Remembering a Sister

It’s been quite a while since I wrote on my blog.  My last entry marked the 34th anniversary of my marriage to Rory, and two entries before that I wrote about the arrival of my first grandchild.  Today I am marking a sadder life passage.  On January 30, 2011 my sister, Susie Hampton-Streng, left this cramped, limited world behind to find something better.

Susie spent most of the last two years of her life paralyzed, and the combination of frustration and grief this brought her was often overwhelming, both to herself and to those who loved her.  There is a lot I could say in this post about the incredible difficulty of life as a quadriplegic.  But I would rather just write about Susie herself—the “big sis” I idolized, confided in, squabbled with, laughed with, and loved.

I have seldom met anyone with such a natural interest in others as Susie had.  When I say “interest” I mean just that:  Susie truly found other people interesting.  She would often tell me with obvious fascination the stories of people she had talked to.  She didn’t have to know a person to be drawn in; if that someone looked interesting, Susie would describe him or her to me in perceptive detail.  But what I noticed most, over and over, was how absorbed she became when I talked about the events and non-events of my own life.  Whether I was telling her about the weeds in my yard, about disruptive students in my classes, or about one of my sons proposing to a young woman, she hung on every word.  She would lean closer, her lively eyes growing wider.  If I wisecracked, she threw back her head and laughed.  (I could always count on Susie to laugh at my jokes.)  If I was mad, she became righteously indignant along with me, rolling her eyes and throwing up her hands.  If I was simply telling her about something I found interesting—a book, say—she would ask one fascinated question after another.

Susie Hampton-Streng, Sister and Friend

The only reaction I never received from Susie was boredom.  It just wasn’t in her nature to be indifferent, blasé.  After her paralysis, she was trapped inside a still body that was horribly out-of-sync with her animated character, and Susie’s frustration and discouragement were acute.  It would have hurt less to grow as numb emotionally as she was physically.  But she did not.  She remained a person of deep feeling, even when that meant deep pain.  All of her days she was a vital spirit, an enthusiastic listener, a loyal friend.

Thank you, Susie.  I love you.

I’m gonna lay down this world, shoulder up my cross, go on home to my Jesus, ain’t-a that good news!—-From a Black gospel song

3 thoughts on “Remembering a Sister

  1. Wow Connie! Wonderful tribute to your sister! Such a beautiful portrait in words and in the image you chose! It really makes me feel the suffering she must have experienced in not being able to dance or express herself through movement – even hand gestures! I am so happy she never lost the vibrancy in her spirit in spite of her paralysis! What a gift!!! Thanks for sharing your intimate feelings about your sister and it sounds like the loss of her will be difficult to process and will take time. I hope you will write more as memories and stories surface. She sounds so unique and the qualities you’ve described are ones we can all be inspired by! Again – thanks for sharing and giving us a glimpse of this amazing woman – janis

  2. Connie,
    This is Patty Luzzi, wife of Lenny, daughter of the man Susie fondly called “Uncle Emmett” in Butte. We all went to Susie and Tim’s wedding, and I think that’s the last time any of us saw her. But you’re right, she was allways interested in people. Once she went to see a doctor in Las Vegas (I think), and she kept talking with him until she found out that he was raised in Butte, across the street from my Dad. Things like that always happened to Susie, I think. She met my dad when she and her friend (Sahabra?) rode their bikes to Butte on their way to Sturgis. He was so proud that he had two beautiful women stay overnight. Then she went to stay with him for a few weeks when she recovered from an accident. I know he really loved Susie, as we all did.
    Word is slowly spreading among Susie’s ex-coworkers. Lenny and everyone were sad to hear about her final struggles. We are so sorry for your loss. Her passing makes the world a little less bright for all of us whether we kept in touch or not.

    Thanks for your lovely tribute.
    Patty Murphy Luzzi

    • Dear Patty,
      It was great to hear from you. I do remember her talking about “Uncle Emmett” and her visit to Butte. Susie really delighted in discovering new places and new friends, and it means a lot to me that you saw that in her. Thank you so much for writing to me and sharing your memories.

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