’ll be happy to know that we always give Szaba a “Sue gift” for her birthday (something with a story or memory about Sue attached to it), and this year it was more Golden Books for the set Sue was collecting for her. I’m hoping that, as Szaba gets older, these gifts will be a positive way to help Szaba feel more connected to her grandma. It also gives us permission to honor and recognize Sue, not just inwardly on those poignant occasions, but outwardly as well. On a lighter note: I had a moment, while I was frantically getting ready for the party, where I was searching for napkins. I came across some London ones Patti had given me. Then I read the message: “Keep calm and have a cocktail.” It might as well have been Sue’s voice laughing in my ear. She was definitely celebrating with us in heart.

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