To Sue, with love

IT’S a grey, old Saturday, in every sense of the word when I find out about the death of a dear friend. Worse, she’s been dead a month, and I’ve only just discovered the news. We first met 12 years ago, when, encouraged by my general practitioner and following a lifetime of panic attacks and anxiety, I finally succumbed to the idea of a therapist.

She was 64 back then, full of life, huge of heart, and big on no nonsense. I’m sure if there exists the ideal counsellor/patient relationship, we came pretty close, both of us passionate women not afraid to stand up for our beliefs. We debated, argued, laughed and cried. I’m certain there were plenty of times we crossed the line between patient and therapist, but we always found our way back. That’s what made it real. Plausible. She knew I was a no bullshit kind of girl.

A former nurse, she’d been married three times and had children and grandchildren of which she was extremely proud. She knew about life, love and loss. Some days we simply spoke about politics, travel and the parlous state of the world. Others, we delved deep, and she pushed me until it hurt. We lanced more than our fair share of life’s boils.

When I lost my job, she opened a bottle of champagne. And then rang me at home to make sure that one glass didn’t push me over the limit. She struggled with technology, often asking me questions at the end of a session about sending or saving emails. Showed me photos of her grandkids. Worried about her weight.

She had a library full of self-help books, my favourite of which has always been Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway. I still have her copy today. I tucked it into my suitcase on the day of my wedding, afraid, again, of my own self. Plagued by self doubt and anxiety.

 

Our real test came when the love of my life woke up one morning after 22 years and decided he suddenly no longer loved me. She was among the first people I rang. She cried down the line with me, prayed for me during those dark, terrible months, and called me every day to see that I was OK. My friends and I secretly referred to her as The Incredible Shrinking Woman. She was so incredible, I had friends begging me for her number.

She rode the heady years when I fell off the rails, fuelled by grief, bad boys and booze. She tolerated my antics because she knew they were a necessary part of my journey. She held my hand when my anxiety finally succumbed to deep depression. And she smiled knowingly when I eventually emerged from my stupor: “You’re entering the age of the wise woman,” she told me not so long ago.

We swapped small gifts and secrets. Our friendship blooming under the guise of therapy. Increasingly, over the years, I came to view her as a tribal elder. That missing link in our supposedly civilised society. This woman had lived and she was imparting her knowledge on me. It was an amazing gift and privilege.

 

“I’m always here if you need me darl,” she’d say.

And she was. When I lived overseas for a year, she was only a Skype call or an email away. She’d always return a phone call, so it was with mounting concern this week when she failed to return several of my messages. I’d last seen her on September 1. The first day of Spring. We’d had another enjoyable session which ended in her usual bear hug and words of encouragement. I’d just bought a new car and she rushed out like a proud parent to see it, waving and smiling at me as I drove off.

I was meant to meet her again on October 1, but she cancelled as she had pneumonia, telling me, “I’ll give you a call when the doctor gives me the all clear.” I was only mildly worried. She’d suffered from chest problems for years. And then I went overseas for work.

I returned this week and thought it was far time I’d heard from her. I called her phone number today, but it was disconnected. So I drove to her house and a sign on her door confirmed my worst fears. I rang her partner, Keith, 84, who told me she had died last month, October 5, when pneumonia had turned into an infection which had attacked her body. She was 76 years old.

On this grey Saturday I don’t know where to shove my grief. There’s guilt and bewilderment at her passing which occurred without me knowing. A little dollop of anger. Shouldn’t the universe have sent me a sign? How can we be so connected to someone, only to have them pass quietly from our lives? Selfishly, I want to shake my fist at the world: “But I wasn’t fixed yet!”

Instead, today, I clutch at the only thing I know. I write. She would have liked that. “Turn it on its head, darl,” she’d tell me often. She would have told me to “just sit with your grief”. She’d smile at my frustration at the world being beyond my control. She’d be cranky as all get out if I let her passing consume and unravel me. We’d come too far for that.

And so, Sue Cameron, I bid you a fond farewell. You may be gone, but you will never, ever be forgotten.

 

10 thoughts on “To Sue, with love

  1. Lee says:

    Writing is a wonderful way of paying tribute to your friend and confidante, dear Goddess. You have done her proud. Cry, write, grieve, raise a glass, remember her.

  2. Sally Reid says:

    Dear Goddess,

    My name is Sally, I met sue only 4 years before she died. She also rang me to cancel an appointment in early October 2012, I thought nothing of it as she’d been sick before. For a whole year, I have never seen her face. Never heard her voice. I have not been to her Grave at Mt Gravatt, I still don’t have the guts. I only just found her memorial page today – pivotally, on the day I quit my job and the day I discovered an old email from her, which was like a Knife as I only just realised I have likely been feeling glum because it’s her Anniversary. It still doesn’t feel like a year, it still feels so unread.

