Touches of kindness ~ a day in the life of Sue Hulley


My good friend Sue is currently in hospice. Please pray for her.

I had the opportunity to visit Sue when she invited me to stay with her for 10 days in Marin in November (overlapping with the 20th year anniversary celebration of Saraha Center in San Francisco.) Here is something I wrote at the time.

11.08.2011

“Health is fragile and life is short. I’m sitting in the radiology waiting room while my friend Sue has her port seen to – we have an appointment in an hour with her chemo doctor in the cancer center down the road but who knows if we’ll be done here by then. It is not in our hands.

A woman sitting near us, with a pixie face and big blue eyes, whose hair is just growing back into a fuzz, is asked by the nurse: “Do you want to come with me?” “No”, pixie lady replies, but she goes anyway.

So much paperwork! Just to get past the entrance for a chest x-ray involved paperwork and insurance details in triplicate, followed by a long questionnaire of an entire medical history – all lest the minutest detail might have changed in the last few weeks since Sue’s last x-ray so that, goodness forbid, her insurance might not cover it anymore. Paperwork is challenging even if you’ve just had a cup of Starbucks – what to do if you’re feeling bone tired and can hardly sit up straight?! As Sue says, “Look at the chairs!” These are not designed for people to recline.

“There is only one thing for it”, Sue says, “when you lose your autonomy. I have had to stop identifying with my body and appreciate the opportunity to practice patience.”

And the fact that everyone sitting around you is either in the same boat or already overboard kind of means that there is less room for self-pity. One lanky man sitting opposite us seems to have lost half his face, he looks like a Persian cat and his voice is a sibilant whisper. He is being tended to by a brother, it seems. The elderly lady next to me has sparkling blue eyes and a sweet smile, but also a deep air of resignation. The nurse says to her, “Maureen, that is a lovely sweater. I love the color red.” A moment of kindness in the face of all Maureen is having to go through, a touch of humanity to make the patients feel less alone.

Sue, noticing this too, says, “What a difference even one small human encounter makes when you are in the system waiting for appointments etc. One touch on the arm, and a kind comment, makes it all meaningful.” I tell her that it reminds me in a funny kind of way of being in the busy San Francisco airport the other day. The lack of autonomy as large numbers of people are processed and the individual gets caught up in the big garbage collecting claw as opposed to picked off gently in the tweezers (Sue’s words, she has such a way with words!) Crowded never-ending security lines but one official was so welcoming: “Hello mister so and so!” “Hello Ms L, how are you doing?” “Ah, you’re from the Phillipines, how great is that!” A little bit of love transforms everything.

There will be a changing of the guards as Sue’s valiant and cute as a button partner Bill drives over to relieve me so I can make it to the temple in time for a powa (transference of consciousness) for Maynor. As for perspective, I hear Sue, who has just said that being stuck with cancer treatment is a luxury compared to this atrocity: Maynor was a gentle 19-year-old, always helping his mother and grandmother around the house, when he was brutally tortured and killed in Honduras last week. He was in a taxi and mistaken for a gang member in possession of information needed by another gang. After chopping off 10 toes and 9 fingers, his torturers realized he actually did know nothing and killed him off. Meanwhile, they beheaded the taxi driver for good measure. Maynor was the brother-in-law of Michael, a member of Saraha Center. Maynor’s stunned father was there at the powa, very quiet, but managing to smile at all gestures of concern. His uncle, an old friend called Carlos, was there too, with tears in his eyes: “I miss him.”

Meanwhile, talking of perspective, I have a torn rotator cuff and it pales into nothingness next to Sue’s and Maynor’s situations.”

Please keep Sue in your prayers during this time.

Author: Luna Kadampa

Based on 36 years' experience, I write about applying meditation and modern Buddhism to our everyday lives, and vice versa. I try to make it accessible to everyone who wants more inner peace and profound tools to help our world, not just Buddhists. Do make comments any time and I'll write you back!

