Palms Up. In Surrender and Praise of a Life Well Lived :: Susan Carol Hauser 1942-2015

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For Susan Carol Hauser, my mentor, my teacher, my friend.
In Memory :: a funeral eulogy, read July 25th, 2015 :: by Jessie Marianiello

I first met Susan in 1999 as an English student here at BSU. She was my teacher in so many writing classes that I lost count! She was my undergraduate academic advisor as well as my graduate thesis advisor. She was my creative cohort in many independent academic studies. She supported me through the recent death of my beloved and husband-to-be. She was a kindred braveheart, my greatest writing mentor and also a dear friend. Susan played a very special and important role in my life, but what I know for sure is that this room is filled to the brim with people who have a story of similar depth to tell. These stories weave a brilliant, richly colored tapestry of a life lived well. Our dear Susan, each of us a thread.

Here, today, we take our deepest sorrow and continue that weaving into our own living landscapes. Forever altered by this great and gregarious mountain of a woman who lived boldly, beautifully. A woman who rode the waves of her own personal tragedies with immense grace. A woman who filled her life with an expansive sort of passion that spilled over into everything she touched. Susan, a full-hearted woman, whom we love beyond measure, we grieve her leave-taking from this world and yet we celebrate the brilliant ways she still remains. Dear Susan, even here, with our feet planted firmly to this earth, we feel your smile, your heart now a little bit of all of us.

In 2003 Susan spoke at my wedding. As a gift, she wrote a poem and, although the marriage did not survive, her words most certainly continue to live. Yesterday I dug her poem out from where it was stored. I had not read it in years. What takes my breath away is that Susan’s words touch upon something that is transcendent and pure. It is filled with love and, as though written just for this moment, is made of something circular, that place where life and death hold hands. I’ve taken the liberty of making a few small edits and, this morning, co-wrote this poem with Susan, for Susan.

What is Joined

Atoms join, one to the other,
married into molecules,
still themselves,
but something else.

Molecules join molecules,
one to the other,
keeping faith with themselves,
yet coupled into something else.

Water to water, drop
to drop, each holding
unto its own, yet wedded into
the body water, something else.

Water joins with earth,
river current kissing show,
ocean tide consuming beach,
continents spooning the seas.

Here, today, we say goodbye to Susan
Mother, Grandmother, teacher, friend,
wise, laughing, loving woman.
Palms up
in surrender
our lifelines, small rivers
running together.

This is where the heart
escapes from its ribbed cradle, loosed
into molecules, delicate.
Released in a way
too perfect for this world.

Each of us still ourselves, but something else:
current that kisses the shore;
tide that consumes the beach;
continent that spoons the sea.

Our lifelines, small rivers
running together.
A watershed
a deep ocean.
all of us, in your parting, molecules transformed.

One of my very first memories of Susan is the day she gave our Creative Writing class a photocopied handout of “Living Like Weasels” by Annie Dillard. Many of her students might remember this essary well. Turns out, that day was a catalyst moment in my life as a writer. The essay, in essence, is about learning, or remembering, how to live. Susan not only knew how to live, she did it well. She “stalk[ed] her calling in a certain skilled and supple way.” She located “the most tender and live spot and plugg[ed] into that pulse.”

In the words of Annie Dillard, “I think it would be well, and proper, and obedient, and pure, to grasp your one necessity and not let it go, to dangle from it limp wherever it takes you. Then even death, where you’re going no matter how you live, cannot you part. Seize it and let it seize you up aloft even, till your eyes burn out and drop; let your musky flesh fall off in shreds, and let your very bones unhinge and scatter, loosened over fields, over fields and woods, lightly, thoughtless, from any height at all, from as high as eagles.”

Dear Susan, may you be blessed by God as you have blessed us. Our wild, limitless, loving friend, fly high, as high as eagles, in perfect freedom. We love you, Susan. Beyond measure. You are loved.



“No matter how many twists and turns appear, life always expands and moves in an upward direction. This means every tragedy foreshadows a more profound triumph, while each loss paves the way for even greater gains to emerge. If you just keep watching — everything goes that way.” ~M.Kahn

I received a very remarkable gift in the mail yesterday. It was from my dear friend, Tommi, created by another dear and talented friend, Kristine Mays. One might think that they knew each other, but they did not. They only have me in common, but it seems this is the way that love expands. Oh, if they only knew what happened to my heart when I pulled this gorgeous golden sculpture from its pink tissue filled box and into the morning sunlight!

