Photos & Stories

Dr. Sue’s Funeral Procession

June 17, 2020
Nancy S. Taylor

It was a wobbly, yet solemn little procession: three masked mourners and one canine. The procession began at Kenmore Square, at the condo of David and Sue Horner, where the urn, containing Sue’s remains, had just been delivered. S. Sue Horner, “Dr. Sue,” died on Good Friday, April 10, 2020, in the Year of the Novel Coronavirus. She died in their condo, David holding her hand for her final six hours on this earth, literally loving her to death. Sue did not die of the virus. She died of a brain cancer diagnosed just over a year earlier. Still, her dying and parting would be edged and hemmed by the virus. No family gatherings. No friends near enough to hug. No funeral, at least not yet. No grand celebration of this extraordinary human being. Just more isolation. More loneliness. Each person grieving in solitude.

David devised a send-off nevertheless. The church was closed due to the virus but, yes, of course I would open it for this. Thus, on April 23rd at 3:45pm, David set out from their condo en route to Old South Church at the corner of Boylston and Dartmouth for a 4:00pm inurnment. David led the procession, embracing the urn and bearing it to its final resting place. Accompanying him, six feet behind, his daughter Shanna holding her cell phone aloft, the speaker on, through which her brother, Marc, in Illinois played the bagpipes for the entire length of the procession; behind Shanna, taking up the rear, was her husband, Brian. With Brian was Melon, their golden retriever.

As the funeral procession departed Kenmore Square, I made final preparations at the church (lights on, candles lit, everything tidy), then donned mask and gloves to meet them along the route and accompany them the rest of the way to the church.  I encountered them at the Boston Women’s Memorial on the Commonwealth Avenue Mall (in the presence of Lucy Stone, Abigail Adams, and Phillis Wheatley) which was perfect as Sue was an enthusiastic feminist. They were masked, of course, so I could not see faces or make out expressions. I searched their eyes. David’s were stoic, forward facing. The distinct sound of the bagpipes – both aching melody and thrumming drone – infused the Mall. I entered the procession, bringing the human count to four.

Taking a right at Dartmouth Street, we processed passed the Hotel Vendome, crossed an eerily empty Newbury Street and, at the church – its old, stone façade bathed in sunlight – turned right up Boylston Street. I went ahead to unlock the heavy door to the Gordon Chapel. From there I led the little procession through the empty Chapel and into the columbarium. Marc concluded playing the bagpipes and he and his family participated in the ceremony via FaceTime.

David withdrew the urn from its green velvet cover. The urn is glorious: a golden vessel, inset with small, shimmering, incandescent tiles. Perfect for Sue’s shimmering, incandescent personality. The Horner’s are a tall family so David had chosen a niche above all our heads, No. 24, the number on David’s college basketball jersey. Using a stepstool, we lifted the urn into the niche. Before closing the cover, we recited the Twenty-third Psalm and I said a prayer and a few words.

It was a small thing, this wobbly procession and clandestine inurnment. Too small for the likes of Dr. Sue. But it’s what we could do under the circumstances, in the Year of the Novel Coronavirus.

Meet the amazing Dr. Sue, today of blessed memory: