The strong spirit of Auntie Su

Although I have met some truly amazing people, the one person that has impacted me the most is my “Auntie” Su Simmons.

Auntie Su has been a family friend since before my parents were married. She worked in a restaurant with my mom back in the early ’80s and has been a big part of my life since I was little. Su was diagnosed with a rare disease called scleroderma. Scleroderma is a type of autoimmune disorder, where the immune system attacks and destroys its own healthy body tissue. It causes open sores, deteriorating and complete hardening of the skin along with loss of overall mobility. Initially, doctors gave five to seven years to live. But against all odds, she has survived, and is fighting this disease as I write.

When i was finally old enough to understand what scleroderma was and how it affected her entire life, my mom explained to me that Su continued to do what she loved after diagnosed. Su is an artist. She painted, did pottery and anything she could to explore art. Su produced her art and did art shows until the disease rendered her almost motionless. She was the first person to teach me about art and how to express feeling through any medium. We would go into her art studio and paint or fire various pieces in the kiln or just talk about art. Su showed me how to see the little details in everything, especially in nature. She taught me how just a minute of silence can inspire the most stubborn people. She sparked my interest for art when I was around 5 years old and continues to keep my flame roaring to this day.

Su continues to be a huge inspiration for me and a big part of my life. She still can make just about anyone laugh. Even though she is a shell of a body, she is the happiest person I have had the privilege to know. It is hard to watch this disease take her physical form from her. Her hands have been slowly hardening and she is, at times, immobile. She drops weight and can’t gain it back. Scleroderma is slowly crippling her. Though the toughest thing I have ever done has been to watch her physical body slowly wear away, Auntie Su has the strongest spirit of anyone i know.

Su could be grumpy and mad at the world because of her situation but she somehow is able remain positive, loving, generous and happy. She has taught me to appreciate everything I have, to give people “happy life” presents (gifts just to give), and not to be too serious. She has taught me humility and how to make an impression on someone just through a smile. She has taught me that cheesy jokes are almost always appropriate and to celebrate even the little victories in life. Through Su, I have seen the kind of person I want to be. Su inspires everyone she meets. She means the world to me. Without her, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.

Anita DiMento