This is our virtual memorial to Susanne Abigail Barkan. We were all very pleased with the memorial gathering on October 9th, 2011, very happy with the many contributions by friends and family, and share the experience with those who were not able to attend.
—Craig and Ben
Susanne in 2011, sunflowers from our garden
(1) Welcoming the guests: Ben Miller (son)
(2) Music by Daniel Pac and Crystalline Ruby Muse
Left, Center: Ben Miller (son), right: Crystalline and Dan
Jean Miller, mother-in-law to Susanne, read this:
It was almost 20 years ago that the phone rang. It was Craig, inviting us to have dinner with him in Northampton to meet someone. "Ah ha!", I thought…." it must be THE ONE".
So we drove to Northampton, were introduced to this young woman with short curly hair and had a really fun dinner at Elizabeth's restaurant – lots of conversation, easy, nothing stiff or forced. I was pleased (I pause here to inform all you young married or about to be married women that we mother-in-laws are as nervous as you are to be introduced to your sons' lovers…we crave acceptance as much as you do).
But the picture that I still have in my mind is this: as we drove by the restaurant on our way home, Craig and Susanne were walking hand-in-hand, on the sidewalk and Susanne WAS SMILING AND TALKING ANIMATEDLY! "Whew!", I thought, "I think we passed the test".
And that was the beginning of many years worth of friendship. I went to one of her Jazzersize classes, I almost got to cut Ben's cord (but he was as fast then as he is now, and came too soon), we had many lunches together when she and little Ben came down to the Hampshire Mall to buy new books, I sat in on one of her music classes at Heath Elementary School, she came to my Sweet Adeline performances…..
She was the one we could count on to bring a fun board game for all the grandchildren at our family dinners - and to stay and play with them.
I feel blessed to have been with her at the very end – a gentle, sweet end. But it is that energetic, creative, opinionated, feisty Susanne that I want to always remember.
Oct. 9, 2011
Lynn Miller, Susanne's father-in-law, read Susanne's poem "All the Songs". Here is a version illustrated by Miriam Anzovin (daughter of 2nd cousin to Susanne).
An Affirmation for Those Who Have Lost
by James E. Miller (no relation)
Read by Patty Gorman-Bishop
I believe there is no denying it: it hurts to lose.
It hurts to lose a cherished relationship with another,
Or a significant part of one's own self.
It can hurt to lose that which has united one with the past
Or that which has beckoned one into the future.
It is painful to feel diminished or abandoned,
To be left behind or left alone.
Yet I believe there is more to losing than just the hurt and the pain.
For there are other experiences that loss can call forth.
I believe that courage often appears,
However quietly it is expressed,
However easily it goes unnoticed by others:
The courage to be strong enough to surrender,
The fortitude to be firm enough to be flexible.
I believe a time of loss can be a time of learning unlike any other,
And that it can teach some of life's most valuable lessons.
In the act of losing there is something to be found.
In the act of letting go, there is something to be grasped.
In the act of saying "goodbye", there is a "hello" to be heard.
For I believe living with loss is about beginnings as well as endings.
And grieving is a matter of life more than death.
And growing is a matter of mind and heart and soul more than of body.
And loving is a matter of eternity more than of time.
Finally, I believe in the promising paradoxes of loss.
In the midst of darkness, there can come great Light.
At the bottom of despair, there can appear a great Hope.
And deep within loneliness, there can dwell a great Love.
I believe these things because others have shown the way
Others who have lost and have then grown through their losing,
Others who have suffered and then found new meaning.
So I know I am not alone:
I am accompanied, day after night, night after day.
left: Jean Miller (mother-in-law), center: Lynn Miller (Father in law), right: Patty Gorman-Bishop
Susanne wrote her own obituary several years ago. Jill Conolly read it at the memorial.
this is my obituary.
susanne abigail barkan is shining a loving light on all of us from a very special place now. we are sad to let her go, just as she hated to leave us. however, we find comfort in the knowledge that our super-strong susanne is no longer in pain, is no longer afraid of another episode with the dreadful cancer that chased her down. susanne is no longer struggling. through periods of triumphant strength as well as severe difficulty, susanne never felt alone or abandoned because her family and friends have loved and tended her with kindness, creativity and humor. she gave us nothing less, she gave us all she had.
