Special Letters

From: Heather Phillips – Sue’s daughter  

9:14 A.M.
Why do bad things happen to good people? It was 9:12 in the morning on Thursday July 11, 2002. My family and friends had been anticipating news about my mother for days at the USC Norris Cancer Center. My mom was on a morphine drip, steadily taking her steps towards heaven. At 9:12 my uncle’s girlfriend, Max, a small lady wearing black jeans and a white blouse, came into the waiting room of the 3rd floor of the hospital. My sister, a couple friends and I were sleeping on the floor. Max woke my sister, Malia, and I up.
Ladies, please follow me, she said quietly with assurance.
Those were her exact words. Malia and I were not scared at all.  We knew deep down what was going to happen, if it had already. Malia was wearing blue and white plaid pajama bottoms and a red tee shirt, and I was dressed in orange Operation (the game) pajama bottoms, a black sweatshirt and white socks. We were joking around the whole way, about 30 feet, down the hall to room 3323; where mom was laying helpless in her pink floral print pajamas. Her arms at her sides, helpless, like a limp doll. Malia and I were laughing and smiling, as if nothing was wrong, we were acting as if we were on vacation in a hotel, walking down a hallway to get breakfast. Deep down we were scared out of our minds; we knew exactly what was happening and prayed that it hadn’t already. I could not believe this was happening to me. All my life, my biggest fear was to have to grow up, get married, have children, and accomplish my goals without my mom here to help me.  I was realizing that I was going to have to overcome my fear.  I was always told to be thankful for what you have because you don’t know when it would be gone. This happened to other girls all the time; I never fathomed it would happen to me. All of this was going through my mind, those 30 feet down the hall. “Breast Cancer”, were just two words that never meant death to me at all. In fact they didn’t mean anything to me until Max woke us up that day.
Breast Cancer meant that my mom was either dying or was already dead in room 3323 of the USC Norris Cancer Center. I could not believe it. Malia and I were still giggly and joking around until Max said to us,”Girls, please calm down,”
As we were turning the corner to get to mom’s room.  I did not know what was going on, nor did Malia; I was not sure if I even wanted to know. My friends were now half way down the hall behind us. Max, Malia, and I walked into the room; I was very happy yet, sad that mom was still breathing. I looked around, only to see signs and posters made by our friends that read, “Sue we love you” and “Momma Sue, you are our hero”. These signs were very colorful and heart felt. Mom was lying there, helpless, in peace o

n that hospital bed, in her pink floral pajamas with her arms at her side, like a limp doll. I did not want mom to be in pain anymore. Mom fought for 18 months against this horrible disease, it was her time to be the angel we all knew she was. Her time on Earth was done. I wanted Mom’s fight to be over; I wanted her to be happy. I wanted her in no more pain, no matter what had to be done, as long as she was not in pain and was happy. When I saw mom still alive and breathing, I gave mom a kiss and reassured her,
“Everything is fine mom. Go take care of Alyssa for me. I love you with my whole heart mommy.”
Alyssa is my best friend who passed away from cancer in 1997. Malia gave mom a kiss, and reassured her that everything was going to be just fine.
“Girls, this is it,” exclaimed my Uncle Alan.
“Sue we all love you!” he continued to reassure everyone in the room.
Now it was 9:14 and 25 seconds. Dad grabbed mom’s hand with one hand, he then grabbed my aunt Cindy’s hand with the other hand, Aunt Cindy grabbed my grandmother’s hand, she grabbed my Uncle Travis’s hand, he grabbed my hand, I grabbed Malia’s hand, Malia grabbed Max’s hand, Max grabbed Uncle Alan’s hand, and he grabbed my other grandmother’s hand, who grabbed my grandfather’s hand, who then grabbed my mom’s hand. Everyone in the room took a deep breath. Mom took a breath of air, so everyone exhaled. But, that was it; mom didn’t exhale, we knew mom had just taken her final step towards heaven. All of my family was in the room, my grandmothers, my grandfather, my aunt, my uncles, my uncle’s girlfriend, my father, my sister, and myself. All of my friends were in the doorway; I looked out to them, while crying and nodded to them.
“We will go get the doctor now. We love you!! Everything will be just fine,” they whispered to me.
Eleven minutes later, the doctor, a tall German man, with black hair and black plastic glasses wearing a white doctor’s cloak came in. The doctor checked her heart beat, there was nothing. The doctor sighed a sign of sadness and shook his head; he proceeded to check her pulse and gave the same reaction, a sigh and a shake of the head. The doctor crossed mom’s right arm over her left arm over her stomach and said;
“May God bless her soul, time of death 9:25.”
As soon as the doctor said that, everyone in the room burst into tears and started hugging each other, I ran out the door to my friends. When the doctor, came into the room, everyone stopped breathing until he said those 5 words. “May God bless her soul.”
He said it, as if he had no emotion, the doctor worked with my mother many times, when she was in the hospital for blood clots in her lungs and her many surgeries, but this time, he looked at my mother as if he had never seen her before in his life. Everyone in the room: Grandma, Grandma, Grandpa, Aunt Cindy, Uncle Travis, Uncle Alan, Max, Dad, Malia and I, stood there and stared at m

