Aunt Sally

by Beth Whitman (November 12th, 2012)

Sally SugrueBy the time my 11 hour flight to Seoul landed, I had several messages from family members with the news that Aunt Sally (my mother-in-law’s sister) had passed away in a motorcycle accident.

My reaction was typical – shock, disbelief, sadness and guilt for not being able to be with Jon’s family.

Having found out during a layover in the airport, I held my tears until I was on the plane to Bangkok and the lights had been turned down in the cabin for the night time flight.


Living thousands of miles apart, I can’t say that I knew Sally well. But I felt like we had a connection. She was going to travel with me to India a few years ago (the poor economy got the better of that trip) and when we did see each other at family reunions and holidays, conversation came easily. I fancy us as having some special kindred spirit but the truth is, I bet there are hundreds of people who felt the same way. Sally was like that. She could make you feel special.

Her big smile, easy laugh and the twinkle in her eye made you think she was the Wild Gal that she loved to be known as. But she wasn’t wild in a reckless sense. It was more Wild Galof a carefree, I’ll-try-anything-once kind of way. She calculated the risks and took a measured approached in her decisions.


Intellectually I know that we all die. But when someone, even someone who has lived a wonderfully full life, dies suddenly, we think about all they could still have accomplished and experienced. Sally had plans to travel with her daughter. She was looking forward to retirement upon the sale of her custom frame shop in upstate New York. She was a superb hunter (and excellent with a bow and arrow!) and had traveled to Africa on hunting expeditions with her longtime partner, Dennis. She was an amazingly strong (emotionally and physically) woman who was quick to laugh and thoughtful in all she did. Centered. Generous. Warm.

Sally died doing something that she loved – riding her beautiful Harley Davidson. I wonder if someone had looked into a crystal ball years ago and told her that one day she would die this way, would she have stopped? And then I think of the people who climb mountains, base jump, Sally and Harleyfight fires, join the military, or otherwise take chances or put themselves in harm’s way doing what their spirit moves them to do. They are simply being the only way they know how to be. And while the death of a loved one is so much harder when it’s sudden, I’m confident that Sally left us with her heart and spirit soaring.

Though it may sound morose, I take some comfort in imagining Sally’s final thoughts. I can hear her words, in her most calm voice, saying, “Well, shit.”

My heart is at the same time heavy and empty and the thought of Sally not being at the next family function leaves me with a feeling of deep sadness. But I remind myself that she’s part of a larger clan and that thread of warmth, generosity and love connects each member of her family and I’m blessed to be a part of them all.

Ride… Sally… Ride.

On November 12th, 2012 at 6:54 am, Ethel Mae said:

Thank you Beth. Your words brought the tears again, but you captured so much of Sally’s personality. We missed you as the family gathered but we knew you were with us in spirit. And like Sally, you were doing what you love to do. We honor that.

On November 12th, 2012 at 1:46 pm, Lisa said:

Beth, Iam so sorry. You wrote a beautiful tribute.

On November 13th, 2012 at 5:07 pm, Nancy said:

Oh – I’m sorry, Beth. A touching tribute for a remarkable woman and a poignant reminder for the rest of us to ride the waves (or Harleys) as long as we can.

On November 14th, 2012 at 2:52 am, Shalu Sharma said:

I am really sorry to hear that. She was indeed an amazing woman.

On November 17th, 2012 at 6:26 am, Laura said:

Dear Beth – What a beautiful expression of Mom. Thank you…. You captured who she was so perfectly. I know on my trip to Spain she will be there in spirit. Peace and Love, Laura

On November 17th, 2012 at 7:40 pm, Aunt Jean said:

What a beautiful memorial to Sally ! Thank you Beth. Wish I could put my thoughts and feelings into words like that.We shall all miss her. My heart goes out to dennis and her siblings

On November 27th, 2012 at 8:18 pm, Edee Bauer said:

Yep. You got her! We were cousins; as kids as diff as can be. But we were cousins and had that feeling. Thanks for bringing it to the front.

On November 29th, 2012 at 5:47 am, Jennie Cleary said:

I was a friend of Sally’s who had relocated to Florida a few years ago, so I hadn’t seen her lately. But as you said, she was a special type of person you could easily connect to. Your tribute to her is perfect – it made me smile and brought comfort. Thank you for capturing her essence.

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