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    In the Clouds

    February 6, 2013

    April 5, 2012

    “Tell Mom what happened on the plane.”

    They had been gone for 5 days across the country, on a trip that was too soon and too much and too hard for me. I am 40 and I may as well be 6 again. No one is going to make me do anything, ever again. I’ve already heard about the incident with the secreted civil war play gun in a backpack that was missed on the final parental check that brought an entire airport security checkpoint to a standstill, if only for a few minutes. Nate sits on the chair, swinging his legs and playing with the Lego creation in his hand.

    “Mom.Mom.Mom.” Always multiple times, this little Sheldon Cooper of mine.

    “Yes, Nathan, what happened on the plane?”

    “Mom. Mom. Mom. I saw your friend.”

    “Which friend?” as I plod along with dinner, already mentally moving on, worried about the time and everything that needs to get done for life to continue.

    “Kristen. Listen to Nate.”

    My name falls with a heavy thud like a book that has fallen off the shelf. I swing around, if only because I rarely hear my name from my husband’s mouth. I don’t know what’s happening but now I know I’m supposed to really listen because he never uses my name. It’s not that he normally calls me something else. It’s not something I even realize until it is happening. Kristen. It sounds almost foreign from his mouth. Maybe it’s because we live in short-hand because there is so much life and so much talking and we are always yelling a child’s name. Maybe my sorrow is so overwhelming that there is no room left for my name.

    “Your FRIEND,” Nate says with mild annoyance as he reaches under his seat for a Lego has fallen on floor. “Your friend who died.”

    My breath catches in my throat and for a split second, there is no oxygen. I don’t understand how everyone is breathing because there is no air. I can’t understand what’s happening. I can feel the tears that are never ever far begin their hot sting.

    “Susan,” I say, confused. Not a question. A statement.

    “YES, your friend Susan,” he says, looking up, relieved that I helped him remember her name. She is MY friend, her sons are HIS friends.

    My eyes lock with Derek’s and he gives me the “wait, there’s more” shrug of his shoulders.

    “Where did you see Susan, Nate?” He has my complete attention.

    He has laser focus on his toy. As is often the case, this conversation is happening on the periphery of Nate’s world. He’s taken apart the Legos and is well on his way to forming something new.

    “Well, I was in the seat by the window on the plane. Ethan was sitting there but then Dad made him let me sit at the window. He was really mad. I looked out of the window when we were flying. I saw Susan in the clouds. She is happy in heaven, Mom.” He’s reporting the event as if it is something that happens every day.

    This is all complicated because he doesn’t really know anything about anything. He doesn’t really know about Susan being sick. He played with his friends and his mom hung out with their mom who was her friend. He stopped seeing his friends because kids have colds and he couldn’t share his colds with his friends. I wanted to tell him but it wasn’t my place and it was really complicated and so I didn’t. Late nights and early mornings I disappeared with no explanation. Crying. Always with the crying and never with an explanation.

    “Susan was sick, Susan died, Susan is in heaven.”

    The last two parts were spoken to him only twice, on February 6 and two weeks later to remind him not to ask about her to her boys. It’s not how I imagined we would do things but this time we did because it felt like we were supposed to do it this way. Whatever way it is that you are supposed to do things like explain to a just-turned five-year-old that his mom’s friend is dead and now his friend who is his age and loves Legos as much as he does doesn’t have a mom. But now Nate has seen Susan and I’m trying to understand. Because we believe in Jesus and heaven at our house but it doesn’t have anything to do with clouds and I haven’t spoken Susan’s name to him in six weeks. He doesn’t understand loss because he’s never felt it. He doesn’t understand the origin of my grief because I have never once spoken of it. But he has seen Susan and he knows it. And when his dad heard the story from the aisle seat as it was happening, he told him his mom like to hear his story.

    “She is happy?”

    “Yep. She is happy, Mom.” He looks up with a big ‘isn’t that great’ grin, hops off his chair and runs out to find a Lego he needs to finish. And he doesn’t even realize how great a gift that really is.

    As we honor Susan’s memory, please consider furthering her legacy through a contribution to the Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Foundation or the Cancer Card Xchange. If you would like, please join bloggers throughout the web in honoring Susan Niebur’s life and contributions with a post, and please add your link at

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