Today is Susan’s birthday. She would have turned 36 years old. Have a slice of pizza and/or ice cream cake in her honor.
When Susan and I were growing up, our mom worked at home as a seamstress for a period of time. She had a commercial sewing machine in our apartment. When it wasn’t being used, Susan and I would play under it (confession: we
sometimes often drew on it with our crayons). When it was being used, Susan and I would occasionally earn a dollar each by helping mom fold corners of fabric. When we moved to California, mom sold the sewing machine. A few years ago, Susan bought mom a small sewing machine so she could continue her sewing hobby.
In the days following the memorial service, mom kept busy sewing the quilt of memories. Every single one of the memories speaks to the impact Susan had on the world. Here’s a small part of the finished product:
The biggest surprise at the memorial service was seeing several of Susan’s former 1st grade students, who are now (very tall) teenagers. Susan would have been so tickled (and shocked) to have seen these children all-grown-up.
Here are some of her former students’s messages on the quilt:
Last week, I found Susan’s DMV registration form tucked in her “to do” pile, and noticed the annual registration was due on November 8th. In trying to decide what to do with her car, we decided it would be easiest for us to transfer the title to my name for now. So, I called DMV, and thus began a blog-worthy experience:
Step 1: Call DMV. Wait on hold for 40 minutes. Told by a representative that I would simply need to fill out a “Title Transfer without Probate” form. Appointment made for 3pm on 11/4.
Step 2: Arrive at SF DMV on 11/4 at 2:45pm. Told by the security officer that I’m too early and thus cannot stand in the “Appointments” line.
Step 3: Stand to the side for 10 minutes watching depressingly negative and abrasive interactions between SF residents and various DMV workers.
Step 4: Told to stand in the “Appointments” line.
Step 5: Told to sit down until my appointment time is called.
Step 6: At 3pm, told to get back in line.
Step 7: Once at the front desk, told to fill out the back of the title form and then come back to the front of the line.
Step 8: Fill out form, stand at the front of the line, directed by a different DMV representative to fill out another form then come back in line again.
Step 9: Fill out form, stand at the front of the line, accused by a waiting patron of “cutting” in line.
Step 10: Finally given a number.
Step 11: Called to window 12. Explain, for the 4th time, that my beloved sister died on October 16th, and I need to transfer the title of her car to my name.
Step 12: Told that titles cannot be transferred until 40 days have elapsed from the date of death, and I must come back and repeat steps 1-11 again on December 3rd.
Step 13: Burst into hysterical tears.
Here are some of my thoughts as I reflect on my Public Display of Grief:
The line between tasks as positive distractors and tasks as emotionally overwhelming is not so fine when it involves a high-stress, angry place like the DMV. I will need to put on some serious emotional armor before December 3rd.
A simple “I’m sorry for your loss” from a stranger goes a long way, even if it may not be heartfelt or sincere. I’ve been calling account after account, and it’s amazing how many people just jump into “You need to fax us the death certificate.”
I have been a huge Harry Potter fan for years, and I now have even more appreciation for the depth of Rowling’s ideas. If I were a witch at Hogwarts, I would now be able to see the thestrals pulling the carriages from Hogsmeade. Maybe it’s not seeing death itself, but the intense feeling of losing a loved one; in any case, I feel peculiarly connected to others who have experienced this kind of pain and loss, which is so new to me. My (and Susan’s) aunt has been providing much comfort and understanding, sharing about her own grief when she lost her husband. Today, I received a call back from Susan’s NY Life (retirement account) representative. It was 5% business and 95% empathy. She lost her mom a few years ago, and hearing her speak of her grief made me feel like we were instant friends.
Here is the eulogy I shared at Susan’s memorial service:
I was lucky enough to have a big sister waiting for me when I arrived in the world. From the first day of my life, Susan was on my side. When we were kids, and played board games, Susan would give me hints when I was losing, even when she was my only opponent. She looked out for me, and I relied on her to do so.
I remember the first day of 1st grade. My mom dropped me off at school, and of course, as soon as she left, I started to cry. The teacher tried to calm me down, but when I couldn’t stop crying, she asked if I wanted her to call my mom. I told her no, I wanted her to call my sister. She was in the 4th grade. I knew Susan could comfort me, and I just needed her to tell me it would be okay. Susan came down from her big, 4th grade class, told me to stop crying, and I made her promise not to tell mom that I had cried. She always kept her promises. Neither of us told mom about that until we were in our 30s.
