Susie and Gregg saddled up to the copper bar I tended while working my way through college, and I've never been the same. I'm not being overly dramatic given the fresh sting of Susie's departure from this Earth, she was really someone special.
The two of them, Gregg doting on his beautiful bride and smiling all the time, Susie with her soft-spoken yet friendly way, they let a young guy into their lives at that bar. It wasn't too long before we'd hit a gallery together, they'd show up at charity events I was a part of, they'd later come to my college graduation party, my wedding.
Lots of times they'd tell me about a musician they were going to hear, and I'd meet them on a deck for a beer to listen and catch up. When I decided to create a cd of local musicians as a fundraiser, they invited me to their house to help sort through the submissions. Once in their cozy place, Susie introduced me around to people in the photos, her cats, more of who she and Gregg were. We sat and listened and laughed and it was a simple act to invite me in, but it's a defining characteristic of who Susie was, she invited you in, be you a college kid, a wounded deer, or a fierce wolf that would frighten most.
It was a pleasure to watch Susie emerge as an artist. I think I was among her first customers when she painted on rocks, I ordered a set of the family pets for my Mom. She captured the eyes so beautifully. Then, I asked her to paint my brothers French bulldog, her paintings became an instant treasure to the recipient.
Even after I moved to Philadelphia, when I came back to town, I'd give the Afflerbach's a call, on the off chance I could catch them around town. And when I did, we talked about life including my love life--or lack of one as it often was. Gregg and Susie were so encouraging to me, they told me about how they met in Philadelphia, and how I was going to be like them and meet someone in Philly, they were sure. When I did meet a beautiful blonde of my own in Philly, they were so happy for me.
When I met Whitney, who I just knew would be my wife, Gregg and Susie could tell, they'd never seen me so excited. Soon after we'd met, Whitney's dear cat Tyler died suddenly, and she was really upset, he was one awesome cat. I didn't know her too well, just a few months at that point, but I called Susie and asked her to paint Tyler. What she sent me in the mail was remarkable, my wife looks at it and gets tears in her eyes to this day. She called me to see how it was received, she was so upset for the loss too, and she told me Gregg had framed it, he learned how to frame, they were a team.
And yet, it was more than her friendly spirit, love for music, encouragement, or ability to paint that makes me say that Susie changed my life. No, what endeared me to her was the sense that she was truly a kindred spirit, that somehow, in some way, we were close, we were one. It was this spirit in Susie that led her to call me RyRy, a name only my Mom called me, and it just felt right, as if she was close to me like a member of my family. It was that she left the most heartfelt messages on my Facebook page, or that she noticed Whitney had "liked" a recent painting of a set of little chics she made, and when our baby boy was born, she surprised us with it in the mail. It was how she never forgot my birthday because hers was two days before, and she'd talk about how we were similar in so many ways. There aren't many people in life you just connect with like that, and even fewer when you see them once a year you pick right back up, Susie was one of those people in my life.
I believe that man and woman, we are created in God's image. I think with Susie the God in her was just easier to see than you experience with a lot of people. And when I look at the book of Galatians 5:22 and read what are called the "fruits of the spirit, "love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control," well, Susie is one of the few people who I think you could really see all of those things in her life quickly. With a lot of people, even really faithful people, I don't always see a gentleness or a love for creation like you could see in Susie.
In closing, my heart aches for you Gregg. Boy oh boy, brother, how to go on... There is no right answer, people will try to tell you, and comfort you, but we all ache, we cry, we ask God why. We weren't created for death and separation like this, and missing Susie will hurt. But, and this is a big huge but, deep down inside me, despite the empty pit in my stomach and the tears over this loss, I smile, I smile because I know that I will see Susie again, for all eternity in fact. There's comfort in that, we're here just a short-while and I am a happy guy having met Susie. I will remember her often, I will cherish her paintings in my home, I will think of her as I embrace nature, and I will do it with the same sentiments Susie expressed when faced with the loss of "My Girl":
It was a privilege to have had her as my friend for as long as I did. I thank God for that experience. And I also know I will see My Girl, and all my other wild friends who have passed on, again... when I cross over the Rainbow Bridge. I know they will be there to greet me and we'll be together again forever.