Five years ago, today, my daughter, Susanna Elizabeth Freer Sanchez, died. She was being prepared for a brain scan following the rupture of an aneurysm which no one knew about and a subarachnoid hemorrhage on the left side. The night before, she had fallen asleep in the car after visiting her grandmother on the day after Easter. As she slept the rupture probably occurred, her brain bled and her heart stopped. We did not know anything had happened until her Dad carried her in from the car, and I saw her face, without Susanna living and breathing behind it. I wish this were a softer story, one with rainbows, butterflies and angels. There is room for those things, but this story is about my little girl abruptly dying. It is a story full of excruciating pain and bitter confusion.
Susanna spoke in sentences before she was a year old and never mispronounced words. Sometimes, she would fake moods and tantrums in order to experience them, because she did not encompass much angst. She could sing and dance and draw, as if a pure channel. She had a precocious depth of understanding of what is important in life. This was especially true regarding being kind and loving toward others. This was not learned but natural, like breathing, for Susanna.
Susanna died, on the table before the brain scan, on Earth Day, a little more than three months past her fifth birthday. Her most recent joys had included planting flowers at her school, the day care center she attended since she was a tiny baby. She had been registered to begin kindergarten the next September, but would not discuss this. She said she was not going, because her school was “the best school in the world,” so she had no need. About a week before her death, we were walking by the proposed future school and I tried to make conversation about how exciting it was that she was growing up and would be starting something new at PS277. She stopped on the sidewalk, started to cry, and said, “I want to go see Grandma!” We did, and she never went to kindergarten.
Miss Rachel, Susanna’s amazing care provider and teacher, and second mother to my whole family, related the following story a short time after, which I will paraphrase.
The children are sitting at the table for a lesson about Earth Day. Miss Rachel is describing Earth. Earth has blue skies, green grass, oceans, animals.
She asks, “Who wants to live on Earth?”, and before her question is finished Susanna is raising her arm up high shouting “ME! ME! I WANT TO LIVE ON EARTH!”
Susanna did live on earth, so fully and richly and in a way that accomplished so much, in such a short time. I will never understand why this had to happen, this loss of someone so precious to me. After my return to work later that spring, five years ago, a coworker from another generation and a faraway place said to me only this, in a whisper: “These are things we must bear”. I did not find this comforting at all. I did not want to bear this. Now, I do find its simplicity comforting, because no one has to make sense of tragedy. We just bear what happens.
I do know more, out of necessity, than I used to about the afterlife, the other side. A few weeks after Miss Rachel had told me about the Earth Day lesson, I had a series of dreams where Susanna described where she was. She mentioned kaleidoscopes, and pinnacles. I wanted her to come home with me in one dream (as I always want) but this upset her. She had been promised an adventure and said “But I want to go!” I am sure that she is somewhere, and in that somewhere she is still embracing her life. More to be revealed.
I miss you Susanna. I love you, forever and ever.