[NOTE: Hank wrote this tribute in 1995 when he was chaplain at the Fairfax Nursing Center, Virginia.]
She died with no family around. No wealth. Few possessions. No children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren. She was never married. No obituary in the Washington Post. Not even a death announcement. The world will not miss her. Few will grieve her passing save for her niece, brother, and sister.
And yet, she died without illusion.
She was just a lovable human being
Susie De Porry was one of the wonderful souls who had graced our lives at Fairfax Nursing Center. There was no brighter smile. There was no one more enthusiastic about rides and activities. There was no one more devout in the practice of her faith. And no one more content to sit and read for hours.
She had a special place in the hearts of those of us who cared for her. Maybe it was because she had no family living nearby. We were almost all she had. But more than that, she was just a lovable human being.
She was born in New York City in 1903. Her father died while Susie was quite young. She studied music, including some training in France. Susie delighted in telling of her time on the Continent and playing the organ at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. She taught music but mostly cared for her aging mother and other elderly people. After her last client died, Susie moved directly into a home for adults in Vienna. Two years later, in 1986, she came here to the nursing home.
During her last days and hours, several of us spent some special time alone with Susie. She was barely responsive. She would hold my hand. I wasn’t sure she recognized me. Though at one moment, she looked at me and smiled. I asked how she was feeling, and she said, “I’m doing fine.” Those were the last words I heard her say.
She is more heroic than most of us
As I sat next to her only hours before she died, I could not help but try to gain some sense out of Susie’s life and death. Susie’s story is not tragic at all. In a sense, she is more heroic than most of us. She was free from the illusions most of us work at gathering during our lifetimes. We work at accumulating financial resources, excelling in our careers, or perpetuating our lives through our children and grandchildren.
Susie De Porry had none of the above. She was just Susie. Alone she approached the ending of her mortal days. Alone and without illusion.
I will have to make a conscious decision to see myself in this light. It would be an illusion to see myself as anything but one man passing from a human race that spans millennia in length and billions of people in width. Susie taught me that this could be done and done quite serenely.