A Tribute to Lewis from his Daughter, Trudy.
Reprinted with permission.
Many of you
who have followed my writings since my college days know that I lost my
father, to an overnight and sudden case of bronchitis. I was 16 at the
time, and his death continues to affect me every single day of my life.
I’ve written often about Dad, and I will probably always write about him.
He’s such a mysterious figure to me - we were very close, yet not close at
In 2000, I
took a series of road trips (20,000 miles in all). I left my job, left my
life behind in Minnesota, and went to seek fulfillment, and I found it. The
first destination was to Morganton, NC, where the North Carolina School for
the Deaf (NCSD) is. It’s also where my dad went to school. My dad spoke
about NCSD on a daily basis when I was with him and with such fondness that
I felt I needed to visit NCSD to be able to truly understand his spirit.
first night I was in Morganton - I had been there a couple of times as a
child, and again for the 1994 Homecoming, but didn’t remember too much of
either visit - I felt as if I truly was home. I stayed there for a week, in
addition to a few visits after that. I met so many individuals that knew my
father, my uncle or my other relatives that also attended NCSD. In each of
them, I saw a startled look whenever they saw me say, “My name’s Trudy
Suggs.” They’d ask, “Lewis or Mike?” And I’d always proudly say, “Lewis.”
people still don’t know that Dad is dead. How could he be dead? He’s not
even old! One night a group of friends and I were at a local restaurant
during my visit in Morganton, and we ran into two teachers from NCSD. One
of them recognized my last name, and immediately began to tell me how much
she loved my dad’s silliness and sense of humor. She then asked the
much-dreaded question: “How is your father doing?”
question, not because Dad had died, but because I knew I was about to drop a
bomb and affect her spirit.
As soon as
I told her that Dad had died at the age of 40, she dropped her fork and
tears welled up in her eyes. I could see that she was now suddenly faced
with her own mortality, since she was the same age as my father. As they
left the restaurant, I saw the woman tell her husband, “How could he be
dead? He was so young.”
As I have
gotten older (and no longer that smart-mouthed little brat - although some
people may disagree), people are now looking at me as my own individual, my
own person, rather than somebody’s daughter. I’ve gotten to meet so many
people that have known me since I was a baby or known my parents from when
they were kids. I often get e-mail addressed to me as “Anita’s daughter”
that will begin with, “I am a friend of your mother’s” [or father’s]. This
is how intimate the deaf community is, and this is the very reason I know
that any deaf person’s death easily affects the rest of us.
note: recently, I went to see a movie. Upon my arrival, a friend introduced
me to a local school administrator who was deaf. The administrator’s first
sentence to me was, “I knew your father.” As we exchanged introductions,
she shook her head in amazement and said, “My goodness, you look so much
like your father.”
make me feel rejuvenated when people share stories about Dad - especially
when they say I look and act like him. It’s neat that I can develop
characteristics like his when I haven’t seen him in a decade. It shows me
how much one simple life can affect so many. My dad wasn’t anything special
in terms of ‘life achievements.’ He was simply a state worker, single (with
a love of women and beer), and rented a small typical bachelor’s pad in
Springfield, IL. Nothing outstanding about his life at first glance. Right?
visit at NCSD, I met one of the oldest teachers there, now retired. As he
was telling me about how he had toured all seven continents of the world, I
realized that this was the same printing teacher my father had talked of so
fondly. I told him who my father was, and his face lit up. He told me of
how my father was ornery and a terrific printing student (copies of his
grades say otherwise, though).
I told the
teacher to hang on for a second, and I ran out to my truck. I had these two
huge scrapbooks that I made of my father’s pictures, and in one of the books
was a black and white picture of my father standing next to an enormous
printing machine. Above the machine is a sign hanging from the ceiling
showed this picture to the teacher, his jaws dropped and a stunned look came
over his face. “That’s my machine. That’s my sign. That was mine...” he
said. He seemed lost in memories - and said he hadn’t seen this machine for
20 or 25 years.
started crying, and told me this was an incredible gift for him, to see a
future generation bring back memories to him. It was a powerful moment for
me, to see that because of my father’s death, I was able to let another
respected man know - through my perseverance of my father’s memories - that
he, too, was important to my father.
For years I
felt a longing to close the chapter on my dad’s death. But along the
journey, I found out that these kinds of chapters aren’t meant to be closed.
They’re meant to be savored in the most enlightening ways possible, and
they’re meant to be continued. I take great, great pleasure and comfort in
the fact that I am a living memorial to my father.
simply a hard reminder that we must- always remember people’s spirits. We
must preserve these spirits by living them out in whatever ways possible.
It’s been a
long, hard journey for me to understand this - and accept this. I’m just
grateful I’ve been able to let other people know that they were important in
one man’s life - and now my life.
father died, I found a poem in his wallet. My father wasn’t very poetic -
far from it. So I’m not sure why he had this poem in his wallet. I like to
believe that he left it for me to find. One of the lines says, “Please know
that I am always here with you.” And you know what?