Susan and me in Nova Scotia
Looking back over the past few decades, there are some things that have remained constant.
Well, not things. People.
In addition to family, there are the friends. Some friends come and go. Some friends are always there. Sure, they may shift from foreground to background, but they're always there.
I've been lucky. I've had a number of close friends, scattered across the country and around the planet. They are the kinds of people with whom you simply pick things up from where you left off. The years may pass, yet they instantly melt away on those rare occasions that we get together. In Vancouver. In Winnipeg. In Halifax. You know who you are.
This week my circle of friends got smaller.
I've known Susan Nisbet since 1987. We met in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba when she was still in high school and I was 23 years younger than I am today. Over the years we became good friends, laughing at this, complaining about that.
She came to visit me after I'd moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia. How we kept in touch in the days before email is beyond me -- but surely that is proof of the friendship we had.
During her visit, we travelled to Cape Breton Island where, on a whim, she jumped into the St. Peter's ship canal. Why did she do this? Why not.
We continued around the Cabot Trail in my rickety Honda Civic. The brakes got so hot, I remember stopping to fetch water to splash on them. We laughed at the steam and continued on to the Gaelic College in St. Ann's.
Back in Halifax, we visited the touristy sites and the bars. At one point we got separated. Someone had had a lot to drink and left the other behind. I've always felt like a bastard for that -- something which Susan never let me forget.
A few years later -- shock of shocks -- I moved back to Manitoba. Our friendship picked up again. We spent lots of time hanging out and having a great time. It was around the time I was introduced to pants. Ah, pants.
Pants was the term of endearment (disdain?) Susan had for my girlfriends. There were a number of different pants, but the one I remember the best was Clowny Pants. Yes, I dated a clown. I can still hear Susan's guffaw over that one. Another thing she never let me forget.
We used to go to great pubs like The Toad in the Hole in Winnipeg's Osborne Village. We'd throw back pints of Guinness and sing along to Celtic bands like The Dust Rhinos. Songs like Knockback in Halifax (link takes you to a video by the original artists - Weddings, Parties, Anything) and Barrett's Privateers -- which, for me, provided a reminder of the Halifax experience.
She'd kid me about marrying her younger sister -- so that I'd become part of the family. And speaking of Sandi -- there was that time when the three of us, plus a guy Sandi was dating -- were driving in the Manitoba countryside. Three of us were laughing our heads off while creating the Legend of Grey Gum -- a superhero (I think?) made of used gum. We thought it was the funniest thing ever. The Irish (?) dude thought we were off our rockers.
As recently as a few weeks ago Susan said we should write the story of Grey Gum. We never did. It would have been hilarious. If only for a very small audience.
In late 2007, Susan was diagnosed with a degenerative neuro-muscular disorder. I was shocked at how fast it ravaged her. But at the same time, it made her gutsier. What did she do? The opposite of what most of us would do: She went back to university and graduated. Even more impressive: She got on stage and did stand-up (although she called it sit-down) comedy.
Susan turned 40 October 3. She welcomed Sandi's baby girl on November 15. And she passed away on Wednesday, November 17th. She is survived by daughter Tia, son Riley, husband Kent, sister Sandi, plus family and countless friends.
And finally, a song. Think of it as a letter:
Goodbye, my friend. And thank you.
UPDATE: More about Susan:
Comedy community loses a colleague and friend
Obituary: SUSAN HEATHER NISBET (published on November 20, 2010)
Illness claims local 'sit-down' standup comedian