Tonight my good friend and neighbor lost his wife. It was anything but sudden. She has been  battling cancer for multiple years.

Hyperbole seems inappropriate so I will state some simple truths. Susan Nelson was a mother, a wife, a neighbor and possibly the most resilient person I will ever know. 

I mean that in the tenderst way I can express my sheer admiration for a life well lived.

And one more thing. She had become one of my wife’s best friends.

Susan took everything that cancer can possibly throw at a person, and with quiet dignity and a strength that was otherworldly, she stared it down and seemed to say, “Is that all you got? ‘Cause I’m still moving forward here.”

She beat the expectations of multiple medical experts not by weeks or even months, but by years.

There is one image from tonight that I hope is not a violation to share. Susan was still hanging in there when I returned home from work.  I stopped by to show support. After a brief visit with Elden at her bedside, I stepped into their backyard where Susan’s seven year-old twins were.

They are my friends (never seem to notice or care that I am an old duffer) and immediately invited me to jump on the trampoline with them. As I was preparing to join them for a bounce, their aunt came out in tears and urgently called the girls in to say goodbye to their mom one last time. 

I walked across the street to my house, trying to imagine what any one of Susan’s four kids must be feeling when they are summoned like that. After five minutes or so, I peeked through my shutters at the house across the street.

On the front porch was twin number 1 being consoled by her aunt and grandma and my wife. Out of their view, hidden by several parked cars and visible only from my vantage point, was twin number 2. Crouched down on the ground and crying.

She had retreated to a private spot to deal with the sight of her mother taking her last breath.

I lost it.

In the time it took me to compose myself so I could run over to her, the family noticed her absence and immediately tracked her down and swarmed around for support in that moment.

The picture of a seven year-old girl, who minutes before had the care-free generosity to invite me to jump on the trampoline with her, now crouching alone in sadness and confusion will stay with me for a long time.

But so will another image. Every boy within six blocks came over to support Elden’s sons within an hour. Every neighbor expressed their sorrow and willingness to continue to help. And Elden’s cycling buddies (also some of my oldest and best friends) started arriving to show solidarity and offer whatever they could. 

As neighbors and friends, we will be here for Elden and his daughters and sons. My wife cared deeply for Susan and I learned a lot about genuine service and love in the way that she was there for Susan right to the end.

If you aren’t already familiar with Elden Nelson’s blog, I recommend you pay a visit to www.fatcyclist.com and learn more about Susan’s amazing influence and courage in her battle with cancer.

–gb