Glass Half Full: An outstanding example of grace, dignity
June 29, 2017
The world lost a wonderful woman last week.
Susan Rathbun Neal is not someone any of you are likely to have known. I worked with Susan for four years at Columbus Academy.
Susan and her husband, Scott, taught sixth-grade language arts and fifth grade through eighth-grade art, respectively, and Sue directed the middle school musical every year.
She and another middle school teacher and I formed a trio to sing the National Anthem at a basketball game. That commitment morphed into a four-year musical experience. We called ourselves "Thyme" (the other Spice girls…) and created a repertoire of about 20 songs.
The band teacher accompanied us. Lisa would roll something out on the piano as an intro, and audiences were convinced before we opened our mouths that we would be good. Susan was. She had a soprano voice that could stop people in their tracks.
I still chuckle over the visual of referees and opposing teams literally turning around to stare in appreciation when Susan would hit an extra octave to underscore "the land of the free."
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In January of 2016, Susan was diagnosed with a stage 4 glioblastoma. That is the most aggressive brain tumor one can possibly get. She was told she would have 12 to 18 months to live. As a mutual friend observed, that expectation was the only time Susan met the average of most anything.
After diagnosis, Susan quickly had surgery and became involved in cutting edge protocols at Duke University Hospital involving infusions of polio. Ever the educator, she was keenly aware that her treatments, even if unsuccessful, might be part of a future cure.
Simultaneously, she and Scott decided to retire from Columbus Academy, where both of them had taught for well over 30 years. The school honored both of them with all the recognition they so richly deserved. Students and families from across decades took the opportunity to share memories, express gratitude and affection. The celebration was joyous and memorable, done exactly right.
Over the next many months, the Neals traveled the country, visiting friends and family. When, in April, doctors discovered the tumors were back, Sue initially chose treatments, then elected, about three weeks ago, to go home under hospice care and be who and where she was most herself and most loved.
She died peacefully on June 24, having provided the final gift to her family of her presence. She made choices with dignity. She was unforgettable and a teacher to the end. The National Anthem will always make me smile because of Susan Neal.
I believe all of us ponder our mortality at some point and wonder how we might handle something over which we might have some choice. Will we fight it or give in?
I also suspect that, despite what we might think, none of us really knows until the time comes. What I do know is that, when my time comes, I hope I follow Susan Neal's outstanding example of grace, dignity, love, and consideration for others.
Ruth Glass is headmaster at Lake Tahoe School. She can be reached for comment through her blog at http://www.laketahoeschool.org.
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