If You Knew Suzy

I just finished a book by a writer who lost her mother to cancer. Reading it, I felt like I could have written it. I found myself nodding in agreement of certain maternal descriptions and shaking my head to others.

If You Knew Suzy: A Mother, A Daughter, A Reporter’s Notebook by Katherine Rosman is a daughter’s discovery and reflection surrounding her mother’s ultimately fatal fight with lung cancer. Katherine tracks down people who both influenced her mother and those whom her mom influenced. There were no great epiphanies but I imagine closure for the author.

There are few unknowns I have about my mom. The first is about the safe in her closet. My mom held no secrets from me, or if she did she held them very very well. We spoke of everything so freely. Except her safe. My sister and my mom’s boyfriend are unconcerned because, well Mom held no secrets. When she learned of her dire diagnosis, mom brought me to both her bedroom and her office to share her business secrets but no mention of the heavy metal box sitting at the bottom of her closet behind her dresses.

I located the serial number of the safe and tracked down the original combination to open the safe which did not work. Since the safe itself is quite heavy, I cannot bring it to the locksmith and instead must pay for a house call to open the box which could very likely be empty. The only thing I can consider that my mom would have hidden was her diary from when she was 16. She brought it home one night when I was twelve and I remember reading it after she had asked me not to. When she found out I had read it (I think I asked her what the word snubbing meant) she reminded me that she had asked for privacy. I never saw the diary again. Maybe mom locked it up in the safe and forgot about it.

In a drawer in her armoir is a business card for a family therapist whose name is not recognizable. I’ve been tempted to call him and ask his relationship with mom, certainly doctor-patient privacy does not supersede death. But I haven’t.

And I’ve been playing phone tag with my mom’s childhood friend who has reached out to me via mail to share stories of my mom. In all the years I never remembered my mom mentioning Shelluy who claims to be one of her oldest. Reading her lengthy annual holiday letter I had assumed she was a customer of my mom’s that wanted to keep in touch. But after she replied to my note sharing the bad news, I’ve vacillated between wanting to have this bittersweet conversation with someone who knew my mom before she was a mom and not revisiting the raw wound of losing my mom.

In the middle of Rosman’s book I dialed Shelly and left a message at the tone. If You Knew Suzy is a tribute to a charismatic mother, friend, mentor who like so many others is not immune to cancer. So while I’d like to think that my mom was special, she was, and her death horrible, it was, it is not unique, and the suffering that I once thought I had a monopoly on is not unique. It is life.

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5 Responses to “If You Knew Suzy”

  1. kroliklinsey Says:

    Wow, I wonder what you will hear from Shelly. I think that is pretty interesting that the book prompted you to make that call.

    Although my mom is still living, I really identified with the book too. There are certainly questions I need to ask my mom NOW.

  2. Katie Rosman Says:

    The lockbox in your mom’s closet is almost out of a novel: A repository of potential secrets hiding in plain sight … made even more intriguing considering that your mom took the initiative to share with you the details of her business. I understand your ambivalence about opening the box because no matter what is inside, your mom is still gone.

    This project that became my book began with my interest in learning about the history of the glass she collected. It was very simple and even earnest: an impetus to pay homage to a hobby that meant something to mom at the end of her life. When I realized I could uncover some details of her emotional process at the end of her life, I had to continue on my search because I was so tormented by the lack of honesty and openness that characterized the end of my mom’s life. She couldn’t handle the reality that she was dying. And I was looking to her for the road map she had always given to me in helping to face trauma.

    I’m sorry for your loss. I really am. xo

  3. Pamela Says:

    It’s great that the book inspired you to do what the author did, learn more about your mother. I keep going back to the safe though….

  4. Emily Says:

    Your last paragraph is so true. I would be doing anything to open up that safe!

  5. If You Knew Suzy by Katherine Rosman: A From Left to Write Book Club | Says:

    […] P from I Want a Book Deal is motivated to make a call to her mother’s childhood friend and from Milf Alert says don’t join this […]

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