Meet Susan Fuller

Curious about how I got so interested in death and grief?




Let me tell you the story…

• Carl Jung said the first remembered dream of our life is about our life’s purpose. My first remembered dream was of a tombstone which I interpreted as God.

• Around the same time (age 4 or thereabouts) I made my parents stop at every cemetery we passed because it was “God’s House’…not the churches but the cemeteries.

My first dog died when I was 5. It was an easier conversation with my mom than the later ones about sex.

• I grew up with my mother’s losses

– Her sister died when she was 8.
– Her father 10 years later on exactly the same day.
– A stillbirth before I was born (also a red headed girl).
– A miscarriage between myself and my sister.

• The end result was an attempt to protect me (some might say overprotect) from death which just made me incredibly curious.

A high school friend was killed in a car crash when I was 16. I heard the sirens at 1:00am and was positively terrified…someone I knew was in trouble. It’s the only time sirens have frightened me. I woke up the next morning to the news he was in a coma. He died a week later on his birthday. The driver was drunk.

My grandfather died when I was a junior in high school. I got to see him in the hospital a couple of months before he died but was not allowed to see him after that.

• In my senior year in high school my English teacher died suddenly. It was after a freak October snowstorm that we all boarded buses to attend the funeral. I never told my mother that we were expected to file by the open casket before the Funeral Mass. It was the first dead body I had ever seen and it was in that moment I KNEW there was a soul.

My grandmother died in the summer between my sophmore and junior years in college. Again I was not allowed to see her. I remember staying home with my 13 year old sister playing Peter, Paul and Mary’s version of Freight Train over and over and over again.

In 1983 my uncle, my mother’s brother, died of a heart attack at age 70.

• I started studying religious and spiritual texts on death and dying. I was particularly interested in reincarnation.

• I spent about 6 months photographing cemeteries. I took the last of that series in the spring of 1984 (digital scans on the way).

• As I look back on this time of study and reflection, I feel like I was being prepared for what was about to happen next.

• A month later, my mother got sick and she was eventually diagnosed with cancer (they should have and could have caught it sooner than they did). It was a terrible time. It was an enlightening time. It was a healing time. It was my introduction to hospice.

She died on June 10, 1985 at the age of 64. In the moments following her death, I experienced the most profound suffering of my relatively young life, and was catapulted into a state of ecstasy. Never in almost 30 years of meditation and spiritual practice have I ever experienced anything like it…profound and transformative to say the least.

• I went back to school in the fall of 1985 because I wanted to work for hospice, but my admission to the program was dependent on not doing any work with death and dying for 2 years (see Do You Need to Experience Grief to Help the Grieving?). In many ways it was the wrong degree program for hospice (not social work or divinity) but it was the right one for me…a Master’s in Counseling Psychology with a specialization in Holistic Counseling.

• In my third year, I finally got to do an internship with hospice.

• After graduation in 1988, I immediately began volunteering for Omega Emotional Support Services where I co-facilitated a general bereavement group. I also filled in occasionally for the suicide and homicide groups. For 3 years I was afforded the great privilege of witnessing the grieving process of hundreds of people from the earliest days of grief to the day they would come in saying, “I don’t need to be here anymore.”

• This was the best possible education I could have had. It trumped my own personal experience, my schooling and even my internship when it came to understanding the nature of grief. Everything I do in this field is done with a deep sense of gratitude to the people who walked through that door.

• In 1989 I landed my first hospice job as a Volunteer and Bereavement Coordinator. I continued to work for hospice into the 90’s when my dad started showing signs of Alzheimer’s.

I was my dad’s primary caregiver until his death in 2003. It was a different kind of death and a very different kind of grief.

• In 2007 I wrote, How to Survive Your Grief When Someone You Love Has Died, foolishly thinking I was wrapping up that part of my professional life.

For me, this work is like the Siren’s call. It’s not done with me yet.

• The past nine years have been relatively quiet on the personal loss front until the death of my beloved Golden Retriever, Heidi, in January of this year (2012). She was my friend, companion and partner for almost 11 years. She is sorely missed.

Heidi


10 Responses to “Meet Susan Fuller”

  1. Shirley McMahan Says:

    I enjoyed the story of your growing up and the different episodes of death and how they were viewed. Two things especially touched me,
    the one of seeing the dead body and realizing that there was a soul.
    This happened to me, when my mother-in-law died. As we walked past or stood there it dawned on me that her body was just a house for her soul, her soul/spirit was now with our Lord. The house left behind was no longer needed. I tried to share this with my sister-in-law but I don’t know if she really got it. I realizd then also that is why we have the funerals and walk past the open casket, but no one ever told us that.
    When my own grandmother died I was eleven. I had to sit with the other children, the cousins, although I felt much older (I was the oldest). My parents were sitted where other Uncles & Aunts sat in the front row, I really had a problem with the fact that I couldn’t sit with my parents. Later, the adults gathered at one of the relatives homes while the children were left in the care of one Aunt & Uncle who volunteered to stay with us in my home. I was so upset by the whole thing that I went to my parents bedroom and on their bed wept myself asleep. When my Aunt came looking for me to see if I wanted to join with the cousins in playing games, I said “No, I want to be left alone.”
    And so I was. It was many years later when in talking to my mother that this came up and she said she realized how I must have felt being left out as though I were a little child. Well I was a child but I felt so much older than the littlier cousins.

