Select Page

Gone too soon

There is one of those typical standing family jokes in The Legal Genealogist‘s family.

I will tease my youngest brother about getting older every year on his birthday.

And every year, on his birthday, his response is the same: “I’ll always be younger than you.”

He’s right.

And sometimes that hurts a bit.

Like yesterday when it hit me that it was the birthday of my young cousin Susan.

She was born Susan Gayle Hodges in Louisa, Virginia, on July 13, 1954,1 the oldest of two daughters born to my mother’s sister, my aunt Marianne.

My first cousin. And, as in so many families, among the first and best and closest of childhood friends — and childhood foes.

Just close enough in age to be a frequent playmate — and co-conspirator in all the trouble kids can get into.

Just far enough apart in age to be frequently at each other’s throats: “but Mom, she’s too young to…” on my side; “but Mom, she won’t let me…” on hers.

We played together. We picked blackberries together. We gathered in tomatoes from our grandmother’s garden together. We closed ranks against cousins younger or older, as the winds of change blew.

And we fought together. Oh, how we fought. We fought about who got the last piece of cinnamon toast on a summer morning. Or who got to sit by the window on the car ride. Or whose bouquet of fresh-picked wildflowers (and weeds) was better. Or anything else that happened to present itself at any given moment in time as a source of competition or annoyance.

We grew apart at times in our lives. And we grew together as time went on and all the things that seemed to have divided us when we were younger were revealed as so much less important in the long run than all the things that brought us together.

The joys we shared over the years. The pains we shared. The cares, the concerns, the laughter, the tears.

My cousin Susan

And though I know she grew to be a proud mother of two daughters and even prouder grandmother of a granddaughter, I will forever picture her always as the young girl you see here. The age when we probably fought the most against each other and then closed ranks the most against the rest of the world.

A bright-eyed laughing vibrant soul whose laughter was silenced by cancer when she was just 60 years old.2

I will never forget the day we lost her. It was November, 2014. By then, she’d been fighting that blasted disease for years. Rounds of surgeries and treatments and chemo and more. Months of remission, even years at one time, and then bad news again and again.

By the fall of that year, we knew it couldn’t be that much longer. She had been failing, bit by bit, for months. But every time it looked like her fight was finally ending, she would rally. And we’d have a little more time.

Then came the day when I was speaking at a conference of the North Carolina Genealogical Society in Durham and, while I was speaking, my cellphone started to vibrate. I was a little startled, since I thought I’d turned it off, and when I reached to do that, I saw the phone number of the person calling. It was Susan’s daughter. And I knew. I knew it was over.

She will always be younger than I am.

And I will miss her all the days of my life.


  1. Entry for Susan Gayle Payne, 13 July 1954, Louisa, Virginia; database and index, “Virginia, Birth Records, 1912-2014,” Ancestry ( : accessed 12 Aug 2017). Her name at birth was Susan Gayle Hodges; it was later legally changed to Payne.
  2. See Judy G. Russell, “A somber Sunday,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 16 November 2014 ( : accessed 13 July 2018).
Print Friendly, PDF & Email