om’s body, nobody knew what else to do. Finally, everyone left the room, so I went back in to have my last few moments with my mom. I lay on the bed next to her with my head on her left shoulder and talked to her:
Mom, everything will be just fine, I promise you. You did a perfect job at raising Malia and I and now it is your turn to take a break. Dad, Malia and I are going to be able to handle everything here. Mom, I love you with all my heart, you are my best friend, and always have been. Thank you for living your life for Malia and me; thank you for making sure that we have everything that we have ever wanted. You are perfect and I will always think that, no matter what you have always told me. Thank you for everything that you have ever done for me, and thank you for being my personal taxi. Thank you for being my softball coach, even though dad had that title, we all know you did all the work. Thank you for making me strong enough to live a full life, and don’t worry, you will have lots of grand-children!  Momma……thank you for everything, you have always been there for me, and I love you so much. Now, please take good care of Alyssa for me and tell great grandma I said Hello!
I lay next to her with my head on her left shoulder, like she was a pillow; she laid there as if she were a doll, helpless.
Those five words, “May God bless her soul” are the five most feared words of all time. These words are said all the time, to families, adults, kids, grandkids, grandparents, anyone, including people younger than me. But it still hurts terribly to hear them when the doctor says that to you about your mom. It was July 11, 2002 at 9:14 when my mom took her first step into the white pearly gates of heaven.

From: Malia Phillips – Sue’s Daughter

“That’s not fair!” we would say as typical teenage girls do when things do not go their way. She would respond with “What do I always tell you?” We would sigh and repeat the phrase we had heard so many time throughout our lives. We had been required to commit it to memory and repeat it back whenever we would whine. We never did this willingly or without rolling our eyes or even void of sarcasm. We knew she was right, but we could never admit it.
When she got diagnosed with cancer, we knew these words were true. Never did they have more meaning then when she left this world.
We do not say those words willingly although we know they are true. We never roll our eyes when we say them and always are they void of sarcasm now. We know she was right and we have been forced to admit it. “Life is not fair and you don’t always get what you want.”

From: Laurel Burkhardt – Sue’s niece

Hi, my name is Laurel Burkhardt. I went into the future and got some medicine for breast cancer.  The reason I got the medicine is because my aunt died so what I’m going to do is go into the past when she was not sick.  Wow I went into the past.  The first thing I did is asked my mom “Can we go visit aunt Sue?”  My mom said, “Yes.”   I was so happy so was my mom.  Did I say that my family went with me? It was so cool.  I told the family that I got medicine because I went into the future and they had medicine to cure breast cancer so I bought it.  I knew that my Aunt Sue had breast cancer so I kept the medicine in my purse.  A year later they found out my Aunt Sue had breast cancer.  I knew that it would get worse but the doctors did not.  They tried so many things but not one worked.  So I said, “Try this.”  They said, “No, what do you know little girl?  That could kill her!”  I said, “I went into the future and got medicine for breast cancer.”  The doctors said “You’re nuts little girl.”  I said, “Do I have to show you the time machine?  Listen if you don’t give this to my Aunt Sue she will die.”  So I went back and showed them my aunt’s grave and they said, “OK we will give your aunt the medicine you bought.”  “Thank you,” I said.
When we went back they gave my Aunt Sue some medicine.  I said, “It takes about two days.”  The doctors said, “That is good and sorry about calling you nuts and what is your name?”  “My name is Laurel Burkhardt,” I said. In about one day my aunt was getting better. The next day we went back with my aunt. Back into 2002 and she lived for 60 more years.

