There's a hole in the world tonight.The blogosphere lost a very special presence Monday when Susan Niebur, author of the blog Toddler Planet, ended her five-year battle with cancer.
There's a cloud of fear and sorrow.
There's a hole in the world tonight.
Don't let there be a hole in the world tomorrow.
--The Eagles, "Hole in the World"
People battling cancer are always described as brave or courageous, and rightfully so. But with Susan ... I don't know, it's like those words don't do her bravery and courage justice. It's like you would need to invent a whole new word to describe this woman's character during her fight.
This in spite of the fact that she seemed to have been dealt a pretty rotten deck. Months after her second child was born, in the prime of her life and career, Susan was diagnosed with Inflammatory Breast Cancer, a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer that presents without a lump.
The grueling and often barbaric cancer treatments followed, and then Susan was unbelievably diagnosed with another, unrelated, cancer. In all, she survived four cancers and, eventually, a full-body metastasis of the cancers. And still, in spite of it all, every single blog post she wrote remained full of hope. Everything was "for now" or "temporary." Yet somehow her blog posts were tinged with realism, an admission that she did let her mind veer over to the dark side now and then.
Bravery, optimism, realism, honesty, courage, and kindness ... all of these things made up the full package that was Susan, and earned her a legion of devoted online followers.
I was one of those followers, checking in on Susan's status since she was diagnosed 5 years ago. I never knew her personally; the closest I came was spotting her from afar at BlogHer Chicago in 2010.
But yet she touched my life. Not just through her own blog posts, but with the following comment on my most serious blog post, the one about my battle with depression:
Susan also tweeted a link to that post, putting me in touch with many other kindred spirits among her many followers.
And I just ... I couldn't believe that here was somebody going through trials that were thousands of times worse than my own, reaching out and supporting me. I don't think I could have been that selfless.
But that was Susan. And that was how Susan made a difference in so many people's lives, friends and strangers alike. She made a difference in so many ways: by raising awareness of her awful cancer, spurring research and donations, by helping us all understand that we must count the many blessings in our everyday lives, and by showing us what a truly awesome and upstanding human being looks like.
Everything we say when somebody dies seems empty and trite and also true. The reminder of our own mortality does make us appreciate today more. I do snuggle my boy extra close, forgive him a little more easily, because I know that's what Susan would want me to do.
All the while my heart breaks for two little boys who can no longer snuggle with their mother, for a grieving husband who has to raise those two boys on his own. It isn't fair. It doesn't make any sense. I know that about death, I really do, and yet I still want to believe I can find the why.
It sickens me to think that I hesitated to write this post today because I felt like it was too late. She died two days ago, and that's an eternity on the Internet. Except, the real world of life and death isn't like the Internet. Grief lasts far, far longer than the 24-hour news cycle.
And I also want Susan's legacy to last far, far longer.
Because the reality is, there will still be a hole in the world tomorrow. But there will also be the memory of a woman who not only did a tremendous amount to further the cause of cancer research, but also who stood as a reminder to all of us that there was once a woman who walked this earth who set such a great example that we should all strive to be like her in our own lives.
Rest in peace seems like too trite a conclusion here. So I will just say Thank you, Susan.