I feel blessed to have such deeply loving people in my life. This heart is so sturdy. So intricate. So gorgeous. Just like the people in my life. Carl’s heart and mine were so interwoven, in a million beautiful ways. Even in death, this cannot be undone.

I cry a lot these days. Yes, still. Perhaps this will go on for months or years or the rest of my life. All I know is that I still have a whole ocean of love for the man that wove himself so thoroughly into my being. I’m still traveling the valleys and precipices of all this loss. There are moments of such great sorrow, but a long time ago God planted within me a nomadic heart. He must have known what He was doing all along, because one thing I know for sure is that I’m not meant to stay in these low-lands forever. And so I continue on this journey in search of new views. I continue my search for the mountains I’ve always been meant to climb, knowing that Carl is a part of all of it–and always will be.

There isn’t one step of this that’s been easy, but in some ways, things are getting a little easier. I have begun craving my time in the studio and, for that, I am grateful. I’ve become more aware of tiny moments of hopefulness beginning to return. I show up for life in ways that I might not have been able to do before.

Grief is a deeply humbling experience. It strips you down to your barest bones. Patience for pretense no longer exists. Worldly goals fall away. Many of my old ways of thinking no longer apply.

What is left?

Perfect freedom. Devastating, blinding, obliterating freedom. The kind of freedom that comes through having lost everything that mattered most and, in the process, gaining God. It changes everything. Yes, e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. I am not who I once was. I feel strong and completely shattered all at once. If I am wise, I will allow this experience to break me open and, from that break, I’ll grow. I’ll grow like a stubborn weed in a field full of beautiful friends.

And I might continue to cry, a whole ocean’s worth. I’ll cry for everything good that I have been blessed with in this life, knowing full well that, eventually, some of those tears will also turn back into smiles. I love you, Carl. Always and forever, with my entire intricately woven self. You are always a part of me.

{originally published Feb 20, 2015}

first christmas.


I love you, Carl. There is never a day you’re not with me. I’ve always loved Christmas, but my appreciation for it has shifted into something of a watershed, a place where all the love, like water, has come to gather. There is so much I wish I could write about this morning…but it will have to wait. I’m leaving for Brainerd so that I can finally wrap my arms around my grandma and tell her how much I love her. Just a few days before my grandpa died, my grandma sent me a handwritten card. She wrote about how very hard it must be for me to have lost Carl and that, when you love someone that much, you are one…like her and my grandpa after 67 years of marriage. She wished she could wave her magic wand and make all the pain go away, but that life is simply not that easy. She ended the card by saying that, always, grandpa and grandma are there for me.

I end this year in unexpected ways, but one thing I know for sure is that it is filled with love. Carl, I miss you today. I missed you last night. I’ll miss you tomorrow and the next day and the next all the way into forever. But more than anything, I am grateful. In this life, I have been blessed.

Merry Christmas friends and family. I love you all very, very much!

{originally published Dec 25, 2014}

booked flights. peeled potatoes.


I did it. I booked my flight. I’m going to Florida for my 40th birthday. The trip that was going to be a gift from Carl, has instead been gifted by something I can only call grace.

Honestly, it’s been a rough day. It’s been a day of tears. Lots of them. Yesterday wasn’t all that easy either, but then the goodness started flowing in. A quickening occurred. My neighbor and his two strong friends hauled a trailer full of hay over from the barn so that it would be closer and easier for me to feed the horses. Another friend texted an offer to help me pay for the flight to Florida. At the exact same moment, someone else, who isn’t even on facebook and therefore doesn’t see my posts, texted me an image of a crystal ball in the hand of a woman, lit with sunlight and magic on the beach of an ocean. She wished me light and love. These three things happened simultaneously and, in that moment, the gaps of my doubt were brightly, divinely filled in.

Later that night, I went to celebrate Carl’s brother-in-law, Steve’s, birthday. It was a special celebration because his life, too, is a gift. He’s had to overcome his own hurdles. In my brain-fog, I almost forgot about the party. Then I didn’t want to go. Then I changed my mind. I went and was grateful that I did. It ended up being just what I needed. I came home to an email with a commitment from a new client, one that’s been hanging in the wings for the past couple weeks.

I’ve also been gifted with two places to stay–one a high-end Miami Beach hotel and the other my very own grotto near the ocean. I was offered friendship. A place to follow jungle roots or space to cry into the sea.

