Delivered at her funeral on 17 November 2007
On 13 August this year, Sue rang me to say she was officially going to die. Medically that came as no great surprise. As many of you know, she’d been effectively hanging by a thread since December last year when her body decided to start packing up. The process was long and agonising. Much longer than her doctors predicted, at least as agonising for her and us as you’d imagine. When her body finally forced her to give in to death on 3 November, there had been months of phone calls between her friends all warning each other that this time there really wasn’t any hope. I was one of them. Like all the others closest to Sue during her last months, disbelief at her final passing was tinged with astonishment that she had survived as long as she did in the condition she was in.
My first thought on 13 August was “how on earth can there be a world without Sue?”. It didn’t even seem possible. We were all fortunate enough to share the joys and terrors of friendship with her. Of the two, I’m not sure which was more important.
The joys were obvious. Sue was a sensational hostess. She sometimes claimed it was her half-Spanish blood that drove her to make improbably large meals at bizarrely late hours. “I’m looking at a saucepan full of calories” she said once in our kitchen, glaring firmly at a vat of some kind of cheese and cream concoction. It was, of course, delicious. For someone who never knowingly under-catered, there were never that many leftovers. Sue was an instinctive and sublime cook. She had an effortless ability to know what went with what and how to tweak the ordinary into the magical.
I’m talking about her cookery because that special talent she had to make the ordinary become extraordinary applied to her whole life. Her friendships, her costumes, her performances, her jokes, conversation and concern were all marked by the same ability to lift us up. To mangle the culinary image a bit further, Sue was like yeast. She brought extra sparkle, extra chewiness and extra flavour to the things she touched. Often as well, her elevating qualities were more noticeable when she wasn’t there.
Everyone here today will have some treasured memory they will owe to Sue. That sounds sentimental – which under the circumstances, I think Sue (who was the least sentimental of people) will forgive. Particularly as I must add that some of Sue’s yeasty sparkliness came from her extreme acerbity. She was the kindest of souls, but she didn’t suffer intolerance gladly or silently. Much of why Sue was the person who added to our lives is because she had a solid moral core. Her sense of right and wrong was pronounced and she stuck to her guns.
That statement of course, leads on to the terrors of friendship with her. Personally I trusted Sue’s judgement and often relied on it. Many of you I’m sure felt the same. Even so, I would not ever have asked Sue for advice expecting to like what she’d say. Her legendary generosity and kindliness did not extend to that useful social notion, The White Lie. If you asked for advice or an opinion, in general you got it. Again – and I speak only for myself here – that advice or opinion might not have been entirely welcome. But what you got was always valuable. Even when I wanted to scream “but I’ve just spent hours of my life setting this and you’re telling me it’s rubbish”.
During her last ever visit to us at Easter in 2006, we had one of those long late-night chats she was so good at. Somehow the conversation turned to souls and whether they existed or were just a comfortable figment. I wasn’t sure then either way. Sue was. She wasn’t sure why she was sure, and neither she nor I could explain it, but she was certain. Among many other things, I owe my firm belief in the existence of eternal souls to her. That is a great comfort right now.
Sue’s generosity was legendary. It extended to form an enormous family bound together by her warmth. In one way though, I think there was a failing. I never felt that her generosity extended to herself. I knew her for years and loved her dearly, but in some ways I felt I hardly knew her at all. All her greatness of spirit turned outwards towards others and I think when she became so ill, she hardly knew how to ask for help. During the last few months, much of the battle Sue fought was against herself. She fought passionately for dignity and to get some control back over her life. In the process she was cantankerous, demanding and absolutely determined to get out of St Thomas’s. She did it too. About a month ago, against all the odds, Sue made it out of St Thomas’s and into the Pulross Centre. She loved it. The nurses gave her respect as well as the care she needed and encouraged her fight for mobility. Everyone who went to visit her there commented on the difference getting that all-important control back had made to her.
Well, you know there is no good ending to this story. Shortly after she won that battle, Sue’s body gave up. She was taken back into St Thomas’s after losing consciousness and never recovered. Her dear and beloved companion Dale who saw most of Sue during her last months says that he is not sure she ever really registered that she was back in hospital and I want to believe for her sake that she did not. I trust Dale on this one. He knew so well and understood so precisely how she worked.
I know that you are here today because you’ve all been touched by Sue’s abounding generosity. What I would like to suggest as an appropriate legacy to a great lady is that we continue to extend that generosity, to each other now and to others we will meet in the future.
Dear Sue. I know you know now how much you were and are loved. It was a privilege to share some of our lives journey with you. Thank you.