Susan was my life coach. I rarely made a decision without first consulting her, whether it was something small, like deciding on a color for a new sweater, or something big, like leaving teaching. Even as I prepared my words for today, I kept wanting to get Susan’s opinion on the drafts. She always had an opinion, and she wasn’t afraid to give it. Susan was decisive and direct, but her bluntness was tempered with kindness and sweet intentions. Just two weeks ago, when I was preparing an assignment for a potential job, I asked Susan to read the drafts. I didn’t realize it would become a teacher- student conference. She called me over, sat me down, and proceeded to tell me how and why one of my answers made no sense at all. She was absolutely right. Once a teacher, always a teacher.
Even when she was sick, and it looked like I was taking care of her, she was also taking care of me. When she went into cardiac arrest in the ICU, and the doctors were able to revive her, in the few seconds we got to see her on her way down to surgery, she pulled off her oxygen mask and told me “Don’t Worry.” I know she was scared, but she always tried to protect me.
Over the past five years, as Susan endured medical procedure after another, she showed us all how strong a person could be. In the words of one of her ICU nurses, she brought “Susan sass.” I remember once when mom and I were on either side of her bedside holding her hands; she was only a few days out of surgery, she was intubated and in and out of sleep. Mom whispered to me at one point, “look, she’s sleeping,” and Susan, with her eyes still closed, quickly slapped mom’s hand. Susan sass. Surgery after surgery, procedure after procedure, she never wasted her energy or time feeling sorry for herself. She just carried on.
After the second transplant, I was the one who was angry with the universe for what had happened. I was the one who grieved. Susan just found ways to fill her life with new joys and adventures. She knit project after project, she enrolled many of us in the Susan Yoo Accelerated School for Knitting, and she found ways to fill her days with new challenges and joys. She was so tough. She always talked about how thankful she was that she had been given a second, and then a third, chance at life. There were moments of struggle, and she was tired of being sick, but when I think of her overall reaction to her situation, her refrain was the simple phrase, “whaddya gonna do?” What she did was embrace her life and fill it, and ours, with joy. She started and up-kept her blog, immunosuppressedknitter.com, and wrote in a sweet, humorous, and courageous tone that captured her struggles, but also her indomitable spirit. She was constantly starting new projects, constantly coming up with new, fun ways to fill her days. She and mom tutored each other in English and Korean, she learned how to bind books, she did all sorts of puzzles. Just a couple of weeks ago, while also starting a massive origami project, Susan said she would like to learn the cello. She thought she might be able to find someone who would trade cello lessons for knitting lessons. She had an ever growing list of projects, and always planned for the future. Her body may have been weak, but her mind and her spirit were so strong.
My sister saw everyone as a potential friend; even when we were younger, she always had such a diverse group of friends. A few weeks ago, Susan and I went to the Friends of the SF library book sale. She was in her wheelchair, and as usual, took her knitting with her. She told me to park her at the end of a table, and sent me off to search for books. Susan told me later about a woman who came up to her and commented on the blanket Susan was knitting. Of course, Susan’s first question to her was, “Are you on Ravelry?” She pulled out her phone, pulled up the pattern, and welcomed the lady write it down. All of you here today, and the many others who were unable to attend, are the living proof of my beautiful sister’s generous and welcoming spirit.
Over the past few years, Susan and I had a few conversations about her inevitable passing. She told me several times that she was ready, she had made peace with it, and that I needed to do the same. Even in talking about her death, Susan was trying to protect me. She told others that she was worried about what would happen to me when her time came. When I said goodbye to Susan’s physical body, I made her a promise. I promised her that I would live my life the way she wanted me to. I promised her I would be happy. I will miss her so much, but I will carry on, as she carried on. Forever my role model, I will try to live my life as Susan did – without fear, without regret, with courage, fortitude, taking the greatest joy in the little things in life, and being limitlessly generous with my love. I will even keep knitting.
On August 25th, Susan sent the following email:
If you come across someone I forgot to include in this email (sorry!) feel free to pass it on.
She suspected most people were procrastinating on this (especially on the second part), which she understood, being a procrastinator herself (in college, she once wrote an entire 19 page paper the night before it was due). She did receive fabric from several people, and a few memories were emailed back to her.
At the memorial service, we will have fabric pens and squares of fabric for you to write your “favorite Susan memories.” Most of the fabric will be from Susan’s pajamas (she loved herself some comfy, soft, and cute PJs).
After the service, we will take the fabric pieces, and mom will sew a quilt. You can use more than one square of fabric if your memory is on the longer side.
