Tragedy wanes in the spirit of the holidays – Empty Nest by Curt Swarm


December 12th is hard for 62-year old Susie Clark. It’s the date her teenage daughter, Lisa, passed away 15 years ago. Memories come flooding back, like the murky water spilling over the dam at Oakland Mills. It can be a Christmas tree ornament, or a note found from years past, or Christmas music that trigger the memories lying just beneath the surface.
I published Susie Clark’s story in my Empty Nest column a little over a year ago. Simply put, it is THE most tragic story I have ever heard that has happened to one person.
Susie was married to a wonderful man, Howard, and they had two beautiful children, Danny and Lisa. Both children died in their teenage years, Danny close to Easter and Lisa close to Christmas, several years apart, from an incredibly cruel neurological disorder called Neimann Pick Disease. To raise two children to their teenage years, only to see them suffer and die, no parent should have to go through.
But Susie still had her husband, and they would get through the suffering together. Eight years after Lisa passed away, Howard died of colon cancer. You can probably imagine the mental anguish that entrapped Susie.
But Susie is a survivor. A lot of people prayed for Susie, as she was and still is a strong church member with an abiding faith. Understandably, she was bitter and at times felt that there was no hope.
She has a house in the country close to her parents and family. She enjoys taking care of her home, making improvements, mowing, and her Sheltie dog, Barney. She also sings with an a cappella group in Mt. Pleasant. Singing brings joy to her and allows her to forget, momentarily, what she had been through.
However, she wasn’t going to get involved in another relationship. Everyone and everything she had ever loved had been so cruelly taken away from her. She couldn’t and wouldn’t go through that again. Plus, in her words, “There were no good men left.”
God had other ideas.
I ran into Susie at the supermarket the other day. She was looking bright eyed and, well, radiant. On Facebook, I had noticed there was a man in her life. I asked her about this fellow. They have known each other since third grade. He lives in a town close by, and they have been having “fun” together, and they “laugh a lot.” Not just fun. Since both have a farm background, they are contemplating selling their homes and buying 20 – 30 acres together and raising feeder calves. It is something they both enjoy doing. Her Sheltie dog, Barney, gets along fine with his German Shepherds.
Hallelujah! God answers prayers!
Still, there is the the old feeling of, “When will the other shoe drop? What bad thing is lurking just around the corner?”
Considering what she has been through, I can understand this. I have a feeling that time will take care of Susie’s fear, and restore her faith that everything works out. Keep praying for Susie Clark.
In the meantime, her a cappella group has a full schedule for the Christmas season. They’re even singing at the state prison, and will invite the prisoners to sing along. Music has the power to lift one from his or her prison, real or imagined.
After many years of suffocating sadness, she’s found the solace of true happiness.
Merry Christmas to one and all!
Have a good story? Call or text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at 319-217-0526, email him at, or find him on Facebook. Curt’s stories are also read at 106.3 FM in Farmington.

About Chuck Vandenberg 4544 Articles
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