She doesn't want to share her grief with a nation
A series profiling six lives since Sept. 11: defining moments in a historic year.
(Page 2 of 3)
Sue looked at her blankly.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
"You know, Elvis?" the checker said.
Jeff and Sue grew up around here. They met after high school, working at the mall, and married when they were 20 and 21. For several years, Jeff's marketing jobs kept the family moving: to Florida to Arizona. When they moved back to Illinois in the early '90s with three small children, they were ready to land somewhere.
After Daniel went to kindergarten, Sue got a job teaching preschool. She was a great teacher, partner Mary Seiferth remembers. "But Sue was always a mother first. A fierce mother."
In 1996, Jeff and Sue watched a TV exposé on Chinese orphanages. The squalor and deprivation lingered in their minds; Jeff started looking into international adoptions. A year later, Sue quit teaching, and in 1998 the couple traveled to the Linchuan Social Welfare Institute to bring Gracie home. Last summer, they filed paperwork to begin the adoption process again, and chose a name for their daughter-to-be.
But by early fall, Sue was a grieving single mother of four. Hannah's dossier was no longer valid. Sue had to make a choice.
"People ask me, 'What were you thinking?' but there was nothing that was going to keep me from this child," she says. "I know it's what Jeff would have expected of me."
Facing the specter of a second loss, Sue furiously refiled her paperwork. And waited.
The grief comes in waves. She'll be having a perfectly normal day, and suddenly Sue will be blind-sided by it. "I've had to leave stores. I'll be in the grocery and it'll be his favorite cookie or something and suddenly I'm crying."
When she closes her eyes, she sees Jeff's last minutes alive. Most nights she sleeps only a few hours. In shops, in parking lots, when women complain about their husbands, snip at them for this or that, she wants to shake them: "Lady, stop it. He could be gone like that!"
Sue and Jeff hardly ever fought. Family friends say they were always struck even when he was working long hours and the kids were running her ragged by how much in love the pair seemed.
Though Jeff traveled a lot for work, especially in his last job as interim CEO of the Web publisher eLogic, he didn't enjoy it.
Every night, he'd call Sue. They'd chat about their days, the kids, and what they would do together that weekend. Then he'd say, "I love you, sweetheart." And she'd answer, the way she did that last night, "I love you too. Talk to you tomorrow."
She couldn't sleep until she had heard from him.
His death gave her more to lie awake worrying about: insurance benefits, DNA samples, television executives' tasteless decisions.
In March, she heard CBS was planning to air new footage of Jeff's crash. Sue appealed to her China adoption e-mail lists; friends and sympathizers sent the network hundreds of protest letters.
"Sensationalizing the murder of my husband and thousands of other innocent victims is shameful," Sue wrote to CBS executive Gil Schwartz. "You have no idea what my life, or the lives of our children is like EVERY singleday.
"You know when someone gets married they say the two shall become one? Well, I am no longer one."