If you are unable to attend the service, you can write your memory as a comment to this blog post, and we will include it in the quilt.
We will also have time during the service for you to come up and share your Susan memory with the group. We know Susan created loads of special, funny, and touching memories, and we hope everyone will participate.
Hope to see you all on Sunday.
About a month ago, Susan decided she wanted to make 1000 paper cranes. She stocked up on origami paper, watched a YouTube video, and was hooked. For the past few weeks, she has been folding cranes of various sizes and colors, sometimes only a few at a time, sometimes dozens at a time. Our mom collected them in a big gift bag, and as of last week, she had a nearly full bag. We didn’t know how many she had made; Susan had not kept count – probably because she knew she had a long way to go before hitting 1000. Turns out her count was 238.
As we are preparing for her memorial service, we decided to use her paper cranes to decorate and bring color and cheer to the chapel. Karen flew in for the weekend, and came up with a great system for stringing the cranes; she strung all 238 of Susan’s cranes on Friday. On Saturday, Julie and Gina drove up from So Cal for the weekend, and Elizabeth came over for the day. We had lunch, then sat at the kitchen table and folded cranes using Susan’s stacks of paper for approximately 8 hours. The folding was peppered with a movie and lots of Susan’s snacks.
Here are some pictures:
Susan would be so proud of us for sitting, crafting, and eating her snacks.
This is Carol, Susan’s sister. Susan passed away on October 16th, 2013.
Her memorial service will be held on October 27, 2013, from 3:30-5pm, at McAvoy O’Hara Evergreen Mortuary, located at 4545 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94118.
Donations in lieu of flowers can be made to team “We love YOO Susan” to support the OneLegacy Foundation.
Susan’s last morning on earth was a great one – we shared breakfast and were laughing together while watching television. She was enjoying the comfort of her own home, and I was by her side. Susan made it widely known that she hated the hospital, and she told me, several times over the past few years, that she had made peace with her mortality. She told me she was ready, and that I needed to prepare myself because she had. She left this earth on her terms, in her direct-no-nonsense-Susan-Yoo way.
Susan always encouraged me to write my own blog, so I will try to continue hers, from my perspective.
I started going to Seton hospital’s pulomonary-cardiac rehab center at the end of July. I’m to go twice a week for 6-8 weeks, and each session is 2.5 hours. The first hour we have ‘class’ and learn/talk about different topics. The second hour is cardio and the last half hour is chair exercises for the upper and lower body using weights.
So far I haven’t really learned anything new from the classes. Sadly, I think as the only post transplant person in my group, I’ve experienced a lot more. Most people have copd/emphysema/bronchitis and there is one pre-lung waiting for a transplant.
We’ve had discussions on breathing techniques, lung infections, occupational therapy/life skills, traveling with oxygen/oxygen concentrator, and the different support systems in our lives. The last time a guy came to give a talk about mucus. Again, I’m sad to say that I’ve used every apparatus and strategy he talked about. Though it all seems to be old-hat, it’s been interesting listening to the other people in the group.
In order to be more mobile, I tried looking into getting a portable oxygen concentrator but my insurance won’t cover it. I looked to see if I could purchase one and found the most inexpensive one for about 2 grand. Well, after I had the oxygen class I have learned that the one I would need is more like 5 grand.
I’m happy to report that my cardio has been improving leaps and bounds. There is a recumbent cross trainer by NuStep that has been very beneficial. It’s like doing the Precor sitting down. Brilliant. The first day I did 5 minutes with breaks, and now I’ve worked up to 15 minutes without stoping. It would be so great to have one at home, but it’s also way out of my price range as it costs 5 grand. Sigh.
From the cardio I’ve done, I’ve discovered that the recumbent bike is the hardest for me. My muscles get tired before I have to stop from being short of breath. That hasn’t happened in quite some time. I started on the treadmill and have worked up to 2 minutes with a break in the middle. It seems piddly, but 2 minutes feels like 2 miles.
Some more health related news – I’ve been sleeping in my bed every night for the past few weeks. I’d forgotten how much I love my bed. I’ve been getting a good night’s sleep, but the first 15 minutes or so after being upright is pure torture. I feel awful. I imagine my innards shifting and my lungs adjusting while my body’s waking up. Yuck. I keep telling myself that not having to sleep in the chair, struggling to find a comfortable position, is worth it.
… Not really related to my health, but whenever I say I’m going to rehab the song Rehab by Amy Winehouse pops into my head.
“They tried to make me go to rehab, I said no, no no…..”
