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Luskin: Susan Keese Remembrance

Not long ago, I received a private message on Facebook from a woman who’d once been my best friend, but with whom I hadn’t spoken in thirty years.

“Call me,” it said.

We’d met in nursery school and were best friends until junior high. The friendship stuttered in college, and when we rediscovered one another both living on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, the relationship finally fell apart.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to pull off the scab that had crusted over this failure, and I was still doing the calculus of time zones against my disinclination to make the call when the phone rang.

“I’m dying,” she said.

“I’m sorry,” I replied.

I wasn’t surprised. I’d known she’d been living with cancer for a long time. Now, she said, it had metastasized beyond treatment, and she expected to die within a few weeks.

“I’m sorry,” I repeated. It’s all I could say over such an expanse of distance and time.

After the call, I rejoined my family at dinner, dazed by the candlelight and dazzled by my children, my life.

A few weeks later, I had another private message on Facebook from a college friend.

“Call me,” it said.

Despite the late hour, I called right away.

“It’s not good news,” my friend said.

“I know,” I said, having learned only bad news requires a phone call these days.

These calls taught me the limits of social media, at least among my cohort: really bad news still travels by phone. So I was unprepared for an ordinary email announcing the unexpected death of my neighbor, colleague and friend, Susan Keese.

Immediately, the phone started ringing as friends called in disbelief.

But the phone’s not much better than the internet for processing grief. Nothing is better than gathering in real time and shared space, as we did on a recent Saturday, in Williamsville Hall, a former grange now owned by the town.

The Hall’s our community center, where Susan attended Town Meeting. It’s where Susan interviewed the town’s elders at senior meals, and it’s the place we turned into Disaster Central in the aftermath of Irene, which Susan covered, telling our story of devastation to the world from which we were cut off.

Cars lined both sides of the narrow main street through the village for the memorial, when over two hundred people from all over the state and beyond traveled to be where we could embrace one another and tell stories about the gifted storyteller who was Susan Keese.

Deborah Lee Luskin is a writer, speaker and educator.
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