From: Tricia Halstead – Sue’s niece    

Signs of Courage from Auntie Sue

Courage. So me people think of it as asking out the most popular kid in school, others tackling the other teams 235 pound lineman, or standing up to the school bully. And for some, even doing a math problem on the board…

but not me. Most people don’t even know what courage means and neither did I.
When my Auntie Sue first got diagnosed with breast cancer, it startled us, even scared us, but we sure didn’t show it, we didn’t get lazy, and we didn’t give up,

but what we did do was everything physically, mentally, and medically possible. It was more than just a sign of courage, it was courage!
The first major time she was in the hospital was the scariest, but little did we know it wouldn’t be her last. To our great relief she made it through that night and set some very important goals for herself.
Auntie Sue happily reached her goals, of celebrating the 4th of July with her family, which included her husband Howard, daughter Malia, and also her newly graduated daughter, Heather, who’s graduation she got to attend.
Two days later, the seizures came back along with all our nightmares. After a night of wet pillows from crying myself to sleep, I woke up startled by the silence I decided to look at the clock. I was just thinking, “5:00am, too early for any one else to be awake” when I realized that a nightmare had awakened me.
A week later I awoke again to the same silence, but this time it was interrupted by my mom and dad crying, and that same nightmare came true.
Everybody crying; my brother, my dad and my grandpa, crying. This grief was all new to me, as was the courage that took place with her death then, and what would come to follow without her.
Life without Auntie Sue is very tough for the family. Although the hardest part is still to come. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and even birthdays will be hard considering they are a big part in our life because of her, and her love to celebrate. Some people even say that she “invented” holidays. Without her, family and holiday dinners will never be the same.
So now I know what courage really is, and it is NOT going out on some date or anything like that. COURAGE is always believing in yourself, and never giving up, and that’s what my aunt did until the very end!

From: Tricia Halstead – Sue’s niece

I am sitting here thinking, “She’s never coming back.” “I will never see her again.” “Who are all these people? Wow, my aunt must really be loved!” When my parents walked in and interrupted my thoughts I swallowed back my tears hard and whispered, “I want to see her.” “Are you sure?” asked my parents, “Yes” I gulped even though I wasn’t quite sure myself. “Well, O.K. if that is what you want, but we don’t want you getting nightmares”, they replied. “I won’t, I promise” I explained.When we walked in it looked like she was asleep. My Grandma was crying and my Dad, trying to comfort her was in the corner. I touched her hands it felt frozen. I touched where her heart would be and it was still warm. I told myself she’s just sleeping, it’s just a dream but then I saw my Dad’s face. I saw tears in his eyes and then I knew. She was dead. I have to say though that I am o.k. with it not because I wanted her to go, it’s just that I knew she was out of pain, in a better place, and with her Grandmother. So I was thankful, very thankful. I am also thankful that she finally let go. When my aunt was a little girl my Grandpa always said, “I will be the first to go, I don’t want you to go first, I don’t want to lose you.” So when my aunt got diagnosed with breast cancer, she wouldn’t let go, she just kept on fighting. The thing that touched us all though, was when she found the strength to say “I’m sorry for being a pain, I’m sorry”.So I am thankful that she is better. Some people ask me if I miss her, and I say, “Yes and no. No because she is still with me in my heart.” Last I am very thankful that she lived a wonderful, and when I say wonderful I really do mean FULL, outstanding life. She got to see both of her daughters graduate from high school and all of her nieces and nephews meet at least the age 10. She always said live life to the fullest, for you don’t know what will happen next. She also said life is not fair and it wasn’t for her.

Megan Bukowski Schultze – daughter – friend

The second time I ever rode in the truck I was told that I was now officially one of Sue’s kids. I just felt special. I knew I belonged to a group.
I am grateful for that extra person that watched over me. If I didn’t have enough money to go to something… Sue paid. If you were short a few bucks the “Bank of Sue” loaned it to you. If you were walking down the street, she’d stop and offer a ride. That was the way she’s been… Sue had a huge heart. I know she worried about all of us when we fought and the best piece of advise she ever gave me was that bad feelings come and go, but we’ve worked long and hard on these friendships and who cares what he or she said about you or him.. it won’t matter in a year and it won’t matter for the rest of your life.
“Don’t sweat the small stuff”!!

I love you guys – Thanks for sharing such a wonderful person with me, she’s one of the most special people I’ve ever known.
P.S. How could I forget? All those air-grams, hug, flowers, pins, buttons and cards that she gave – Sue made you special!!

Michelle Halstead – Sue’s cousin

I am Sue’s cousin Michelle. When I first met Sue, I felt comfortable and welcome. Sue was a great cook. On Christmas Eve Sue made dinner for our family. She cooked her great eggplant Parmesan specialty. Sue gave me the recipe and I cooked it for my friends. They loved it and I tell them it is Sue’s recipe!

Stephanie Halstead – Sue’s cousin

I have many wonderful memories of Sue while living with their family from November to March of 2002. Sue graciously opened her home and treated me like a daughter. One of my memorable moments was when I was in a car wreck. Sue was the first person I called. Sue gave me a big bear hug and said, “everything is going to be OK”. Sue was a mother to everyone she knew. She was a teacher, a men

tor and she was greatly loved by all. I will always remember her compassion and kindness.