susanne was born in 1959; just in time for The Beatles, she liked to say. she grew up in Brooklyn and on Long Island, NY, graduating from Hampshire College in Amherst, MA in 1981 with a concentration in traditional songs and ballads of Britain. while in college she began singing in coffeehouses and festivals. she settled in western mass., 'trying several 01 zip codes'. she travelled to Scotland several times, often saying that any given year she was just between visits and always looked forward to going back. her musical life took several twists and turns, including summer classes in Scotland with Jean Redpath, an intensive 'master class' at Omega Institute with Bobby McFerrin, seminars with David Darling and a workshop with Rhiannon. during these years of exploration she created a playful and profound curriculum for vocal improvisation. she brought this work to Hampshire College and then taught independently in Amherst, Greenfield and Shelburne Falls. eventually she launched a website: vocalimprov.com and shared her expertise online including an archive of exercises and advice. she recorded one cd, Legacy, in 2007 including her favorite 'coffeehouse set list songs' and some stunning improvisations created in the studio with friends she met at the Bobby McFerrin Workshop as well as other special guests including her husband and son. 'singing buddies are so special,' she said, 'their voices are in my dna now.'
in 1993 she married Craig Miller, they have one son, Ben. together they moved to Shelburne in 1997. in 2000 susanne began teaching music at the Heath and Colrain elementary schools. she discovered she loved teaching young children and even continued teaching during her first year of cancer saying 'the kids just make me laugh so much, it's part of getting well to keep teaching.' when the cancer returned, however, she knew she couldn't keep teaching and resigned. a few years later she was able to 'defeat the beast' and took a teaching position at The Academy at Charlemont, re-igniting her love of teaching and coaching young singers. she loved working again, but 'the beast' returned and her energy was required back home.
she loved noticing beautiful things, funny things, making people laugh and laughing herself. she loved to sing, she loved to write letters, she loved telling people she was lucky. even during the worst of her cancer years, she constantly reminded us of how lucky she was. "i am very lucky in my menfolk," she would say. "my dad, my husband, my son, even my dog - all handsome and kind and taking care of me." but she also felt lucky to have friends from her various jobs over the years, lucky to have brilliant doctors who understood her and helped her maintain control of her treatment so that she could have the most joyful life possible under often terribly harsh conditions. "if it ain't fun, i won't do it", she said, and proceeded to turn over every cloud and find a silver lining, a 'good thing to come of it', a light. her support group consisted of people near and far, overseas penpals as well as down the road neighbors, co-workers, students, cousins - she called them her 'silver team' and reminded them often of how beautifully they shimmer and shine in her life.
music and poetry were very important to her - listening, playing, singing and creating. but so was the crunch of thin-crust pizza, the saucey wonder of eggplant parmagian, the smell of challah and the taste of belgian chocolate, the inspiration of sunflowers and the glow of every dawn. she loved life. she worked very, very hard to stay with us. when it was time to let her go, she reminded us of her strongest belief - the love remains. love remains and love prevails.
left: Tracy Grammer, Jill Connolly, Dave Chalfant, Center: Alfred Barkan (father), right: Jill Connolly.
The short obituary published in the Recorder (Greenfield, MA) and Daily Hampshire Gazette (Northampton, MA) on September 16th, 2011:
Susanne Abigail Barkan, age 52, passed away at home in Shelburne on Saturday, September 10th, 2011, after a long struggle with cancer. Susanne graduated from Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. in 1981. She studied traditional ballads and songs in Scotland, as well as vocal improvisation with Bobby McFerrin at Omega Institute. In coffeehouses and festivals of Western Mass., she was a popular folk singer, eventually leading workshops in vocal improvisation. In recent years, she taught music at the Heath Elementary School, the Colrain Central School, and the Academy at Charlemont.
Susanne was born in Ithaca, New York to Alfred and Rhoda Barkan, and was the youngest of three children. She was preceded in death by her mother, and is survived by her husband, Craig D. Miller, their son Benjamin, of Shelburne, MA., as well as her father Alfred, her siblings Amy and Jonathan, and two nieces and nephews.
A memorial gathering will be held at the Shelburne-Buckland Community Center on October 9th, 2011 at 11 a.m.
Memorial gifts in Susanne's honor may be made to Hospice of Franklin County, Complimentary Cancer Care at Baystate/Franklin Medical Center, Cancer Connection or Forest Moon.
For more memorials see Poems.