I haven’t shared any writing for a while. In June, my sister, Susan, suddenly and unexpectedly died. Here follows the eulogy I gave at her funeral.
Hello. I’m Susan’s older brother. Thank you so much for coming. You all meant a great deal to Susan, or Susie, as she was often known. She would be thrilled to see us all under one roof- a church roof, no less!
It’s an impossible task to pay tribute to Susan, but I’m going to share some memories from family and friends. I look forward to hearing your stories about her, later.
Susan was born on the 8th of March,1976 in Wanstead Hospital. It was a year of heatwaves, space hoppers and Raleigh Choppers. I was a bald baby nicknamed Kojak, and she was brought home to Walthamstow on my first birthday. I’ve been looking out for Susan ever since.
Our brother, Stephen, followed a year later, and at that time, the three of us did everything together. Climbing the neighbours’ fence to play in their garden, our first sight of snow, which we shovelled from the windowsill into sandcastle buckets and so many fights and laughs. Susan’s cheeky smile meant she often got first pick of the sweets Dad sometimes brought home.
Dad was out earning money to take care of the family, and Mum showered us in love and nurtured the delight in learning which would become one of Susan’s hallmarks. Our parents did all they could to give us the best start in life. More recently, Susan treasured time spent with Mum and Dad by the seaside or in London. They supported Susan through good times and darker ones, and for that, she was eternally grateful.
Our sister, Claire, was born in 1980 and Sarah followed in ’82, by which time we had moved to Wanstead. On Saturdays, Susan, Stephen and I would play football at the Leisure Centre. Susan was determined to be better than us boys, and our coach, Jim Bird, regularly embarrassed me, by pointing out that she was.
Susan was on the school hockey and netball teams, won numerous athletics medals and fearlessly turned her hand to karate, ice-skating and skiing. She would take Sarah into the garden and they would time each other running laps and doing fitness drills together. When Susan got a pair of Nike Air trainers, Sarah quickly followed her lead.
In adult life, Susan loved walking and being in nature. She went on a walk through Oxleas Wood with a group the Saturday before she died, and had been pleased that her fitness seemed to be improving. Susan’s friend, Becky, loved their long walks in Richmond park, where they’d lose themselves in conversation without the slightest hint of awkwardness. In friendship, Susan provided a rare type of connection. Highly intelligent, intuitive and caring, Susan was the person friends turned to in a crisis. Her kind and happy disposition never failed to lift those in need.
When visiting Mum in Shoeburyness, Susan loved to walk by the sea, where she would often be joined by her nephews, Dylan and James. Susan was a fabulous auntie to Claire’s sons. She was very attentive with the boys, and enjoyed throwing pebbles into the sea with them. She thought about their likes and interests. Her time with them was never rushed. They love her, and she loved them.
Susan was intellectually curious and loved learning and sharing ideas. She deservedly gained straight As at A-Level. At Sheffield University, she studied Politics with History, following in Mum’s footsteps to the city of her birth and making lifelong friends, like Hadley, who wrote “My memories of Sheffield are inextricably linked with Susy. She was such a kindred spirit.” Her boyfriend at that time, Gustavo, was an international student. He wrote that Susan “was one of the kindest people, always helping us to understand British culture and checking our essays. The rhythm of everyday life won’t be the same without her. Susan will be sorely missed.”
More recently, Susan threw herself into courses at the City Lit, a college for adults, telling me “our ever smaller Latin class is continuing to make progress!” Diana studied Latin with Susan over 2 years, and wrote that she “so very clearly enjoyed the class and unfailingly was able to work out solutions to the teacher’s trick questions, always with a smile.”
Susan was cultured, and loved to travel, read and go to the theatre, opera and ballet. I’ll treasure the memory of watching The Little Match Girl with Susan and Sarah at Sadler’s Wells last Christmas Eve. The Friday before she died, we were at the theatre together; she’d bought my ticket as a birthday treat. We loved going on guided walks exploring Dickens’ London, and Susan, Sarah and I shared books with each other.
When Susan completed her degree, her interest in politics, and in helping the underprivileged, led her to work in a government office. She recently did a sponsored walk to raise money for disadvantaged women across the globe who walk miles in search of water. Susan had helped out at the homeless charity, Shelter, and regularly gave up 2 days a week to volunteer at Fairtrade. Chrysi from Fairtrade wrote: “Susan was a respected member of the Fairtrade team, and cared deeply for the cause. She gave so much of herself to us all, with commitment and determination. Her work here will not be forgotten. She was a joy to work with and we were excited to have her from interview.”
Susan’s Christian faith became increasingly important to her. In Croydon, the Church of St Mary Magdalene with St Martin gave Susan a safe haven, welcoming her into the community and serving as a focus for her generous nature.
Susan refused to be defined by the challenges she faced, but rather by how she overcame them. She was a fighter: determined, courageous and strong. On the day she died, she went to work and did all the tasks asked of her to the highest standard, despite feeling unwell. Susan had been doing fantastically. She was on excellent terms with everyone. Let us remember Susan with admiration, love and gratitude.
The impact of Susan’s life and her actions will continue to yield rich harvest in our memories and in the countless rippling consequences of her short time with us.
Sometimes, the star that burns twice as bright burns half as long.
Susan Catherine Lancaster. Susie.
Sister, daughter, auntie, friend, girlfriend, student, employee, volunteer, Christian.
Rest in peace, little one, you are with us every day.