The Immeasurable Life of Sue Litster .
I most likely first met Sue way back when I was just a child. You see, my husband Darryl and I have known each other since first grade. Although we were in many classes together throughout our childhood, we didn’t start dating until around his 19th birthday. Although I don’t remember the first time I met her as his girlfriend, she most definitely made a lasting impression upon my life.
I’ll admit, in my younger years, I never really understood her way of life. I clearly remember telling Darryl that the “white picket fence” life was NOT for me. I wanted bigger things. I wanted “big city” life. I wanted the high-rise condo. I wanted fame and notoriety. The sleepy life of Windsor, Ontario was at the bottom of where I imagined where my life was leading. He has always been incredibly supportive. He never second guessed me, or pushed his will upon me. In fact, I recognize now, that it was usually me pushing my will on him. I often look back at Old-Christy and wonder why he put up with her. Trust me, I did not make it easy.
Sue Litster was the kindest woman I have ever met. She had the strangest sense of humour of which her son inherited in full force. The day I told her that I had decided to become a vegetarian, she responded by famously quoting “that’s ok, I make lamb” from the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding. She was modest and non-judgemental. Although she was not materialistic in anyway, she took great pride in her home and her garden. She loved to cook and bake. She was egoless. Her Hot Cross Buns 1 recipe is still the #1 in it’s category to this day on allrecipes.com. When we told her that, she responded in total astonishment, “Really!?” I didn’t think it could be possible for someone to be totally egoless, but Sue taught me otherwise.
My impression of my mother-in-law was that she had it all figured out. I didn’t really understand how someone could take so much joy from the simple things in life. She loved her family, and her family loved her. In fact, the experience of my in-laws and the extended family that I married into has been a truly eye-opening experience. She was the cornerstone of the family and we all had to learn how to restart together, without her. In many ways, she taught us how to be compassionate to each other. How to care for each other. Now, even without her, we are stronger together.
Growing up for me was very different from my husband. My mom was a single mother. She worked incredibly hard to make ends meet. She is creative, bold, and always sought to better herself. She taught me to be goal-oriented; to always go big and never settle for less than your best. My brother very much wanted to live with my Father, so much of my childhood was just me and Mom. Our family is incredibly empathic meaning that we live much of our lives in our emotions and often don’t realize the impact of sharing so much of our emotions with each other. We love each other, but there has been times when we have all had to “deal” with one another, each in our own way. My mom taught me a resilience that I have never seen in anyone else. Although life had dealt us many difficulties, my mom’s warrior spirit taught me that no mountain is unclimbable. No task is impossible. She is outspoken and strong-willed. I truly believe that without her instilling that warrior spirit within me I might not have made it through my cancer experience with the vigour I did, or even at all.
My husband and his family would often call Sue, “Strong Mom”. I will admit, for many years I didn’t really understand why. My initial impression is that she was your classic ‘house wife”. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I’ve learned exactly who “Strong Mom” was and how she changed my life.
My cancer experience was a total shock. I knew something was going on with my body, intuitively, for over a year before I found the tumours on my neck. In the years before, Sue was diagnosed with Stage 4 Breast Cancer. She was told at the time that she had very few months to live.
This was the first time that I recognized that Sue was an angel here living among us.
She was given incredibly difficult news when she was diagnosed. She was told that it was time to prepare for the end. Although, I never had this conversation with her, I believe that Sue was always prepared for that moment, even though she decided to fight. Her medical team suggested chemotherapy as a way to slow the spread of the cancer and possibly give her a few more months. She decided she “had to try”.
This is when she proved that SHE WAS A MIRACLE.
Sue Litster completed chemotherapy and lived for an additional 6 years beyond her diagnosis. She defied all odds. There were many times in the ensuing years that we would forget that she had cancer at all.
The day I found out that I had cancer, I was alone. I don’t know what possessed me to go to the doctor’s by myself. Obviously upon hearing the news, I called my husband first who was working at the time. My mom was out of town, and I wrestled with telling her while she was away. I was so distraught, and the first person that popped into my mind was Sue. Before this time, we were not that close. I sincerely loved her, but I did not know her. I got in my car and drove straight to her house. She made me a grilled cheese sandwich and we talked for hours. I cried and she knew all of the right things to say. She got me laughing. She gave me hope. After she passed, we bought her house. I am reminded of that day so frequently, as I sit exactly where I sat when we had that conversation, every morning for breakfast.
Sue was a nurse for over 40 years. She was curious and super intelligent. She came with me to most of my ontological appointments and always knew what to ask, and how to make light of a very difficult situation. It never dawned on me that it might be difficult for her to go back to the chemo suite. She made herself at home wherever she was. She was home.
About half way through my cancer treatment, she started to take a turn. I noticed that even though I was the one receiving treatment, she was moving slower than me. Her energy was dropping. She soon found out that she was in heart failure as a side effect from chemo. It wasn’t long after I completed treatment that she realized that her cancer was back in full force. During those two years, I talked to her almost every day. I felt that we shared something, a special understanding of how precious life was, that is difficult to even explain to anyone who had never faced cancer.
In the final months of her life, I realized that I needed to show her the kindness she showed to me during my cancer experience. It was like our lives were intertwined in these thick vines made of trauma that were squeezing in around us. She would rarely tell anyone how bad things were, but occasionally she would open up to me. Maybe, it was because I might understand. Maybe, it was because she finally was coming to terms with the finality of her life. I will never know.
In the weeks before she left us, each of us kids stayed with her every moment. We took turns sleeping at her house, or in the hospital with her. We didn’t dote over her, as she would hate that. We just were there. We each tried the best we could to show her how deeply she was loved. And then, she was gone. It seemed to take forever, and yet move so fast.
The day she died my world stopped for the second time.
At the visitation and funeral, hundreds of people showed up. I don’t think any of us really understood the impact Sue had upon people. So many people told us that she saved their lives. That she was the nicest person they ever met. That they owe her a great deal of gratitude. They made it so clear to us that world would not be the same without her.
It was through this experience that I saw her true mission on Earth
She came to show us all how kindness is the greatest cure of all.
No one ever had a negative thing to say of her, only that they would not be the same if she hadn’t come into their lives. She was everyone’s mom, regardless of their age.
It’s been close to 2 years since she past. I have dedicated every single day to becoming more like Sue. Not once did we ever talk about spirituality. I know she was raised Catholic and believed in God. That was about the extent of what was ever discussed about spirituality. However, Sue couldn’t have been a more spiritual person. It wasn’t that she meditated all day; made a point of working through her baggage or life blocks; or practiced yoga. She wasn’t vegan and thought crystals were just nice looking rocks. She had a fascination with the poop emoji; would occasionally make some pretty inappropriate jokes; and occasionally send even more inappropriate texts. She insisted that we watched Raging Rudolph every Christmas Eve. She didn’t fit into the stereotype of a “spiritual person” whatsoever.
However, Sue lived in service. She spent much of her time taking care of others. She always raised the vibe in the room. If you were having a bad day, you just felt better in her presence. If you needed a laugh, she was there to provide it. She never took anything too seriously. She NEVER said a single bad thing about anyone, even when she would be justified in doing so. She made me the best grilled cheese sandwiches I ever had.
It was only fitting that this was her favourite song.
Sue Litster was an Earth Angel.