Tribute from Chris Griffith

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A Eulogy for my Mother

Each of us has our memories of Suzanne that come to mind now, and will continue to be a part of our lives.

After 74 years, Suzanne is a part of a lot of memories – many dim with the passing of time. Some are very recent and very clear.

Suzanne and son, Christopher Griffith

As we remember, we are touched by the things that were so important to Suzanne:

Her family.

Her work.

Her stories.

Anyone who was around her for more than a few minutes quickly came to understand that my mother loved to tell stories. In the blink of an eye, often before you were even aware of it, she could transport you to the early 1800’s, or into pivotal moments from her own life. Or, as was the case in the last week of her life, stories about the imagined lives of the hospital nurses, patients and visitors in adjoining rooms.

Shortly after their arrival in the hospital, a nurse turned to my father and innocently asked, “Is she a talker?” To know her at all was to know well the answer to that question.

My mother’s curiosity about and fascination with the stories of the people around her led her throughout her life, and she found herself placed in the middle of some pretty amazing stories.

Among her many stories:

  • Roller skating with her 6-year old sister down the hallways of an empty High School building, belting out “Jesus Loves Me” in Navajo on the reservation in New Mexico;
  • Sticking her finger in the cute boy’s tea glass at Oklahoma University, sparking a 55-year friendship and marriage;
  • Late nights fretting for the safety of her new husband and father of her baby, deployed on the only Navy ship delivering bombs during the escalation of the Vietnam war;
  • Being tear-gassed by national guardsmen while taking an exam as a graduate student at Berkeley during the height of the anti-war movement;
  • Creating the only pre-school for miles around in the Ozark mountains so her son would have a creative outlet to play and learn with other children;

Suzanne devoted her professional career to listening to, understanding and helping to re-write the stories of thousands of children who had been through horrific abuse and neglect. She created spaces for these children and their families to heal and grow and discover their own unique talents, empowering them to re-shape the narratives of their own lives.

Many of Suzanne’s stories came out of her passion for genealogy, as she searched for answers to the questions, “Where do I come from? Why am I here? and What will happen to me?” Researching, documenting and re-telling the stories of the hardships and sacrifices of her ancestors helped her to understand her own place in the world, and gave her considerable strength to face her own.

In 1995, she began struggling with pain caused by Rheumatoid Arthritis, and for the next 23 years managed to keep it at bay through daily physical therapies, medication, and a fierce devotion to maintaining a positive attitude. Instead of letting the gravity of her condition overwhelm her and define her story, she chose to focus on Gratitude. Despite many setbacks and enormous odds stacked against her, she remained optimistic, often to the surprise of doctors, nurses, therapists and other patients facing similar circumstances. She spent many hours online sharing her story with other R.A. patients and encouraging them to also embrace life. Because life, to her, was worth living!

Detail from a family tree piece

At this time of year, it seems impossible for me not to mention the handmade Christmas stockings that Suzanne gave to many of us here today: bright, colorful and meticulously cross-stitched scenes of holiday cheer to add to the excitement of Christmas morning. Each piece required one to two years of daily attention to complete, and she once she retired, she made it her mission to make sure every child in her extended family received one with their name stitched on it, to become a part of their story. Many of us also received beautifully framed pieces of cross stitch that she had chosen and created specifically with us in mind. Not only is the detail impressive, but the steps that went into making each creation are stunning in their complexity. She would follow a pattern, often working at the same time with multiple needles and colors, and for every stitch made, she would take the time to mark it done on her pattern.

That slow process may seem to many of us tedious. Surely, there is a faster way to do it? In recent years, my mother spoke often of the fabled race between the tortoise and the hare, and came to identify herself with the turtle, embracing the slow and steady, the incremental progress, the small moments of gratitude and beauty. Suzanne understood what needleworkers throughout time have understood: When you focus on the small steps, the individual stitches, you soon find a magnificent tapestry unfolding before you. Her stories, like the tiny stitches, make up the whole cloth of a lifetime and each of us here today carries a threaded needle. So today, let’s all make our stitches. Let’s add to her tapestry. Let’s tell her stories today and tomorrow and the next.

Suzanne’s family tree for her father