31 thoughts on “Touches of kindness ~ a day in the life of Sue Hulley”

  1. Dear friends,

    Sue Hulley’s son called a short while ago to say Sue had just died.
    I think her mind was pretty peaceful.

    May Guru Sumati Buddha Heruka take her to the pure land, right now.

    love,
    Choma

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  2. Your touching account of this journey with Sue moves me deeply. How fortunate that she had that time with you-and I know, you with her. Once again you have poignantly captured our plight – that All of our contaminated bodies are traveling in the same direction. May Sue and Maynor remain peaceful through the journey. May Sue soar happily with the Taras.
    Love and Gratitude,
    Mal

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  3. Thank you for your post which cut through the current self-absorbed, self-cherishing state of my mind. Your words are the tonic I need…thank you and much love and prayers for Sue, Maynor and their friends and families. xx

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  4. Without delay I’ll gladly pray for Sue. She touched me with kindness when I first arrived at the Saraha Centre, a gesture that made me feel so welcome, and I will forever be grateful to her for this. Sue’s unforgettable smile made me (unconsciously) do the same. I hope she knows nothing other than peace in these days to come. Thanks for reminding of this wonderful woman and the warmth of her touch.

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    1. Sue is going to be sorely missed at Saraha Center.

      I woke up one morning while I was staying with Sue to find her in the kitchen at 6.30am trying to do some baking for the center. She couldn’t stand up or reach anything! So I followed her instructions and we made a cake — Sue could not have the Tuesday night GP students go hungry!

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  5. Having been lucky enough to have shared 15 years with one of the most incredible women to have walked on this earth, I recognize and remember Sue from many festivals, how kind of her to give me this teaching once again, I feel very humble to learn of her inner peace and beauty, blessings and love dearest bodisattva, may all your suffering ripen upon me 🙂

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  6. I loved this very sensitive account of what it actually means to go through the dying process in our culture. And then how a sincere, authentic gesture of kindness can cut through all of the inadvertent clinical cruelty of if all. I think in ordinary life almost every interaction is a power struggle, or so it seems. We rarely face each other in earnest. But we shouldn’t need another living being to be so stripped of anything that might threaten us before we can show them this kind of love.
    My prayers are with Sue and Maynor. Thanks for posting. Lovely. Really.

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  7. As I am reading your story, I unconsciously put my hand up to my ear only to realize that I am wearing a pair of earrings that Sue gave me years ago. I remember it clearly. She was assisting me as I was teaching a GP class at Dewikoti in Mil Valley. I admired her earrings, and without hesitation, she took them out of her ears and handed them to me. It was a very Sue thing to do.I still remember her fondly whenever I wear them.

    She is very much in my thoughts these days.

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  8. The only possible solution to karma good or bad, individual or collective, is patience and extreme kindness and all embracing love. Love and peace to dear Sue and Maynor. Rest in peace.

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  9. I have long missed out your awesome posting and I finally have a moment this morning, last day of 2011, to catch up with you. My experience recently visiting elderlies echoes perfectly with your experience. A touch on their skinny arms, a pat on their wrinkle-filled faces, a look into their eyes which see only blurry visions all make a difference to their lives. It is so simple to us but means a lot to those who could be feeling deserted or alone. Yet so many of the unfortunate ones like Sue would still count their blessings and feel grateful for what they have. Maynor, the innocent ones will be remembered and I can only pray for this young man.

    Thank you for your hard work throughout the years.
    Heartfelt thanks!

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  10. I think Sue gifted a Vajrapani statue to Compassion Buddhist Centre in Auckland some years ago when she was visiting New Zealand – so kind! May Sue and her family, and Maynor and his family be blessed with deep peace ❤

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  11. Thank you so much, just what I needed to read this morning to keep perspective. I have a complicated personal life that I am trying to deal with calmly and I sometimes think “it’s not fair! Why should I have to put up with this?” Fair just doesn’t come into it, does it?

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