As Susie insists on saying, I am Barbara’s former boss – long, long ago. Much more importantly, I have had the honor of friendship with Barb and Susie for several decades.
It is said that HOPE has two beautiful daughters: Anger and Courage. ANGER at injustices in the way things are and the COURAGE to try to change them. Barbara was a daughter of hope. She brought us hope. She lived passionately and fully – with anger, with joy, with humor and with compassion.
There is another saying, “To love another person is to see the face of God.” And that brings us to Barb & Susie.
In her work – law, the ACLU, BCA, advocacy and activism – Barb led us, she prodded us, she challenged us. Constantly.
In Barb and Susie’s relationship, they didn’t prod or challenge us. They just showed us day in and day out what love means. A powerful love for one person that is also firmly rooted in the beloved community of broader family and friends. A love that draws support from that community and that also reaches out, opens up, and is shared.
Barbara & Susie were BEST FRIENDS.
They had fun together: Scrabble, Bananagrams, every other imaginable word game. Making music and listening to music. The theater, walks, trips to places all over the U.S. and the world. They enjoyed life and they enjoyed being together. This didn’t stop with Barb’s illness. She and Susie even named their activities with appellations like “Stroll and Roll,” for the walking and wheelchair combo.
Barb & Susie were very much a part of my family. Two more dark haired daughters for my parents to love. So, they spent a lot of time with my nieces and nephews. One day, the four year old asked me, “Are Barb and Susie best friends?” When I reported this question to Barb and Susie, Barbara, of course, insisted that I provide extensive education for the nephews and nieces on what it means to be lesbian. (On a side note, Barbara at one point decided that I wasn’t sufficiently educating my nieces and nephews on what it meant to be Jewish – they ranged from age 3 to 8 at the time. She threatened that if I didn’t do a better job, she would simply tell them that the Jews are God’s chosen people.) So, are Barb and Susie best friends? “Yes, unquestionably, they are best friends. And, of course, much more. But friendship was the starting place, and friendship was always central.
Part of the beauty of Barb & Susie’s friendship was that the rest of us were included. They perfected the art of friendship with one another and then shared it with us. Game nights, song fests, bird watching trips, Yosemite. . . . Have a friend who just got a cancer diagnosis? Call Barb. She’ll spend an hour (or more) talking with the person, supporting, advising, consoling. How many of us received the check in during times of trouble or personal crisis – the phone call, the stop by, the follow-up – just being sure you’re okay. No place to go for Seder? Come to our house. In times of crisis and in daily living. Barb & Susie were present not just to each other but to us.
Barb and Susie were PARTNERS
They planned and strategized together – about everything. Trips, finances, dinner, the immediate and long term future, how to deal with illnesses, Barbara’s blog. Susie read Barbara’s work and gave comment, correction and critique. Their holiday letter was a masterpiece of joint effort. For their Seder, they, of course, compiled their own feminist Haggadah. They printed it, bound it, distributed it to the assembly. And we all played our parts. They both became adepts at collaboration and they took it into their work – at the law firms, at Mundie and Associates, at ERA, at the ACLU, at BCA, at the Magic Theater.
Only because she was so steeped in, knowledgeable about and supportive of Barbara’s breast cancer work, could Susie joke that when Barbara died, she was going to announce: “Barbara Brenner passed away after a long and valiant battle with the breast cancer industry.”
Barb and Susie were LOVERS
They love each other completely and passionately. Every few years Susie and Barb would fall in love with each other again. They’d get all lovey dovey, kissy huggy. It was a little embarrassing for someone like me whose parents never even kissed in front of us – all that overt affection. It was lovely. It was loving. It’s how you stay in love.
During the past months and years as Barb & Susie navigated the difficulties and demands imposed by ALS, Susie often said “Barbara makes it easy.”
Now, we all know that Barbara was not easy. She took pride in being difficult. But in the midst of illness, Barb distilled to her essence. And her essence was love. She communicated her love. She acted with love. She made it easy.
Barbara & Susie’s relationship was joyful and inspiring. It was grounded in the community, so we all got to share in the benefits. And threaded through it all – the laughter, the acceptance and the affirmation – was LOVE. So, thank you, Barb. Thank you, Susie. We cherish Barbara. And we cherish you.