Several months ago, my late, great friend Dr. M Susan Cronin asked me if I’d write about her after she was gone.
“I don’t want to be forgotten,” she said.
Susan was so wise about so many things, it’s hard to imagine that she didn’t have a better sense of how unforgettable she truly was. Who else, for example, has ever witnessed a llama fend off an eagle, which tried to fly off with a prized rooster? The eagle initially grabbed up a hen, but dropped it when the rooster attacked, then was snatched instead. As the eagle started to flap away, Coco the llama hacked up a massive spitball, hit it and forced it to abandon the rooster and fly away.
Born Jan. 29, 1942, in New York, Susan lived 70 relentless years filled with such wonders. During her lifetime, she fought off Hodgkin’s lymphoma, two open-heart surgeries and breast cancer. A rare form of leukemia finally claimed her on April 12, 2012, but Susan got her licks in against that, too.
Susan had two miracle children. Her son, Sean, saved her from the grief of having lost another child during birth. Susan later was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s while she was carrying her daughter, Kathleen. She declined chemotherapy to protect the pregnancy. Susan participated in a study of 100 Hodgkin’s patients and those who were treated with chemotherapy died within years. Not surprisingly, she survived the other 99. Saving Kathleen saved Susan as well; they saved each other, really.
Nothing brightened Susan more than her children and their children. For her birthdays, and other special occasions, she wanted only to sit among and drink in the energy and laughter from her grandchildren – Holden, Autumn and Ruby, the children of Sean and Jaylia Lewis; Zachary, Braden and Andrew, the sons of Kathleen and Mike Gommi; Elena, the daughter of Mary Cronin and Jim Mothershead; Carlos Imani, Isolina and Reynaldo, the children of Sharon. All the better if the other “kids” – Teresa Cronin, Laura Jean Cronin and Dr. Terrence Cronin – also were present.
Susan had her Hodgkin’s treated with radiation during a time when the treatment was not as thoroughly sound and researched. It damaged her heart and lungs, though you wouldn’t always know it. For years she and John, her husband and hero, hiked the Burroughs Mountain Trail, where she loved the Meany memorial bench and its spectacular vistas of Mt. Rainier. She and John also worked a large farm for some 30 years on Vashon Island, keeping chickens, goats, sheep, llamas, alpacas, an apple orchard and any number of crops. And of course Susan delighted in walking her beloved Rosie, it sometimes seemed, because the corgi has short legs like she did.
A product of the streets as well as homespun wisdom, Susan grew up in New York City, as well as the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago. Her life took her to parts of the Midwest and Canada before she settled in Seattle, where she lived on Capitol Hill and in Ballard, in addition to Vashon Island. Susan also spoke frequently about the mind-body connection at conferences around the country. Her travels gave her a clear sense of the world, drew her to indigenous cultures and customs, and revealed to her alternative sources of power and enlightenment. For much of her life, she was an urban mental-health specialist by weekday, and a hippie farmer on weekends and holidays.
Susan brought all influences into her mental health practice, which spanned more than 45 years, the most recent of which she shared with her close friend and protégé, Caroline Becker. She had a radio show long before the TV character Dr. Frasier Crane ever did. She worked with the elderly at a program through the Grosvenor House and with young people through an affiliation with Seattle University, Seattle high schools and Vashon High School. Susan believed in her heart of hearts that helping people was her calling, and she did so, ferociously, on a daily basis.
Not surprisingly, Susan believed that mental health was a right, and so was having farm-fresh eggs. She brought some from the farm, and bartered for others in exchange for services, and offered them to anyone for whatever they could afford. She also for years spun wool sheared from the sheep on her farm, and was the maker of many things.
No luddite, Susan had an iPad and she proudly wheeled around town in her deep metallic blue PT Cruiser, an important symbol of her fierce independence.
The past year or so, Susan got blood transfusions on a fortnightly basis. There were plenty of hours spent in comfortable silence, sometimes sharing a ginger beer, morning bun, or mango smoothie. She also was willing to talk her throat raw, mostly about her loved ones being able to not just carry on, but to flourish, after she left this place. She preached of seeking and defining one’s inner circle, and keeping it close when it was formed, and, outside of that inner circle, to maintain the good connections and constantly sever the bad.
Susan also liked to say, “Life is not fair.”
Yet, ever the teacher, she demonstrated that tenacity, wisdom and love could produce an unforgettable life, fairness be damned.