When I landed at Washington Dulles International Airport the afternoon of Feb. 17, 2007, after flying 7,000 miles with my newly adopted daughter, only one person met me to drive me home.
She was Catholic University, who spent her free evenings helping the poor in inner-city D.C.
Exactly 21 months after having met us at the airport, Susan left us for eternity. She was 30.
Standing vigil by her bedside was a man named Madrid just a few weeks before to meet his family.
“They both felt it was a miracle they met each other,” Mr. Schindler told me. “I wonder at the pain he must be feeling.”
Her funeral is this weekend in St. Louis. A memorial service is slated at Catholic University some time in December.
We who miss her terribly have been consumed by theological debates as to why this evil was allowed to happen. She’d gone to a doctor, complaining of the flu and headaches, and was sent home to rest. After she went to bed the evening of Oct. 25, she never woke up. Her frantic housemates rushed her to the hospital, where doctors discovered Susan’s autoimmune response to a freak virus had wiped clean her brain.
The technical name is acute disseminated encephalomyelitis. A neurologist from the Minn., told the family her case was the worst he had seen. None of the doctors held out any hope.
When word went out last Saturday that the family was disconnecting her respirator, I rushed to Fairfax Hospital’s neurological intensive care unit. She lay, silent, one hand clasped about a rosary. Her hands were warm as I held them. Her parents, brother and Eduardo sat there, numb.
“God had a reason for this,” a friend told me later over the phone.
“No, He didn’t,” I responded. “This was the devil.”
Who was responsible for the fact that Susan, who wore a long, sweepy red dress as maid of honor at a friend’s recent nuptials, will never attend her own wedding? Was it her doctor, who could have noticed something was gravely wrong? Was it God or Satan who structured - or interfered with - Susan’s body so it would attack itself thus?
We struggle in the dark. The Jesus that Susan believed in was a healer. He never told people to wait or be content with dying. Two thousand years later, that power is missing. All the prayers, fasting and Masses offered for Susan did not prevent her death.
Burdened with these questions, I dropped by her office in Room 307 at the Institute. Posted on the walls were three Van Gogh prints that she hung on her last day there.
“Things have been very heavy here in the past three weeks,” her boss said. “She is just a remarkable human being and infinitely patient. She never complained.”
The view to the west outside her window and across the quad offered a sweeping panorama of the Shrine of Immaculate Conception. The sunsets, they say, are extraordinary from there.
And so Susan died just after sunset last Monday, rising through the orange and red mists to the angels who took her home.
• Julia Duin’s “Stairway to Heaven” column runs Thursdays and Sundays. Contact her at Julia Duin.