While this post is about me, it really is meant to be about Susan Niebur, who passed away today from inflammatory breast cancer. She was a fighter and an inspiration for many. My biggest regret is that I never had the chance to meet her.
I’ve been thinking so much about writing this post. I wanted to write it. I wanted Susan to read it and know how I felt. But I didn’t want it to feel so contrived. I didn’t want to be part of “the bandwagon.”
There are so many causes that are near and dear to my heart but I’m cautious about how I approach them because I want people to know it’s something that speaks to me and not just something that everyone else is talking about.
And instead, I wait for today, of all days, the day we say goodbye to Susan to really write about how I feel. It’s bad form. It’s bad taste. I don’t want to make her tragedy about me. But I can’t not write about it.
I’ve known of Susan for a few years. When I was new to blogging, I met one of her oldest and dearest friends, Marty Long, right here in Raleigh. I learned of their friendship but never really knew how deep it went. I knew Susan was a brilliant scientist – an astrophysicist – what some might call a real, live rocket scientist.
I love meeting women in science. I went off to college in 1988 with ambitions of becoming an astronomer with hopes of one day becoming part of NASA’s space program. That career was derailed very early on when I realized how much calculus and physics were involved (neither were my favorite or best subject). I switched to Biology with a minor in Chemistry.
After graduating, I spent time as a research assistant at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Finally, science came out of the textbooks and came alive in my hands. It was then that I knew I wanted to teach science to kids. I wanted to teach them how to bring science to life and apply it to the world around them.
I went on to become a middle school science teacher. After a year, I moved out of state and embarked on one of several other careers. I never lost my love of science and when I meet someone in my world these days that shares the same passion, it reminds me why I fell in love with it so many years ago.
So Susan was one of those people. She was someone I looked up to. She was a smart woman, a scientist, a wife and mother. She was a writer, a blogger, an activist.
Where’s the regret?
I attended Type-A Parent Conference last year. I was surprised to see Susan in attendance. I knew she was ill but never really knew the severity on any given day. She was surrounded by people who clearly knew her and loved her. We had talked on Twitter and I wanted a chance to say hello.
It was the night of the Bloganthropy awards. Katherine Stone (the previous year’s recipient) had gotten up to present the Blogger of the Year award to the new recipient. It was Susan. I thought I would quickly dash to the bathroom. The conference bathrooms were small and it was hard to grab a moment and why I took that moment still baffles me. As I returned to the table, my friend Melissa was wiping away tears. In fact, I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house.
I felt like such a heel. Why did I do that? Then I felt utterly foolish. I didn’t want to go up to Susan, say hello, and not know anything about the speech she had just given. So instead, I did nothing.
A few days later, Susan tweeted to me “I wish we had gotten a chance to say hello!”
I do too.
Susan is now gone. She is free from suffering and heartache. She is free from worrying about how to tell her little boys goodbye. While I didn’t have a chance to say hello, I did have a chance to say goodbye.
As part of the @whymommy love fest, I sent my picture to be included in what her friends and colleagues were calling the “the best, most awesome eCard that has ever been made–for our sweet friend…”
You have inspired me as a scientist, a writer, a mother, and most importantly, a human being.
Oh, Fadra 🙁 (((hugs))) My heart is broken over this. Sitting here weeping over someone I met only once. The speech was amazing. Hopefully someone has a video of it somewhere for you to watch.
I’m so sorry to hear about your friend…..
This is a beautiful, authentic tribute.
(Not a dry eye here, either.)
Susan was an amazing woman who touched so many lives in so many ways. I live near her so I was fortunat to have the opportunity to interact with her many times. Always positive and upbeat. And once she told me I was pretty. It not astrophysics but her saying those words, exactly how and when she did sure rocked my world. Thanks for sharing your feelings too.
Fadra, I just loved this. I’m sorry that I don’t have anything more eloquent to say.
I know exactly how you feel about jumping on the grief bandwagon and have skipped writing many a post due to that. But, the truth is that Susan touched us all, whether we met in person or not. She had an impact on an extraordinary number of people and her death is a tragedy for all of us. I’m so sorry you never had that chance to hug her in person.
What a sweet tribute and it doesn’t at all feel like you’ve jumped on the grief bandwagon. I’m so sorry you didn’t get to say hello.
I didn’t meet her either – never even had the chance. I only knew her through Twitter and blogging, but that was enough to get a sense of the person she was. I was so sad to hear the news yesterday – it was an immediate heartache and when that was followed by floods of tears I decided to write about it.
I think it’s important that we do that. Not because of the bandwagon but because people like Susan do make a difference in the world and I think it’s important to acknowledge that. Just as you’ve done here.
I am so sad. I just learned about her passing and I am just so sad.
This was well written, Fadra. Thank you for sharing.
It’s so sad, isnt’ it? Life. We never know.
Beautiful and heartfelt, Fadra…I don’t think of it as jumping on the bandwagon. It’s honest and sincere. And lovely.
[…] normal human compassion for the loss of a life. I think for me, this is especially awkward having lost Susan Niebur this week in the blogging community. I didn’t know Susan either but hers is a death I shed tears over. […]
I”m with Jill & Galit. You have a big heart, Fadra.
came to this via your Stream of Consciousness post. And that was also totally appropriate. Bandwagon? Pshaw.
A beautiful tribute to such a special person.
[…] friend of a friend who left two small children at home when she died of ovarian cancer. The inspiring astrophysicist who documented her battle and eventual loss to metastatic breast cancer. And most recently, a […]