    I didn’t intend this to be so long but your story really opened my memories up. Thank you. I have just lost my husband, he died on May 14th. We were married on the 14th, though in a different month, so it was always “our” day. That is because we married as seniors, and we have had only 12 years together. He died at age 84, and I am now 77 and once again a widow, as I had gone through this previously.
    Somehow I thought because I had gone through grief before (and even taught a little on it in a class at church) it would be easier, it’s not. It’s only different because we did not have a long marriage or have a family togeher. We just had each other, and now we don’t.

  2. Susan Says:

    I’m so sorry about the death of your husband. It’s never easy nor is it the same. Each relationship is unique as is the grief. And each new death brings up the memories of all the others.

    As for knowing there is a soul…those experiences are lightbulb moments that are hard to explain to anyone else.

    Thank you so much for sharing, and take good care.

    Susan

  3. Debra Fant Says:

    Susan – thank goodness to find your “about” section as I’m exploring here to know more about you and your journey. THank you for your life work, for supporting and companioning along the way. Your Heidi is a lovely girl and I empathize with your love and life together and loss of her company. I’m a long-time nurse, hospice nurse, home care provider etc who has important losses of my own – dogs, mother, husband so far…living is dangerous business it would seem, loving mortal beings! I’m exploring the world of social media as I create a new business venture and feeling a bit like a duck in AZ desert, but open to learning and stretching, exploring to find the value of things like Twitter! Bless you in your work and being.

  4. Susan Says:

    Thanks for stopping by. What’s your new venture? Would love to hear more.

  5. Linda Monk Says:

    Susan,

    We’ve used your book at the bereavement support group at my church. Perhaps you will consider writing a manual for such groups.

    Also, I’d love to see some of those rubber bracelets with “Grief Heals” on it. Might be a good thing for those of us who feel tender in our grief to wear, now that black armbands aren’t used to mark a period of mourning.

    Still think you could do an “Artist’s Way” type group to use art as a way of moving through the grieving process.

    Good luck!

    Linda

  6. Susan Says:

    Great ideas! I especially like the idea of bracelets. Last fall I did a group on anger, regret and guilt that used combinations of meditation, storytelling and writing for healing from loss.

    Creative expression can make all the difference when it comes to healing but I’d go even further…grief itself is a creative experience.

  7. Carol Fish Says:

    Susan, This is my 2nd Christmas without my beloved husband. He died totally unexpectedly on April 13, 2012 of a ruptured colon. He was the love of my life and while everyone tells me how strong I am (I am most of the time), the period from Thanksgiving through New Years is devastating. My only “child” (40 year old son) has been an anchor but for about 8 months we were ALL in an emotional tsunami. In this order, his (son’s) father-in-law was diagnosed with terminal cancer, he and his wife’s town home was foreclosed on, (they were renting to buy), because the landlord hadn’t paid the rent in about 7 or 8 months, he and his wife separated, and one week after moving back home with us, his Dad passed so suddenly. Then, 3 months after that we attended the funeral of his f-I-l. He is not coping well at all, which compounds my grief. One other source of grief for my husband and I was having to have our beloved dog of 13 years put down just a little more than two months before he passed. Luckily we got a new puppy who is now a tremendous comfort for me. I attended grief support classes with a friend and it helped. I’m VERY strong spiritually. But the pain, when it hits so hard, can be almost incapacitating. I’m glad I found your site. Of course, my one question would be “WHEN does the pain subside?” But I know there aren’t any magical answers to that. I’ve been told the second year can be harder than the first. Overall that hasn’t been true, but the holidays surely haven’t gotten any easier.

  8. Susan Says:

    I’m glad you found this site too 🙂 I know grief doesn’t feel terribly trustworthy but it is. Allow it to lead the way. Grief is a process of healing and with this kind of loss there’s a lot of healing that needs to happen. It can’t possibly happen fast. Give yourself the time and space you need. The incapacitating pain does ease in time.

  9. Joyce Says:

    Susan,
    I lost my husband 5 years ago and still some days it seems like yesterday. A friend just lost a brother and in looking for
    encouraging words for him, I am finding it is also helping me! Thank you for your site!

  10. Susan Says:

    You’re welcome! Reaching out to help others often helps.

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