I also went to the eye doctor recently and have confirmed that I need reading glasses. I’m only using 1.0 and 1.25 magnification, but still! I have cataract in both eyes (the right eye got a tiny bit worse), my vitreous is detached, and now I need reading glasses. My eyes are OLD.
My last bit of health news – My crown that was on the top 2nd tooth from the middle broke off! I look like a little kid. It’s not really surprising as it’s over 10 years old. I was told that I would need to replace it soon. Apparently my dentist wasn’t exaggerating.
Top 10 reasons why I have the best brother in law in the world.
in no particular order…
1. He is fun… and funny. My sister is always laughing. You can tell she really enjoys being married to him, albeit they’re still in the honeymoon phase but you get the drift. I think I can speak for others in my family when I say he brings a lot of joy to our lives.
2. My parents love him. They may have a language barrier at times, but it’s evident that he has a solid stamp of approval from the in-laws.
3. He is tall and strong. Forget women’s lib and all that. Need a heavy object moved? Need to change out a lightbulb on the ceiling? He is always happy to help out.
4. This sort of goes along with #3 – He can carry me up the four flight of stairs should I take a spill, or randomly become extremely short of breath while climbing up. Can you imagining my mother dragging me up the stairs as dead weight? Ha!
5. He speaks Korean! Well, he speaks phrases and words. I think he has a natural talent. He’s picked up Korean quickly and actually uses them in correct context without completely botching up the pronunciation.
6. He kills bugs for the insect-induced-hysterical Yoo sisters.
7. He is kind. I know a lot of people who’ll roll their eyes when kind or nice is listed as one of their character traits, but this can not be understated. It’s hard to come across someone with an inherently kind spirit.
8. He loves food. And loves to eat. And loves trying out new restaurants. I don’t think my sister could have married someone who didn’t like to eat. If you know her at all, you know that she is all about the food. A picky-non-eater would not a husband make.
9. He has the same political views and underlying ethics as my sister. Trust her to find the one guy in the inland empire who actually cares enough about the environment to compost, and also has the same sense of social justice. I think both of them growing up with immigrant parents (who relied on help from their English fluent children) played a large part.
10. He loves a bargain. My sister is the queen of discounts and sales. Full-price is not in her vocabulary. The two of them put together is actually pretty funny to watch. Here’s an example. They wanted to buy a red onion. At Safeway it was $1.99 a pound. On principle they did not purchase said onion. Found a market that sold it for $0.79 a pound and bought it there. Later on they came across a market that sold it for $0.59 a pound and looked at that red onion with true regret.
Happy Birthday Fidel!
1. Unexpected benefit of weight loss – it’s so much easier to paint my toenails. Who’d have thought?
2. (for Mac users)
I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to ‘discover’ Image Capture and GarageBand. I never even knew Image Capture existed until today.
I also included a picture of Day One, because it’s one of the best purchases I’ve ever made. I use it like an e-version of a Moleskin notebook/calendar. Love it.
3. Congratulating myself for a 75 point word using all of my tiles. I admit it was serendipitous, not a drop of skill, on this particular instance but happy nonetheless. The word couldn’t be more apropos. Do you play wwf?
4. I’m knitting socks for E. A very belated birthday present as I’ve been distracted by paper. I’m trying out ways to manipulate the cast-on so that I can achieve a particular color pattern with variegated yarn. The photo is of my first attempt. I am now on my 3rd, and I think this will be it, even if it doesn’t turn out the way I would like.
5. I usually listen to an audio book while knitting, but this time around I wanted something funny to keep me entertained. The Cosby show is my go-to for easy humor. I can watch it over and over again without getting sick of it. I suppose it’s my version of comfort food. I’m halfway through the series.
6. A taste of summer. Yum.
7. It seems I can’t get book binding completely out of my mind. The first thing I thought when I saw these boxes was that they would make great journal covers. The possibilities are endless! Hot Tamales, Lemon Heads, Milk Duds, SourPatch Kids, Nips…
8. As you all know, I love Haribo gummy candy. Well, the gold-bear packs that are sold in the US do not include strawberry. I only discovered strawberry because a yarn company in Germany used to include a tiny packet of gummy bears with your order. E has visitors here from Germany, and they brought strawberry bears for me. A whole kilo of it!
9. Next month will be 19 years that I’ve lived in San Francisco.
10. Julie is coming up to SF this weekend! And a couple of friends are coming to visit in a couple of months! Jami from Louisiana and Andie from Santa Barbara. Hooray for visitors!
p.s. The stupid bird is STILL hooting.
Bird 1, Susan 0.