Goodbye Sue: A Chicago boy’s great love is gone

Like many youngest children, my son Joey works a little harder to carve out a space for himself in our family – both figuratively and literally. After noticing that there were only two children’s desks (which he assumed had already been laid claim to by his older brothers), Joey cleared out a bookshelf in the den. He then hauled a toy bench downstairs and promptly began equipping “his office” with all the necessary details, including his toy computer:

My son loves to sit in his favorite spot whenever I am on the computer paying bills, reading the news, or feeding my online shoe addiction. For years, Joey also enjoyed knocking on the window to wave to our next-door neighbor, Sue, (whose driveway is right outside Joey’s office).

With 35 years as a special education teacher, Sue showed amazing patience and affection for the little boy she dubbed “her boyfriend.” If Joey spotted Sue outside weeding or gardening, the poor woman was instantly face-to-face with a 6-year-old and his thousand questions about what exactly she was doing. Sue quickly learned to harness his boundless energy and often handed him tools and encouraged him to get busy. Despite having the attentiveness of, well, a 6-year-old, Joey’s efforts were rewarded with great praise and occasional cookies.

When Sue’s beloved husband passed away 18 months ago, Joey was very concerned about his friend. He wondered who would take care of Sue and keep her company. He worried about her being lonely and sad. He suggested she marry his grandpa. I told him Sue had wonderful children, grandchildren, and friends who visited often. That news seemed to ease his mind.

We were all devastated when Sue herself became seriously ill last November and struggled to come to grips with the limited time she had left. From a selfish standpoint, I was going to miss the warm and easy neighbor who showered so much attention on my sons. I was also in severe denial about the whole thing. When Sue lost her battle last month, I was a weepy mess for days. And in my own grief, I fear I may have overlooked how Joey was handling things.

As I went to rid my little hoarder’s designated area of cookie crumbs, scraps of paper, and crayon bits this week, I came across an indication of how exactly Joey was dealing with Sue’s loss. On the window where he would knock to greet Sue as she came and went, he posted a simple reminder:

And underneath that was a hidden note to his gardening buddy and partner in cookies:

He had written, “Sue we miss you. Will you come back. Joey luv you.” He had also posted her funeral card (which had a picture of smiling beautiful Sue) on the cabinet next to him.

I realized I hadn’t been the most attentive parent in helping Joey work through his grief. Since my discovery, I’ve found that with very little prompting, Joey is eager to discuss his thoughts on death and his many questions about Sue, not the least of which include, “Who is gonna take care of her flowers and plants now?”

He suggested he handle the job, because he was the only one who “knew how Sue liked things.”

Even though I have been a mother for a decade, I am still amazed at the depth of feelings children possess. The ability to fiercely love another human being does not have an age requirement. I will miss Sue in a thousand different ways, but somehow, I know in my heart that Joey will miss her even more.

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