    I was only a ‘patient’ but now I know my experience with her was shared by many and feel so much better about my time with her – though I regret so many phone calls not made, appointments I could have booked, more time I could have spent… I can’t tell you what reading your entry meant to me. She was just Suddenly Gone one day, and I just could not cope. So much of what you have written is spot-on and I feel relief at having discovered someone who can understand what the World lost on 5 October 2012.

    Please done hesistate to contact me privately (I actually wanted to send you a private message, but not sure if this site has the functionality?) due to the wordiness and personal nature of the content. I want to you know there is a lovely woman – Dr Marilia Libera, at the Centre for Human Potential in Brisbane – who is my current psychologist.

    When Sue died, I switched off. I too suffer from anxiety and depression and she was a big part of helping me. My favourite tome was “Love is a Choice” (my second Favourite was “Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway”). But for a time I put her books away, tried to forget I ever knew her and refused to see another counselor or psych. It just wouldn’t work. Nobody understood. Who can? The relationship you had with her was more than Patient-Therapist, and more than Friendship – she really was a Mentor and they don’t make ’em like her anymore. You are right – our society needs more of these sorts of women. Your relationship with her – like mine – had a purpose as well, which was mostly your wellbeing. And that’s the key thing – when Sue died I lost a Surrogate Grandma, a dear friend, a trusted confidante, but also a long record of my journey. When she passed, I thought all the progress we made died with her. I wanted to find her plot at Mt Gravatt Cemetary, curl up in iit next to her and never wake up. I know, though, that Sue would never forgive me if I just Gave Up like that. But for a time, I felt I did. Mostly because, apart from my GP giving me a hug I had no other comfort or support.

    When I went to see Dr Libera a few months ago, after 7 solid months of refusing to engage with another therapist, I just randomly went to this woman. She asked me why I was there. Well… there was a pile of reasons really – where did I start? So I gave the only answer I could “Uh… I guess I’m here because my last counselor died on me. I miss her terribly”
    “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that”
    “Yeah, look it’s really hard to explain, she was so much more than a therapist… she was an older lady, I hear she didn’t really have ‘patients’, more like ‘friends’, she was careful with her clients but our relationship and what she meant to me… nobody will understand it. So yeah, sorry…”
    “Was she very old?”
    “Turns out yes, I didn’t think so because she seemed so young, but she must have been about 71 when I met her….”
    “That’s very unusual….”
    “Ah, well Sue Cameron was a very special lady, like I said….”

    Dr Libera froze, then she looked at me hard in the face. Then something very unnearving happened. Her eyes flooded with tears and she went white.
    “So… you mean… Sue Cameron is dead???”

    The poor lady. I apologised. I had no idea, but she was actualy one of Sue’s patients too, and is now a Doctor of Psychology. Sue counselled her for years, and amazingly even though she had been out of touch (but always loved her, of course) she found out from Me that Sue had died. It was very odd, we hugged and then I knew I had found My New Therapist. What’s more, I know in my heart Sue lead me to her and the first thing I did was Thank her.

    Now is my turn to Thank You – in this instance, your choice to write about this woman has made at least one other person in the world feel more Alive than she ever has, ever since October last year, I just have never been the same. I was deeply touched reading your journey with her, you’ve brought her to life for me again! I like words… but I’m frustrated by my inability to convey how serendipitous and Uplifting it is to read your posts.

    Now, because of you, I have access to her page and could see her memorial video. I really am too choked up to even talk to my boyfriend, who is just sitting here watching me frantically bash out a long email to a complete stranger and cry over images of a delicate and smiling Beauty whom he’s never met, though he knows what she meant to me. So this is all – as my generation like to say – ‘a bit random’.

    Only… it’s not. It never is with Sue. She lead me Here (today, when I needed her) and to You, probably because She loved you very dearly and knew your words would comfort me. And really, there is no greater balm for my grief than hearing about how this woman enriched your life too 🙂

    On the off chance that you are looking for another Psychologist, I cannot recommend Dr Marilia Libera highly enough. Nobody can replace Sue – but she Gets That and is also a Psychologist. I am so grateful I have her. And we’d never have met without Our Guardian Angel – Suzanne Halder Cameron.

    Like I said, they don’t make ’em like her anymore. She was a Real Dame. And you are a formidably engaging writer – which is why my Ego wants to edit this rambling Novella of a ‘message’ before I send it.

    But instead, I’m going to Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway.

    All the best, I really hope you are doing OK.

    Love,

    -Sal

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