Sarah Forman – daughter – friend

Once upon a time in a far away land….
There was a very beautiful woman named Sue. She was married to a handsome husband, Howard, for many years. Sue and Howard had two wonderful (& perfect) children named Malia and Heather. Their two daughters grew up, becoming more and more popular as the years went on. All of their friends would constantly be at the house. After no time at all, Sue became good friends with all of her children’s friends – even “adopting” some of them for her own. Sue would drop the kids off after school, take them to Disneyland, even let them sleepover on numerous occasions. Sue supported her kids through all the tough times and even when the kids did good, she stood there proudly. Sue always had time to talk about anything and everything, including advice on boys. Somehow, Sue always knew when someone was perfect for one of her kids, or if they weren’t worthy. Sue loved all of her kids as if they were her own, she even loved their boyfriends as her sons – but best of all, Sue was ALWAYS there to talk to, hug, and put a big smile on your face.

Kimberly Edwards – daughter – friend

Well, where do I start? I always knew that Sue would be there for me no matter what. She was such a special person and mom. Whenever I would get into a fight with my mom I knew that I could talk to Sue and she would make me feel so much better. I remember all those parties at Sue’s, from the pizza, to the movies, to Malia twisting her ankle in the only hole on the street. I even remember not sleeping or being loud and Sue just being kool about it. All our trips to Disneyland when we didn’t have anything to do, and even going through girl scouts together. I even remember my mom not wanting me to ride in the back of the truck and Sue telling me not to worry about it that it could be our little secret. I will truely miss her, but she will always be in my heart and soul.

Karla Ramiriz – daughter – friend

Sue was my Color guard mom. She was my first mom for any school function. So many happy memories come to mind when I think of Sue. From the time I was 15 years old to my graduation. Sue was a beacon for me. She shared in our joy when we won a tournament and she shared in my sorrow and comforted me when my beloved Uncle Ronnie died. I remember the sleepovers at her house and all the times she helped any Color guard member. During my senior year she was always there for me. As the only senior on Colorguard that year I knew no one would be throwing any going away parties for me. But during a recruitment trip to West Middle School, Sue gave me a a little pin in the shape of a graduation cap and tassel with a little 98 tangling from it. In that moment she made me feel so special. That was one of her many gifts. She could make you feel like the most important person in the world. I still have that pin and every time I see it I remember how much I love Sue and how much love I felt just being in her presence. God bless you. I love you all….

From: Bethany Broder – a friend

Bethany’s story
“Sue’s Story”

There is a saying that goes, “you never know how much you love something until it’s gone”. I find this saying to be very true. Especially in this story, Sue’s Story.
I remember sitting there, clueless, as the grown ups talked about medical stuff. My friend, Sue, answered each one “they gave me chemotherapy and I get radiation on Friday,” she said, no fear in her voice. My mom, being a nurse, sighed a sign of deep sadness. I had heard this sigh many times before. I knew that something was wrong.
As I sat through a meeting the next day, it hit me like the waves crash against a boat through a storm. Sue had CANCER! I had remembered reading a book about a girl who had cancer. I had, actually, read many. I didn’t remember throughout my whole, entire life feeling that sad.
The next few weeks were very painful to watch pass by. Sue had weeks full of chemo and radiation. To go along with this treatment, Sue was very busy. Every now and then, I might see her. Maybe at Ralph’s or possibly at our meetings. Some days, I’d see her as weak as someone who just got hit in the stomach and very pale. Yet, other days, she’d be as chipper as a bird and as strong as the rocks that support a mountain. Though she didn’t look very strong, but rather frail, we could tell she was feeling very strong. Sue was a “lifer” through all of this. We thought she had defeated all odds.
Just as I thought it was time to rejoice and thank God for saving her, I began to see her less. It was days before I saw her again, then I would not see her for a long period of time. Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months. Then one day in July, we got a phone call from Joy.
I got out of summer school the next day. I ran to my mom’s car and jumped in to go see Sue. As we headed towards our house, I questioned, puzzled, “what are we doing?? Let’s go see Sue!!” My mom made a face of pain and hurt “Sue died around, um, 9 AM” I was crushed.
I held the hand of the girl to the right of me, and with my open arm, I comforted Rachel as she cried, like a mother comforting her new born. The powerful scent of the flowers made it seem like I was in an open, untouched garden. The priest spoke softly over our sobs, as a father would talk to his son.
In Sue’s Story, she was not afraid of dying. Life is very short and, in every way, you have to take advantage of it. Life is not always fair, either, especially when it takes the lives of young women. Sue has taught me not to be afraid of death, but that I should live life to it’s fullest. Now, that quote means a lot to me because I never realized how much I really loved Sue, till she was gone.

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