The Heroism of Ordinary Life - Susie LeMieux

Susie LeMieux had Parkinson’s disease, as did her father Vivien Cota. Yet the disease took different courses in these two different people. Grampa showed signs of belligerence and spent his final days in a nursing home. When Aunt Susie’s husband, Fred LeMieux went to visit my Grampa, Grampa would ask Uncle Fred if he had brought guns to help him escape. Aunt Susie, on the other hand became peaceful and spent her final days in the loving company of her family.

Yesterday, I received a message on Facebook from one of Susie’s grandchildren. The family new that Facebook was perhaps one of the quickest and most reliable ways of reaching me these days. Aunt Susie died yesterday afternoon. While she had been fighting Parkinson’s disease for some time, her passing was sudden and unexpected. The doctor believes she my have had a pulmonary embolism. Even her final hours reflected Susie’s peacefulness. Her daughter, my cousin Dorian was helping her get ready for a family holiday party. She had just put on a festive sweater and a pretty necklace. Her family was by her side as she died.

Dylan Thomas urged his father not to go gently into that good night. I’m not sure how gently Susie’s father entered that good night, but Susie entrance did not show rage against the dying of the light. Perhaps this too, reflects a bit on Susie’s life.

Aunt Susie, like my mother and their sisters and brother grew up on a small farm on the banks of the Connecticut river during the depression. There is something about the look, the sound of the voice, the mannerisms that say, ‘kin’, to me, and on rare occasions, I’ve run into people with similar mannerism or tones of voice and I’ve wondered if they grew up on the banks of the northern Connecticut River or if they were descendents of the Gordons, Chases, Eastmans, Merrills or Cotas.

My mother often told stories of growing up on the farm during the depression. Life did not sound easy back then, but it sounded as if they managed to find joy and happiness in spite of the struggles. It seems to me that this was a lesson Susie learned early and carried with her through her life.

When my Grampa was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, he and his wife were living with my Aunt Susie. My grandmother, Dorothy Cota, nee Gordon was also advanced in years and fighting her own battles with age. She died a couple weeks after her husband did. These days you hear more and more stories about boomers caring for aging parents. From my perspective, Aunt Susie appeared to be a model for such people. Just like on the farm, she handled the struggles of the day with joy and happiness.

It is a trait that she passed on to her daughter and it seems only appropriate that she should pass on in the loving embrace of her family.

Recently, I wrote a blog post about heroism. Philip Zimbardo has started the Heroic Imagination Project which believes “heroism can be learned by example and reinforced with practice.” Friends have asked if what Zimbardo is describing is really heroism or simply practicing kindness. Heroism, they say shown through extraordinary acts.

Perhaps Aunt Susie embodied what Zimbardo is really talking about. She probably didn’t think of herself as a hero and I suspect that those around her might not have thought of her that way either. Yet in her quiet kindness Aunt Susie showed the sort of heroism of ordinary life that we should all aspire to. Rest in peace, Susie LeMieux.

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