I went to bed last night feeling exhausted, amazed, almost overwhelmed by the speed and depth of it all. I had another dream about Carl. Another adventure. And his spirit was with me.

Tomorrow I’m leaving for North Dakota again. I will be finishing up loose ends, tending to remaining details. I leave early. There’s still lots to do before I leave and I can’t seem to get my energy to settle down enough to write. There is a part of me that dreads this particular trip out west–the finality of it. Carl won’t be there. His room is clean. Nothing is the same.

Constantly, this contradiction between grace and difficulty. I sometimes feel like I’m walking in a bog. The ground constantly moving, changing beneath me. There is death and beauty in every step.

On Thursday I peeled potatoes with Carl’s sisters. We peeled potatoes and talked and listened to soft music. I felt peace. We were sad when the job was done. I wished I could have peeled a thousand more potatoes because, for that time, the depth of my loss held still. This morning I went to listen to a friend sing at the Unitarian church. I had never been there before, but I braved my own unknowing and let myself in thru the front door. The words of her song, her voice, the acoustics of the guitar she played: her beauty condensed. So perfect that it caused cold, plump tears to streak the skin of my face. Reaching my chin and then holding there for a moment before disappearing into my lap. I couldn’t stop them. I sat in a room full of mostly strangers and, silently, with my eyes closed, I wept. That same friend who sang such a beautiful song will accompany on my journey tomorrow out west tomorrow. We don’t even know each other all that well and, yet, there couldn’t be a better person to be holding this space with me. These gifts, they just keep showing up.

But this trip to Florida…this is something. The way I feel him so close to me in all of this. I was supposed to go on this trip with Carl…and it seems that I still am. He is so entirely woven into all of it that, without a doubt, I know I am meant to go. I decided to rent a car and leave much of the trip unplanned. Going there to see where Carl leads me…even if it’s only to the ocean where I’ll probably have a good cry.

This photo, it is one I took in Spain, near the border of Morocco and the Strait of Gibraltar…it’s a million lifetimes ago. I’m so heartbroken and perplexed by where this journey is taking me. But, Carl, I love you because the entire universe conspired to help me find you.

{originally published Nov 23. 2014}

the thing is…


Friendship. It is a miraculous thing. It’s been filling in the cracks where Carl’s earthly voice and body and love used to be. Henry and Ella are somewhat inseparable today. They’re also known as “HenryElla.” A name that somehow stuck when Carl and I would call them to come in from outside. We laughed at that because the combined name rolls off the tongue so nicely. smile emoticon They were always the last ones to come in…and, well, nothing has changed about that! My big dog, Louie, lays on the floor beside them. I’ve got a good four-legged crew. But what I also have is a tremendous human tribe, too. It seems cliche to write about it, but many times I have thought about what it would be like to be going through this without this kind of support. Carl and I were both people magnets, each in our own way. I sometimes had to laugh (and worry) about how full our life, together, might become. There have been times when I’ve tried running to the ends of the earth just to be alone, but people came looking for me anyway. There are other times when, because of the nature of my work, the feeling of solitude becomes overwhelming. It’s a Catch 22 and yet, somehow, this problem was solved by being in a relationship with Carl. We were there for each other in an easy way, always, in the quiet moments, in the busy moments, and all the moments in between. We were surrounded by loving friends and family and yet we enjoyed our time just the two of us, too. It was the best of all worlds, really. Amazing.

Last night I saw a friend who I haven’t seen in over 20 years and others who are willing to travel to the ends of the earth to be with me. Gifts like this just keep showing up. And then there is Carl’s people…his family, his friends, his employees. I’ve loved Carl’s family from the beginning, but now that love has deepened to the center of the earth and the width of the universe. Carl surrounded himself with good people and, really, he saw the good in everyone. He talked and texted more than anyone I’ve ever met. And so now…messages, phone calls, texts from Carl’s friends and family…oh, it is like gold to me. Please don’t stop. Eventually, I would have gotten to know all of these people. But now we’re left to do it on our own. Horse people, woods people, business people, family people, work people, church people, international people….SO many people populated Carl’s world.

I am grateful for it. And ol hairy legs, Henry…well, he is too.

Here’s a poem for all of us, from my friend, Britta…

The Thing Is …
to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you’ve held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again. ~Ellen Bass

Peace and friendship. To all of us.

{originally published Nov 17, 2014}